Brenda Berkman — A Trailblazer Starts A New Path

📷: Brigitte Lacombe

A Pioneer Takes Up Printmaking

It’s surprising even to me that I would have changed from Brenda Berkman, fire officer, to Brenda Berkman, printmaker.

—Brenda Berkman, via Smithsonian

Brenda Berkman has lived her life in revolutions. She began her career as a lawyer. In the 1980s, she fought for the right to follow her true passion and join the fire department. She was successful and was one of several women to become the first female firefighters in New York City. But her storied career has been about more than just local heroism. Years later, Brenda became a national hero, as one of the many who worked tirelessly to save lives on September 11th.

After she had retired from the fire department, while wondering about what to do next, Brenda knew she had plenty of options available to her. She had been a legal expert, a grassroots organizer, and a first responder. Now, she felt the urge to express herself creatively.  

Brenda had experienced a creative urge for her entire life, but, as she put it, her parents wouldn’t have been thrilled if she’d picked art school over law school. Now, with a lifetime’s worth of other successful careers behind her, Brenda was ready to follow her heart.

When she saw that a school that had trained so many of the artists she admired throughout history, The Art Students League, had no prerequisites and required no previous training, she knew it would be perfect for the impassioned beginner that she was. She began taking printmaking classes and never stopped. Not only did she learn from great instructors, she also found and developed a community of artists who all taught each other. She had never expected that she could walk in the door of The League and start making art on Day One. But that’s exactly what happened.

Years later, Brenda would use the skills and techniques she learned and developed at The League to create pieces that reflected on her experience on September 11th. Her views of the World Trade Center, and her reflections on the events of that day, have led to multiple exhibitions. Brenda, who has always been a champion for women’s equality, now uses art to ensure that women are fairly represented. Her recent prints focus on the experience of women at Ground Zero, and the unsung heroines of New York’s response and recovery.

Brenda’s Learning Path

Ms. Berkman studied the art of printmaking with these instructors:

Connect With Brenda

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: