This Exhibition Has Ended

September 18, 2021
December 14, 2021
In the wing and Opatrny Galleries

Following the 2020 centennial of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, this exhibition looks at the creative history of women expressing themselves in traditional and nontraditional media—from quilts to samplers, painting to pottery, books to prints—since the early nineteenth century. Though not a full-fledged survey, it touches on some of the artistic achievements made during the course of a range of women’s lives during the last two centuries.

Most traditional forms of creating art were not open to women two hundred years ago, and they worked in what were considered traditional crafts that usually had a practical purpose: quilts for the bed, samplers to practice stitching, mourning pictures to commemorate a loved one. Some of these works were signed but more often they were not, and so remain unattributed, though this is not a reflection of their quality.

As the century progressed, and women became more vociferous in their pursuit of the vote and other equal rights with men, more fields opened up to them in the United States and Europe. Women began to attend professional art schools, and learned new skills in pottery and in painting china ware. Women were also fulfilling the need for more art teachers. In 1871, Massachusetts was the first state to make teaching art mandatory in its public schools, which opened up new career opportunities for women. In printmaking, many women like the group based in Cape Cod’s Provincetown excelled and continued to imaginatively push the limits of creating multiples with and without a press.

The enduring creative outlet of writing—in diaries, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction—are highlighted with books by Phyllis Wheatley (alongside a portrait of her by Margaret Burroughs recently acquired for our collection), Faith Ringgold, Kara Walker, and the children’s book illustrator known as Carla.

By the 1970s, when a new feminist movement encouraged more active roles for women in all areas, many female artists chose to embrace traditional “women’s” crafts, which we see in the quilts of Judy Chicago and Faith Ringgold, the embroidered fan of Miriam Schapiro, and the ceramic works of Anne Kraus and Betty Woodman. This act of defiantly connecting themselves to the art of their mothers and grandmothers brings Women Making Their Mark full circle.

Many women connected to Cornell are represented with work here, including Anna Botsford Comstock, Ella Condie Lamb, Virginia True, Alison Mason Kingsbury Bishop, Ruby Jean Douglas ’72, and Gizelle Begler ’08. Isabella Dobson ’21, Mariana Seibold ’21, David Ni ’24, and Rayna Klugherz ’23 contributed research to Women Making Their Mark, as did Brittany Rubin, the Museum’s former print room curatorial assistant.

This exhibition was curated by Nancy E. Green, the Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of European and American Art, Prints & Drawings, 1800–1945. It was funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the Ames Exhibition Endowment and the Terra Foundation.

As part of the Fall 2020 course “The Museum and the Object Practicum on American Women and Work” (ARTH 4110/6010) taught by Professor Shirley Samuels, Department of Literatures in English, and curator Nancy Green, students organized a Museum study installation and an online exhibit.