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Foreword by Julie Roberts. Essays by Rachel Federman, Katherine Jentleson. Interview by Maddy Inez Leeser.

An investigation into Saar's lifelong interest in Black dolls, with new watercolors, historic assemblages, sketchbooks and a selection of Black dolls from the artist’s collection. Published on the occasion of Betye Saar's exhibition at Roberts Projects, Culver City, California (September 18 – November 6, 2021.)

This volume features new watercolor works on paper and assemblages by Betye Saar (born 1926) that incorporate the artist’s personal collection of Black dolls. These watercolors showcase the artist’s experimentation with vivid color and layered techniques, and her new interest in flat shapes. While Saar has previously used painting in her mixed-media collages, this is the first publication to focus on her watercolor works on paper.

“Watercolor is something that children use, so I decided, maybe I’ll paint something about children, maybe I’ll paint the dolls,” Saar says. Referencing the underrepresented history of Black dolls through Saar’s artistic lens, this catalog distills several intersecting themes, imagery and objects in Saar’s oeuvre, highlighting her prominent usage and reinvention of Black imagery. It contains 90 color images, including early assemblage works that feature Black dolls, such as Gris-Gris Box (1972) and Mti (1973), plus early sketchbooks and a curated selection of Saar’s Black doll collection. It also includes original essays by Rachel Federman, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings at the Morgan Library & Museum, and Katherine Jentleson, Merrie and Dan Boone Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art at the High Museum of Art, and an interview with the artist by her granddaughter, Maddy Inez Leeser.

The catalogue is packaged with a pop-out cardboard doll modeled after Saar’s Hoo Doo Woman (1974), a Black doll significant for being the only piece in her collection hand-made by the artist. The doll will be printed double sided, full color, and comes with a functional cardboard stand.

Published by Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California, 2022
Format: Hardcover, 9 x 12 inches / 223 pages / 178 color images / 9 b&w images
Distributed throughout the world by Artbook | D.A.P.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2022905768
ISBN: 978-1-7336647-6-9


Personal Spirituality Betye Saar: Black Doll Blues
Artillery Magazine
January 10, 2023
By Scarlet Cheng

The dolls we grew up playing with weren’t just dolls—they were alter egos, surrogate friends and family, and sometimes even symbolic forces of the universe. In this beautifully designed book, Betye Saar: Black Doll Blues, we get a chance to look at Saar’s special relationship to dolls: through photographs of her extensive doll collection, sketches and watercolors she has made of her dolls, and the assemblage work she has made over the years that incorporated dolls or parts thereof. 

The book begins with an informative intro by Julie Roberts, co-founder and co-director of Roberts Projects, who tells us that when Saar decided to place her archives at the Getty Research Institute, they started sorting through her studio archives and found sketchbooks the artist has kept since the 1960s. The gallery has long represented Saar, so Roberts writes with natural familiarity and depth of knowledge. 

The first chapter is called “Sketchbooks” and shows drawings and watercolors of the Black dolls Saar has been collecting for decades. “While some may view these dolls as derogatory, and I agree some of them are,” Saar says in the book, “I didn’t create these paintings in the same spirit of ‘empowering Aunt Jemima.’ These paintings purely depict the Black dolls as they are, with the purpose of providing love and comfort to their owner.”

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