Editor's note: The Swope Art Museum provided source
material to Resource Library for the following article. If you have
questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the
Swope Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:
Creating History: Indiana's
Historic Women Artists
November 19, 2004 - February 20,
As the Indiana Historical
Society explains the exhibition Creating History: Indiana's Historic
Women Artists: "During the second half of the 19th century, an
unparalleled art movement emerged in Indiana that drew national acclaim
for the men who were part of
it. During the same period, scores of talented Indiana women also painted
and sculpted and earned their own following."
The Swope Art Museum, the Indiana Historical Society and
five partner museums, have created a unique collaboration featuring paintings,
sculpture, ceramics and prints by Indiana's historical women artists.
Based on the new IHS Press book Skirting the Issue:
Indiana's Historical Women Artists by Judith Vale Newton and Carol Ann
Weiss, this exhibition features the work of more than three dozen women
artists. The exhibition will travel throughout Indiana to select locations
and will include paintings, sculptures, ceramics and other media, as well
as a brief overview of the roles these women played in Indiana's early 20th
century art movement. (right: Ruth Pratt Bobbs, The Spanish Shawl,
1911, Swope Art Museum. Gift of Mr. & Mrs. James Snodgrass)
In describing the accompanying 2004 book (ISBN: 0-87195-177-0),
the IHS Press explains its focus as follows:
- According to the ethos of the late 1800s and early 1900s, a woman's
destiny was to be a wife, mother, and guardian of the virtues of hearth
and home. Some women wanted more, however, and despite cultural expectations,
chose to explore their creativity and seek training in art. Often, at considerable
social cost, these women exchanged washboards, ovens, and mending baskets
for the challenges of a piece of canvas or block of stone.
- In Skirting the Issue, authors Judith Vale Newton and Carol
Ann Weiss present dozens of women from Indiana who chose this route. The
authors include a biographical dictionary detailing the lives of 100 of
the state's historical women artists, and single out nearly 40 artists
for further examination in detailed essays. They describe the challenges,
the sacrifices, and the varying degrees of success they met. While this
first-of-a-kind book focuses on Indiana women specifically, its stories
offer excellent insights into the culture and values of the greater Midwest
-- and the nation at large -- in the decades before and after the turn
of the 20th century.
The tentative tour schedule for Creating History
- Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute November 19, 2004 - February
- Irvington Historical Society, Indianapolis: March 18
- May 15, 2005
- Richmond Art Museum: June 12 - August 28, 2005
- Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science: September
18 - November 13, 2005
- Art Museum of Greater Lafayette: December 2, 2005 - February
- South Bend Regional Museum of Art: March 18 - June 18,
Text from wall panels for the exhibition:
- At the turn of the twentieth century, Indiana was a place of great
economic growth and dominance. Not only did the state have one of the strongest
economies in the Union, but also it was home to a unique creative culture
that included authors, actors, and artists.
- Women who dared to enter Indiana's art world experienced a spectrum
of success and failure. Those with financial means and leisure time were
generally more successful as full-time artists. Women who were not born
or married into moneyed families either had to struggle for success or
allow their aspirations to be subordinate to the needs of their children
or the desire of their husbands. Of those women who did pursue careers
in art, few did so exclusively. Women were expected to balance their artistic
pursuits with their traditional role as wife and mother.
- For any path a woman artist followed, the road to success was both
difficult and fraught with obstacles. Creating History examines
the art and careers of nearly sixty pioneering Hoosier women artists whose
work helped define Indiana art, but whose story, until now, has largely
A Woman's Art
- The art of Indiana's historic women reflected their world. Their subject
matter often evoked themes of domesticity such as the family, home, and
garden. But, as women increasingly found a political voice and became advocates
of social causes, so too did they reflect those concerns in their art.
Olive Rush, one of the most notable women artists to hail from Indiana,
spent a great deal of her life in the American Southwest where she depicted
the lives of Native Americans and became a vocal advocate for indigenous
- Women artists used a variety of media in their artwork. While most
chose lighter, "feminine" media such as watercolor, pastel, charcoal
and pencil, some ventured into oil painting, a medium considered "masculine."
Other artists excelled in works of sculpture and craft, an area regarded
more appropriate for women artists. Works of garden statuary, pottery,
metalwork, and textiles were elevated in stature through the development
of arts and crafts societies that briefly flourished during the period.
- Opportunities for women to exhibit their works or gather to discuss
art were limited. Many of the state's wealthier, educated and more urban
women connected by forming social clubs such as the Women's Department
Club. By 1919, Indiana boasted more than 50 such organizations. These social
groups focused on community enhancements, literature, music and the visual
arts. In 1925, it was the Daughters of Indiana who organized the first
Hoosier Salon -- the oldest juried exhibition in Indiana. The exhibit not
only gave much deserved attention to Indiana artists, but also permitted
women to participate equally with men.
Artist and Pupil
- The notion that women could be trained as fine artists took decades
to develop. For most women at the turn of the twentieth century, education
ended at grammar school. Few women attended college and education in the
arts was even more remote.
- Even for those able to afford it, art education opportunities were
limited, especially for rural women. An isolated individual generally sought
instruction from an artistic family member or, in some cases, lessons from
a nearby professional. For those who went to art college, women in northern
Indiana gravitated toward schools in Chicago while those in southern Indiana
traveled to Cincinnati. A few fortunate Hoosier women trained overseas
in the public academies and private studios in France and Germany.
- In 1902, the John Herron Art Institute opened its doors in Indianapolis.
The Institute drew pupils from the city as well as rural central Indiana
communities. Herron's progressive stance on women's education attracted
many notable women artists. Those who didn't attend college often elected
to study directly under a mentor such as the locally famed painter William
Forsyth. Some traveled to New York to seek instruction from America's most
famous artist of the era, William Merritt Chase. A native of Indiana, Chase
was the first artist in the United States to offer professional art instruction
RL editor's note: Additional source material for this article
was provided by the Indiana Historical Society.
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional
source by visiting the sub-index page for the Swope
Art Museum in Resource Library.
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of Contents for Resource Library for thousands
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Copyright 2003, 2004 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights