Born 28 March 1928, Brooklyn, New York
Daughter of Thomas and Lucile Nadler Munro; married Alfred Frankfurter, 1965; children: David, Alexander
Since 1961, Eleanor Munro has fascinated her followers with words that delve into the depths of artists' minds and search the self through family and childhood recollection and journey. Intriguing the reader into reflection and self-understanding, Munro has twice earned the honor of the New York Times Notable Book of the Year with Originals: American Women Artists (1979) and On Glory Roads: A Pilgrim's Book about Pilgrimage (1987). Her dedicated work as a writer, editor, and lecturer has also been acknowledged with the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1988 and the Medal of Honor at Smith College in 1990.
Raised in Cleveland, Munro ventured away from familiar territory to Smith College and earned her B.A. in 1949. She went on to write for Art News from 1952 to 1959 and became managing editor of Art News Annual. She then earned her M.A. from Columbia University in 1968.
Munro writes for the reader to travel with her both spiritually and thoughtfully and to understand how she sees and interprets her inner world as well as the global world. In On Glory Roads: A Pilgrim's Book about Pilgrimage, which is relatively autobiographical, Munro embarks on a journey beginning in India and ending in Compostela. A pilgrim herself, she travels in search of knowledge of rituals, myths, and sacred art in Asia like an Asian pilgrim would tour a shrine: entering the sanctuary at the east, turning south, and going about the shrine toward the west. She writes, "The doctrinaire meaning of the route is that it imitates the sun's daily flight." For Munro, it meant a pilgrimage starting in the east in India (Benares), to the south in Indonesia, toward the center in Jerusalem, and toward the west in Compostela. She calls this type of journey "secular traveling," but adds anyone who embarks on trips to places that "move them" may call themselves "secular travelers." With this, Munro articulates the same adventurous feeling all travelers have within themselves when they climb a mountain or visit the country of their families' heritage.
Munro courageously takes on an even more personal venture with Memoir of a Modernist's Daughter (1988), where she uninhibitedly shares her childhood through adulthood accounts with her family, but most importantly, her modernist father of philosophy and teaching. The autobiography reflects life with father and how it affected her education, profession, and growth into womanhood. She challenges the reader to understand her struggle of growing up with a dominant father, whose ideas of child-rearing and personal development were strong and unconventional. It is apparent that Munro's father contributed vastly to her ideas, beliefs, and journeys as she began to write of him the year prior to Memoir of a Modernist's Daughter in On Glory Roads : "The more I'd pressure myself to accept the finality of life in a Buddhistic sense, the more, the very next day, my thoughts had striven on to discover more life in things—as my father strove through his voluminous readings toward the image in Lucretius of the living gods." It is this question of death that Munro explores in On Glory Roads that further references her father's impact on her life and, in turn, her writing. Her father, as she describes in Memoir of a Modernist's Daughter, was an atheist, showing signs of his beliefs in his childhood. At seven years old, he announced he wanted to be "the founder of a new religion." This was the beginning of an assured and abstract-minded man who eventually would promote thought-provoking writing from his daughter.
Originals: American Women Artists is Munro's biographical honor to women artists. She shares the lives of these gifted intellects and how their art is a product and representation of their lives. Interestingly, Munro's writing about one artist, Michelle Stuart, is a predecessor to her account of India in On Glory Roads. Munro writes of Stuart as an artist who "collects shovelfuls of earth and rocks." Stuart used the earth to explore art just as the Hindus in India used the earth to explore ritual. Ironically or not, the reader of Munro's work could cross-reference forward to On Glory Roads, where Munro describes a Hindu woman: "With her right hand, the woman drew a long, deep-scarlet, moist sweep paste (mud) along the part in her hair."
Finally, Munro's examination of Stuart as an artist of the earth and the Hindu women using the earth for ritual and sacred purposes can be culminated with Wedding Readings: Centuries of Writing and Rituals on Love and Marriage (1989). Although different from all her writings, there's still a taste of her other works. Seen as a whole, the book is a collection of poems, songs, quotes, and thoughts of wedding rituals, with an introduction written by Munro. Looking further inside, the reader can find the India of On Glory Roads, the self-exploration of Memoir of a Modernist's Daughter, and the Michelle Stuart of Originals: American Women Artists. In particular, the Hindu love poem that begins "Let the earth of my body be mixed with the earth my beloved walks on" can bring reference to Munro's thoughts, journeys, and writings.
It is clear that Munro comes to understand herself and her family through her writing. In boldly sharing herself, she makes what seems to be the unfamiliar within ourselves actually familiar. She writes of learning, writing, and art. She writes of life.
Encyclopedia of Art (1961). Through the Vermilion Gates: A Journey into China's Past (1971).
—KIMBALLY A. MEDEIROS