Collaboration: The Third Artist

 Harriet (left) and Abbe working on "Big Red"

Harriet (left) and Abbe working on "Big Red"

“Fundamental to our collaborative work is a willingness to let go of the need to identify one’s own hand and be individually recognized. We can still see bits of ‘that’s yours, that’s mine’ in a work, but the whole appears to us as the idea and work of a third party who is neither one of us. The Third Artist.”


Artists Harriet Lesser and Abbe Stahl Steinglass met by chance in the 1980s in Washington, D.C., when Harriet advertised to share life-drawing sessions. The two artists, who were also both teaching at the time, varied in style and teaching settings. But by 1990, even as Harriet transitioned into curating, they were spending significant amounts of time drawing models together and collaborating to develop teaching curricula.

They found they shared a similar approach to the making of art, the place of art in their lives, teaching, thinking-through art problems and accepting radically different styles and methods.

In 1990, Abbe left for New York, and their time together moved to monthly visits and experiments. They each began works, then switched the works back and forth between them. They took walks with cameras and drew from the other person’s pictures.

The collaboration grew into “The Third Artist,” a body of work on single canvases, multiple panels and folding screens, all painted by Abbe and Harriet at once, side by side. The screens were a way to include the viewer in the group, in the same way the artists had included the model in decision-making years before. The viewpoint in the screens is wherever the viewer chooses to stand. 

Works in “The Third Artist” collaboration have been exhibited and sold in Washington, D.C., New York City and other locations.


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Works of the Third Artist

1.       “Baby” 1998, 6 x 12 in, oil on paper on canvas

2.      “After the Fall” 1999, 36 x 72 in, oil on canvas

3.      “Last Day Before Spring” 1999, 72 x 36 in, oil on canvas

4.      “Potomac” 2000, three 6 x 12 in parts, oil and watercolor/paper

5.      “Wildflowers: On Coming to a River” 2000, 36 x 72 in, oil/silk folding-screen

6.      “Two Walks to the Same Place” 2001, 36 x 72 in, oil/paper/wood

7.      “Air Apparent: Snow” 2001, 6-panel screen, oil/paper/wood

8.      “Small Snows” 2001, oil/paper

9.      “Downtown: New York” 2002, 36 x 72 in, oil on silk folding-screen

10.    “Boulders” 2003, 36 x 72 in, oil/silk folding-screen

11.     “Our Lady of the Potted Plant” 2003, 36 x 72 in, oil on paper

12.    “Cuba: Blue Taxi” 2004, 3 parts, oil/paper

13.    “Pink Trees” 2004, 72 x 36 in, oil/paper/collage

14.    “Our Toys” 2005, 36 x 48 in, oil/canvas

15.    “Structure” 2006, 36 x 48 in, oil/canvas

16.    “The Painted Violins” 2007, oil on 2 violins

17.    “Big Red” 2009, 48 x 36 in, oil/canvas

18.    “Tallest Tree” 2014 

19.    “Snows” 2014-15, series of 4, oil /paper

20.   “Botanicals” 2015, 36 x 48 in, oil/canvas 

21.    “This Used to be Ireland” 2015-16, mixed media

22.   “Red Dot” 2017, 14 x 12 in, oil on board: a) Dark Trees in Sunshine; b) Pale Trees in Snow; c) Deep Pool, Red Tree

23.   “Set This to Music” 2017,  36 x 48 in, oil/canvas