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Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art

October 28, 2011 - January 8, 2012


Drawn from the museum's permanent collection, Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art highlights a number of extraordinary women working in a variety of media and artistic styles. The exhibition pays tribute to those women who defied convention and paved the way for women to achieve success as professional artists. (left: Henrietta de Beaulieu Dering Johnston (ca. 1674 -1729), Henriette Charlotte Chastaigner (Mrs. Nathaniel Broughton), 1711, Pastel on paper, 14 2/5 x 11 3/5 inches. Gift of Victor A. Morawetz. Image courtesy Gibbes Museum of Art)

In the 1700s, women faced considerable obstacles to becoming professional artists, primarily caused by social pressures and the lack of access to formal artistic training. Henrietta Johnston moved to Charleston (then known as Charles Town) in 1708 when the Church of England's Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts appointed her husband, Gideon Johnston, Commissary for South Carolina. The Johnston family faced considerable financial hardships upon arriving in Charleston, and to help support her family, Henrietta created and sold pastel portraits. Henrietta Johnston is considered to be the first female professional artist in America and the Gibbes Museum of Art houses the largest public collection of her work. Five pastel portraits by Henrietta Johnston are included in the exhibition.

Women artists from the Charleston Renaissance period are also well represented in the exhibition. During this period of time between the two World Wars, Charleston experienced a resurgence in all aspects of cultural life including literature, music, historic preservation, and the visual arts. Among the leaders of the Charleston Renaissance were artists Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Elizabeth O'Neill Verner, and Anna Heyward Taylor, all of whom created numerous works depicting the historic architecture and beautiful landscape of Charleston and the surrounding Lowcounty region.

The exhibition also recognizes the impressive cadre of female artists working in the region today from sweetgrass basket maker Mary Jackson to classically trained, realist painter, Jill Hooper, Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art honors the achievements of past generations while acknowledging the creativity of professional female artists working in the 21st century.

Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art is sponsored by BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, The Women's Council of the Carolina Art Association, and Where magazine.


Wall panel text from the exhibition

Art history has long been dominated by male artists. A number of factors prevented women from achieving prominence as artists; primary among them was the lack of access to formal training. In the past, women were denied entrance to schools and academies and were not permitted to work from nude models -- crucial training for an artist aspiring to create highly-prestigious history paintings. In essence, societal constraints prevented women from having the opportunity to become professional artists.
Opportunities for women began to expand in the late nineteenth century, as academic institutions began accepting female artists. Social pressures, however, continued to discourage women from pursuing a career in the arts. While women were encouraged to draw and paint as part of a well-rounded education, they were expected to become wives and mothers, not professional artists -- an expectation that continued well into the twentieth century.
Within this context, Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art explores the lives and works of female artists included in the Gibbes collection. From Henrietta Johnston, the first female professional artist in America, to the women artists working in Charleston today, this exhibition celebrates the achievements of those who defied convention and paved the way for women to achieve success as professional artists.


(above: Virginia Fouché Bolton (American, 1929 - 2004), Blessed Are They That Mourn for They Shall Be Comforted, ca. 1988, Oil on canvas, 43 x 37 inches. Gift of the artist in memory of her husband, Donald Gail Bolton "who knew that I was an artist before I did and encouraged me to do my best." Image courtesy Gibbes Museum of Art)

(above: Minnie Evans (American, 1892-1987), Designs, Wrightsville Beach, 1968, Collage with oil, crayon, and pencil on canvas, 22 _ x 26 3/8 inches. Museum purchase with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts Living Artist Fund. Image courtesy Gibbes Museum of Art)


Related Programming

Women in Art Lecture Series
Lectures are at 6pm, followed by a reception
Wednesday, Nov. 2 - Renowned Charleston watercolorist Mary Whyte
Wednesday, Nov. 9 - Erica Hirshler, Curator of American Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Wednesday, Nov. 16 - Interior Designer to the stars Mario Buatta
Curator-Led Tour
Conducted by Pam Wall, Gibbes Curator of Exhibitions
Thursday, November 3 and Thursday, December 1 at 2:30pm
Free with museum admission
Charleston Chamber Opera Presents
The Diva's Come Undone
Opera vignettes in celebration of the exhibition
Sunday, November 6, 3pm
$15 Members, $25 Non-Members

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For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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