The Reconstructionists: A yearlong celebration of amazing women

As 2013 draws to a close, we’re taking some time to pay homage to Idealists who’ve made a commitment to doing good across 365 days. 

Portrait of Maya Angelou by Lisa Congdon

The portrait of Maya Angelou was the hardest.

Illustrator Lisa Congdon says that it was partially her struggle to capture the poet’s essence that made the finished product turn out so well.

“I was able to capture her decently in the end because in the beginning I was ready to rip it up,” she says.

But most of her portraits come out a little easier than that. Lisa paints a different one every week as part of The Reconstructionists, a yearlong collaborative art/writing/history project she started with Brain Pickings founder Maria Popova.

Every Monday in 2013, an inspiring woman has been featured on their website with a hand-painted portrait and a micro-essay about her life and work.

Named for twentieth-century novelist Anaïs Nin’s idea for “woman’s role in the reconstruction of the world,” The Reconstructionists celebrates women who have reconstructed “our understanding of ourselves, the world, and our place in it.”

It’s featured some well-known feminist figures of the past like Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt, but many subjects—like Patty Smith, Diana Nyad, Janette Sadik-Khan, Joan Didion, and (of course) Maya Angelou—are still alive and well (and changing the world) today.

Lisa and Maria decide who they’d like to feature on a week-to-week basis depending on what’s going on in the news or in history or what’s been on their minds. With only 52 weeks in the year, they can’t pay homage to all the women they’d like to, so they focus on picking someone whose story is important to them.

“In that way it’s a personal project for us,” Lisa says.

While this is Lisa’s first time working on a collaborative project, this isn’t her first rodeo when it comes to yearlong projects. In 2010, she shared her collections through A Collection A Day, which is now a book. In 2012, she featured more of her artwork in 365 Days of Hand Lettering.

All of her yearlong art projects have been started through blogs. Lisa says she’s liked sharing The Reconstructionists this way because it’s “educational for people and low-pressure for us.”

“When you do a blog, there’s an expectation that you’re going to post every week,” she says. “It puts a self-imposed deadline and structure on personal work that might not exist otherwise.”

When asked if Lisa has a project in the works for 2014, she’s a little noncommittal.

“There are a few things stewing in my head,” she says, laughing.

What women inspire you?

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Comments (2)


  1. Kathryn writes:
    December 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    The women who created The Reconstructionists, Lisa and Maria.


  2. April Greene writes:
    December 11, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Hear hear, Kathryn!


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