West Bend Art Museum

West Bend, WI




Women's Work: Early Wisconsin Women Artists


"Women's Work: Early Wisconsin Women Artists" consisting of sculpture, prints and more than sixty oil, watercolor and casein paintings, will showcase the work of women in early Wisconsin art. Displaying primarily landscapes in a variety of subject matter and styles, the exhibition is accented by florals and a few portraits reflecting the time in which these women lived. Preliminary studies, sketchbooks and photographs of the artists will also be on view. These women, who pursued professional careers in an era when women were expected to remain in the domestic rather than the public sphere, were actively involved as educators, administrators and art organizers as well as painters and sculptors. They achieved recognition and success during their lifetimes and were a source of inspiration to future generations of women artists in Wisconsin. The West Bend Art Museum is pleased to present this opportunity to celebrate their legacy.

Lydia Ely (1840-1914) (WBAM) is considered one of the pioneers of the visual arts in Wisconsin. Lydia was active as an organizer, fund-raiser and chronicler of early Wisconsin art history. She directed the Fine Arts Division of the first great Milwaukee Industrial Exposition in 1881 and was instrumental in raising the majority of funds for the Soldiers' Civil War monument in Milwaukee. Her finely-detailed landscapes and still lifes reflect her interest in recreating vistas from her frequent travels around the country.

Susan Cressy (died 1942) (WBAM) studied with Milwaukee artists, Otto Von Ernst and Robert Shade, in Chicago at the School of the Art Institute and in New York with William Merritt Chase. In 1894, she became an instructor at the Milwaukee Female College. In her home studio on North 18th Street in Milwaukee, she created impressionistic landscapes and decorative portraits for exhibition in galleries in the United States and London.

Mathilde Schley (1864-1941) (RLM) was born in Wisconsin of German immigrant parents. Mathilde Schley was very interested in preserving her German heritage. The author of numerous articles for German and English language newspapers in Milwaukee, she sought to spread an awareness of her ethnic culture to future generations in Milwaukee. Determined to earn her own livelihood, she found employment as a telegraph operator, a drawing teacher, and in her own dressmaking business. Her early paintings reflected her training in the German academic style. Influenced by travels abroad in the latter part of the nineteenth century, she shifted to a brightly colored pointillistic technique with the palette knife.

Helen Farnsworth Mears (1871-1916) (WWC, WBAM, Britannica.com, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1898, Images of artist @ Wisconsin Public Reader) was born to a creative family in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She was the daughter of a poet and sister of an author. Trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students' League in New York, she went on to study with the renowned American sculptor, Augustus Saint Gaudens. She became competent in the execution of bas-relief portraits, architectural pieces and idealistic monumental sculpture. The figure groups, represented in this exhibition, are among her finest works. Unfortunately her creative life was cut short by ill health and she died suddenly at the age of forty-three.

Emily Groom (1875-1975) (WBAM) was a prolific and widely exhibited painter during her long lifetime. She was an influence on several generations of Wisconsin artists. Maintaining a fifty-five year connection with Milwaukee Downer College, she organized the art department and taught undergraduate and extension classes. Proficient with oils, she came to favor watercolors for their spontaneity and freshness. Her bold colors and confident brushstrokes reflect her command of the medium.

Jessie Kalmbach Chase (1879-1970) was born in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. She experimented with and became accomplished in a variety of media -- producing prints and paintings of the Door County landscape. A plein air painter, she was interested in recording the effects of sunlight on the foliage, the bluffs and the waters of Green Bay. A member of Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors, she participated in a variety of exhibitions in Milwaukee and around the United States.

Elsa Ulbricht (1885-1980) (WBAM, MUA) was an arts educator and administrator. She also headed the art department at Milwaukee State Teachers College, which became the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A dynamic leader in the WPA Project in the depression era, she also served as a director of the Oxbow Summer School of Painting in Saugatuck, Michigan. At the age of eighty-five, she finally had her first one-person exhibition of paintings that demonstrated her versatility and productivity. Several of her portraits with relaxed poses are represented in this exhibition.

Ruth Grotenrath (1912-1988) (Hudson Star Observer article) was a resident of Milwaukee, who along with her husband, Schomer Lichtner, worked as a muralist for WPA Projects for post offices in Wisconsin. Her mural painted for the Hudson, Wisconsin Post Office is now on loan to the West Bend Art Museum. She was a student of Robert von Neumann, Gustave Moeller and Elsa Ulbricht, and later an instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her boldly patterned paintings have been frequently exhibited, are popular with collectors and are included in museum collections.

This hallmark exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated publication. Authors contributing essays for the publication include: Heather Boright and Ken Baldwin, Laura Spenser Forsythe, Anne-Lee Geiger, Barbara Manger, Peter C. Merrill, Mary Poser (assisted in research and documentation by Elizabeth Groom and Helen Johnston), Deborah Rosenthal and Janet Treacy. Most of the work for this exhibition was borrowed from private collections in Wisconsin, Illinois, Washington and Oregon. Lenders to the exhibition include: Heather Boright, Marty Boright, Mary Holtz, Betsy & John Johnston, Helen Johnston, Schomer Lichtner, Eugene Meier, Miller Art Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, Paine Art Center and Gardens, Mary Payne, Mary Poser, Janet Treacy, West Bend Art Museum. West Bend Mutual Insurance Company and Jeune Nowak Wussow.

The exhibition was researched and prepared by guest curator, Anne-Lee Geiger of West Bend. Anne-Lee has been a long-time volunteer for the West Bend Art Museum. She is a former elementary art teacher with a BFA degree in drawing and painting from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Read more in Resource Library Magazine about the West Bend Art Museum

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

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 6/3/11

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