Editor's note: The Museum of Northern Arizona and Fran Elliott provided source material to Resource Library for the following article. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact the Museum of Northern Arizona directly through either this phone number or web address:


Arizona's Pioneering Women Artists

November 17, 2012 - May 12, 2013


The Museum of Northern Arizona's exhibit, Arizona's Pioneering Women Artists, pays tribute to the adventurous and often independent women who came from eastern big cities and settled in Arizona during its Territorial Period, making their living by depicting the beauty of the Southwest, its people, and its wide open spaces. Undeterred by the challenges of settling in early Arizona, they outnumbered male artists in the area and explored a wild region that was largely unknown to the rest of the country around the turn of the century. (right: Jessie Benton Evans, Grand Canyon, c. 1920. Image courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona)

The exhibit, produced in collaboration with the Arizona Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, opened Saturday, November 17, 2012 and continues through Sunday, May 12, 2013. It is an official Arizona Centennial Legacy Project, accurately portraying a significant educational and lasting aspect of Arizona history. As part of the Legacy Project, the Museum of Northern Arizona is publishing a catalog and directory, Arizona's Pioneering Women Artists - Impressions of the Grand Canyon State, for release with the exhibit. 

Museum Director Dr. Robert Breunig said of the featured artists, "These artists were among the first Anglo women to see this region and experience its cultures, riding to painting locations on horseback and living among the landscapes and people they painted." 

MNA's Curator of Fine Art Alan Petersen added, "This extensive group of dedicated and talented women artists worked in the West and were largely forgotten until recent decades. The exhibit highlights the work of ten artists who were professionally trained at the best art schools of their time, earned their livelihood as painters, and eventually came to live in Arizona. Some, like Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton and Jessie Benton Evans, became leaders in the development of Arizona's nascent cultural community." 

Included in the exhibit are works by Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, Kate Thomson Cory, Nora Lucy Mowbray Cundell, Jessie Benton Evans, Susan Ricker Knox, Erna Lange, Claire Dooner-Phillips, Marjorie Reed, Lillian Wilhelm Smith, and Marjorie Thomas. 

Sixty-five of the seventy works of art in the Arizona's Pioneering Women Artists exhibit are from the collection of Fran and Ed Elliot, who began collecting in 1988, when they moved from New Jersey to Sedona. As a passionate collector of historic art of Arizona, Fran Elliot, like these pioneering women artists, took an independent path, collecting the work of overlooked and unappreciated women artists of the state. Fran Elliot said, "This exhibit shows the significant contributions of Arizona pioneering women artists who kept their lifelong commitment to the arts through exhibitions, writing, and teaching. Their work chronicles daily life, and depicts landscapes of Arizona and portraits of its people prior to the state's development. Their contributions to annual Arizona State Fairs, and the founding of museums and art departments across the state, are historically significant."

In the news release prepared by The Museum of Northern Arizona, the Museum and Alan Petersen expressed appreciation to the following individuals and organizations for their contributions to Arizona's Pioneering Women Artists:

Supporters of Arizona's Pioneering Women Artists exhibit include the Arizona Commission on the Arts, BBB Revenues from the City of Flagstaff, and Flagstaff Cultural Partners.

Separate from information provided by the Museum of Northern Arizona, Fran Elliott noted that Arizona's Pioneering Women Artists: 1900 - 1945 toured the state as part of the Arizona State Centennial "Legacy Project" efforts. She said that "A small "sub-set" of that exhibition" was held at the Sedona Arts Center for ten days as part of Sedona's "First Friday Art Walk".  It highlighted the work of a woman who lived in, and loved Sedona. She added that a committee member for the exhibition arranged for the donation of a Kate T. Cory painting titled Hopi Weaver" to be donated to MNA. The was by Cynthia C. Hazeltine in memory of Sherman and Mary Hazeltine.




Related exhibition catalogue

A catalogue titled Arizona's Pioneering Women Artists - Impressions of the Grand Canyon State features an essay by Dr. Betsy Fahlman and a directory of the names of over 450 women artists who worked in Arizona prior to 1945, courtesy of Lonnie Dunbier.  Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, founder of that museum, wrote the Introduction for the catalogue.The publication debuted at the opening reception for the exhibition of the same name at the Museum on November 16, 2012. Amazon.com says of the book:

Arizona's Pioneering Women Artists-Impressions of the Grand Canyon State is a four-color 100-page directory and catalog published by the Museum of Northern Arizona as part of an official Arizona Centennial Legacy Project. It includes three sections: Narrative text; a 37-page color catalog for an accompanying traveling exhibit, Arizona's Pioneering Women Artists, and a reference section that features a directory of 450 women painters who worked and exhibited in Arizona prior to 1945. The publication opens with a preface by Alan Petersen, Museum of Northern Arizona Curator of Fine Art and an introduction by Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, founder of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Its first section features an illustrated 20-page article by Betsy Fahlman, Ph.D., Professor of Art History at Arizona State University, which documents the achievements and challenges of women artists in Arizona before and during the early years of Statehood. Fahlman's article highlights the lives and work of Kate Thomson Cory (1861-1958), Claire Dooner Phillips (1887-1960), Marjorie Thomas (1885-1978), Jessie Benton Evans, (1866-1954), and Lillian Wilhelm Smith (1882-1971). Additional artists included in the catalog and discussed by Fahlman are Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, Nora Lucy Mowbray Cundell, Susan Ricker Knox, Erna Lange, and Marjorie Reed. The middle section 37-page catalog provides 71 captioned color plates of paintings and objects in the exhibit. The publications third and reference section features a 24-page directory by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, co-founder of Askart.com. This ground-breaking directory includes paragraph biographies for 450 European-American and Native American women artists working in Arizona along with a listing of source abbreviations that link artists, events, locations and earlier publications to information maintained at Askart.com. Back matter includes a 3-page Appendix and a 4-page Selected Bibliography by Fahlman.


(above: detail of front of dust jacket for the catalogue titled Arizona's Pioneering Women Artists. Image courtesy of Lonnie Dunbier)


Video from NAU-TV's Inside NAU

Season 7 Episode 9 features a 3 minute, 46 second video featuring commentary by Fran Elliott and others.


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For biographical information on artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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