Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Out of the Shadows: Women Artists

Fern Isabel Coppedge, American, 1883-1951, a Christa Zaat album,  at  
Margareta Barbara Dietzsch,
German, 1716-1795, a Zaat album.
Women artists have lived in the shadow of male artists from time immemorial, in darkness, out of view.   

“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman,” Virginia Wolff wrote.  And women's art remained anonymous and hidden.  

The same is true of women musicians and composers, scientists, philosophers, educators and social reformers, and pioneer activists in every political movement in the US known to male historians, beginning with the Abolitionist movement in the early 1800s. It was usually women who planted the seeds and led the charge, and men who made the history books. 

Of  course the impediments and obstacles to women's achievement were formidable. They were denied access to an elementary education for centuries, and then denied entry into colleges, academic training, and art and professional schools. Women had to fight for these opportunities every step of the way.  Once admitted, they were initially disallowed from nude studies of the female body. This was true in the United States as elsewhere. The first women doctors had to fight to study the human body, as did women determined to attend art schools. In many ways, the very existence of the work of talented women artists was denied. A Dutch painter, Margareta Haverman,  was expelled from the French Académie Royale in 1793 when paintings she submitted were judged "too skillful to have been done by a woman."  

Berthe Marisot, Young Girl with Greyhound, 1893. Marisot 
is highly regarded in contemporary exhibitions. See 
Washington Post reference, #6  below. 

Christa Zaat, the curator of  "Female Artists of the World," is on a personal mission to change this. She is dedicated  to lifting "the veil of silence on our collective culture by sharing and celebrating female artists of the past....Her  work is...important to reshaping the canon."  

Fortunately, her project is online and accessible at

Christa works with Carel Ronk. They live in the Netherlands, and they have uncovered the art works of hundreds of Dutch women over time.  But not only Dutch artists. The project is about  all female artists, Christa emphasizes,  "from all disciplines, all eras, and all countries." .  

Since the beginning of the project in 2011, Christa has posted about 7000 artists a year. That's a lot!  Each artist comes with her own "album," and Christa and Carel have now created and posted 2,000 albums.  The art is fantastic and almost overwhelming in its numbers, depth, scope, and diversity.  You wonder how these works could have been hidden, how such talented artists who happened to be women remained invisible for so long.  

Zaat's project compliments and takes me back to one of my favorite museums anywhere in the world: The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), in Washington, DC. Founded in 1981 by Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay, early collectors of women's art, it opened its doors in 1987. That was just a few years after I arrived in the DC area to begin a new chapter in my life, and I remember the opening celebration as if it was yesterday.  Such excitment and awe.  
NMWA , New York and 13th Streets, WDC 

NMWA interior. Stunning salmon-colored
 and white marble, glorious chandeliars, grand staircases. 
Since then the muserum has acquired a collection of more than 5,000 paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and decorative art.  Highlights of the collection include works by Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, and Elisabeth Louise Vigee-LeBrun.  The Museum occupies the old Masonic Temple, a beautiful Renaissance Revival building listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.  The salmon-colored marble and broad staircases, the balconies, chandaliers, and exhibit spaces, are stunning and unforgettable. 

The NMWA is a block away from where my office was when I worked in DC with the NEH humanities council. I went to that museum more than any other, in awe of the artists whom I knew nothing about. It was part of my ongoing education about the talents, achievements and contributions of women in America and around the world.  I still have the old catalogues, and treasure them. The art collections, exhibits and education programs are incredible.  The Museum also maintains a 17,500-volume Library and Research Center.  
Lois Mailou Jones, Les Fetiches, 1938, taught at Howard University
 in DC. I had the great pleasure of meeting Lois and learning
 about her fantastic art,  much of it influenced by her happy
 years living with her  husband Pierre in Haiti. 
NMWA  recent catalogue. 

This wonderful Museum deserves more accolades than it's gotten I think, because it has long recognized, presented, and educated about the women who painted, sculpted, drew and dared to express themselves when their voices were silenced. We pay homage to Wilhelmina Holladay, who pioneered in collecting women artists beginning in the 1960s, when few museums, curators, exhibitors, or educators knew anything about them.  The NMWA, like the work of Christa Zaat and Carel Ronk, brings to light important women artists of the past.  The NMWA also promotes women artists working today.  
Take a look and be amazed, and inspired. Go to Christa Zaat's site online.  To see women's art up close and personal, spend a day at the National Museum of Women in the Arts next time you're in the nation's capital.   
Olga Wisinger-Florian, Austrian, 1844-1926, 
Christa Zaat albums.
Beryl Cook, English, 1928-2008 



4)  Fern Isabel Coppedge (1883-1951), one of my favorites, is just one example of the life and work of an exquisite artist who was part of the Pennsylvania Impressionist Movement in the early 20th century. "She became well known for her work as a landscape impressionist who painted scenes that were blanketed with snow, such as the villages and farms of Bucks County. Her works included Autumn Gold, Bucks County Scene, Lumberville, Lumberville Cottage, Old House, Spring on the Delaware, The Delaware Valley, and The Delaware Reflections."

5)  The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC, pioneered in discovering and presenting wqmen artists. It's one of my favorite Museums in DC, and anywhere.

6)  About the revival of Berthe Morisot's glorious art.  

7)  National Museum of Women in the Arts, Wikipedia, for basic information. 
"The museum was founded to reform traditional histories of art. It is dedicated to discovering and making known women artists who have been overlooked or unacknowledged, and assuring the place of women in contemporary art. The museum’s founder, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, and her husband Wallace F. Holladay began collecting art in the 1960s, just as scholars were beginning to discuss the under-representation of women in museum collections and major art exhibitions. Impressed by a 17th-century Flemish still life painting by Clara Peeters that they saw in Europe, they sought out information on Peeters and found that the definitive art history texts referenced neither her nor any other woman artist. They became committed to collecting artwork by women and eventually to creating a museum and research center."

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