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Women Portray the West (1890-1940)



(above: Frances H. Gearhart (1869-1958), "On Monterey Bay," ca. 1921,

color woodblock print, lent by James Main Fine Art, Santa Barbara)


Images of America's West as seen through the eyes of Georgia O'Keeffe and other women artists is the focus of the Spring exhibition at the Wildling Art Museum in Los Olivos CA. More than 30 works spanning the half-century from 1890 to 1940 will be on display beginning March 14, 2004.

In addition to the O'Keeffe work, the exhibition includes paintings, watercolors, etchings, photographs and sculpture by other well-known artists such as Grace Carpenter Hudson, Anna Althea Hills and Marion Kavanagh Wachtel.

"We are pleased to have these images," said Marlene Miller, curator of the exhibition and a founding director of the Wildling. "Equally important, though, are the interesting pieces by women who are known only to true aficionados of Western art." (left: Catherine Carter Critcher (1868-1964), "Indian Drummer," oil on canvas, lent by Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe)

Though not dwelling on this aspect of the subject, there is an equally compelling subtext that underlies the exhibition: women's equality in the art world.

"Until only recently, it was assumed that only male artists were qualified to portray the grandeur and ruggedness of the West," said Miller. "What's now being recognized is that even before 1900 women artists were producing some extremely powerful and sensitive depictions of the West. Some of the artists were encouraged to pursue their calling, some did so in spite of their surroundings, and some -- like Elsie Palmer Payne, Julia Bracken Wendt and Wachtel -- married successful artists with whom they could share their experiences." (right: Ellen Henne Goodale (1915-1991), "Alaskan Moose," ca. 1943, oil on canvasboard, lent by Jo and Len Braarud, La Conner, Washington)

"This show is different from our previous ones," said Penny Knowles, the Museum's executive director. "Our focus is art of the American wilderness, but this time we've chosen to explore the entire range of subject matter that women artists recorded. There certainly are some landscapes in the exhibition, but we're also very mindful of the sensitivity that women artists had towards the native population that inhabited the West before the arrival of European whites."

In addition to O'Keeffe's "Kachina," (1931), which has just returned from an exhibition in Switzerland, Grace Hudson's 1904 painting of a young Pomo Indian and Catherine Critcher's oil, "Indian Drummer," underscore the introspective approach that some women artists took in depicting their characterization of the West and its inhabitants. In dramatic contrast to this approach is the bold canvas -- largest in the exhibit -- of four Sioux warriors by Mormon artist Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert, whose grandmother emigrated to Utah with Brigham Young. (left: Gene (Alice Geneva) Kloss (1903-1996), "Spring Lights -- Valdez Valley," watercolor and gouache on paper, lent by the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas)

To give viewers a more complete understanding of the show, the Museum is also publishing a 20-page monograph to accompany the exhibition. Authored by Miller and fellow Museum director Louise Clarke, the brochure includes brief biographies of the artists shown, as well as a discussion of the status of women artists since the earliest European settlements on the East Coast of America.

"Women Portray the West (1890-1940)" will remain on view through May 30, 2004. It is one of a number of events scheduled in conjunction with the 17th Annual "Ladies First" Spring Art Show on March 20 in Los Olivos. (right: Anne Millay Bremer (1868-1923), "Carmel Coast," ca. 1918, oil on canvas, Private Collection, Santa Barbara)


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(left: photo of Wilding Art Museum, 2000)

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