Bessie Mae Kelley – Pioneering Animator from Maine to the Arctic

by Arctic Studies

Lecture Arts and Culture Movie On Campus Open to the Public Presentation

Thu, Apr 11, 2024

7 PM – 9 PM EDT (GMT-4)

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VAC, Visual Arts Center, Kresge Auditorium

Visual Arts Center


Join the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum for a talk with author and historian Mindy Johnson!

Mindy is an award-winning author, historian, filmmaker, educator, musician and more, Mindy Johnson’s creative accomplishments reflect the diversity of her talents and experience. A leading expert on women’s roles in animation and film history, Mindy writes and speaks on early cinema, animation, women’s history, and creativity.

Mindy's groundbreaking discoveries continue to cast light on the invisible narrative of women’s presence within the first century of the motion picture industry. Her latest landmark breakthrough is the discovery of Maine native Bessie Mae Kelley and her surviving films believed to be the earliest surviving hand-drawn animation, animated and directed by a woman, forever busting the myth of women no longer present at the dawn of the animation industry.

Johnson’s research focuses on the often-invisible women who played a significant role in the creation of early animated films. Her current work builds on her recent discovery of Bessie Mae Kelley whose surviving films are the earliest known hand-drawn animations by a woman. Kelley was raised in Caribou, Maine, and began her career as an animator in New York in 1917. Among her works in the 1920s are animated shorts such as Gasoline Alley and Flower Fairies, as well as animated maps for Donald B. MacMillan’s Arctic films. Johnson will talk about the exciting new developments in her ongoing efforts to recover the story of Kelley’s career. Kelley's work remained largely unknown until her collection was rediscovered and two of her films were restored by Mindy Johnson in 2022. Johnson discovered Kelley in a series of images of male animators from the early 1920s. Other historians had previously assumed her to be a secretary or cleaning woman.

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Arctic Studies | Website | View More Events
Co-hosted with: Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum

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