Occasionally, I roam through the stacks of our collection to explore what I am not familiar with as a treat after a project has been finished or, in this case, as a small interlude from the challenging winter we have been experiencing. Since March is Women’s History Month, I decided to search out women artists. In this posting I would like to share with you the beautiful art that I discovered.
My first discovery was three boxes of watercolors and pencil sketches created by Katherine M. Bradlee (1844-1902), which were originally found in a family residence on Peaches Point. The point was named after John Peach, one of the early settlers of Marblehead, Massachusetts, in the mid-17th century. The Bradlee collection includes watercolor paintings of flowers, pencil drawings, and pencil sketches and watercolor drawings of landscape scenes of New Hampshire and Europe created between 1852 and 1890.
Another surprise were the pen-and-ink sketches of Eliza Grace Bell (1809-1897), the mother of Alexander Graham Bell. The front page (or the “frontispiece”) of the sketchbook includes the following inscription: “Mrs. George T. Sanders with kind regards from . . .” followed by Mrs. Bell’s initials. The page also states that the gift was made in September 1874 while Mrs. Bell lived in Ontario, Canada. Most of the sketches are from Edinburgh and Ireland and a few sketches were made in Hamburg, Germany. Our collection also includes a letter written to Mrs. George T. Sanders, in which Mrs. Bell writes, “My son Aleck informs me that you feel a great interest in the Old Country and thinks you would be pleased with some Pen and Ink sketches that I made in different parts of it.” In the same letter she thanks Mrs. Sanders for taking care of her son while he was ill.
Sarah W. Symonds (1870-1965) was known for her figurines and bas relief plaques of historic sites throughout New England. The daughter of Lydia F. DaCosta and Lemuel W. Symonds, Sarah was a graduate of Emerson College in Boston, and one of the few women of her time with a career. Her first studio was in the John Ward House in Salem, followed by a second studio on Brown Street and eventually a gift shop at the Hawthorne Hotel. Sarah worked well into her eightieth year and had many repeat customers. Our collection includes a letter from one of them, which states: “I have, some years past, had the pleasure of paying a visit to your show rooms and on the occasion bought two pieces: a ‘house of seven gables’ and a round flat Lincoln plaque. Both, have caused joy being presented as wedding gifts.”
Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788), also very creative in her later years, began designing her “paper mosaicks” at the age of 72, after she was widowed for the second time. The intricate, hand-cut floral patterns were Mrs. Delany’s own designs. They were begun at Bulstrode, Buckinghamshire where she stayed after her second husband died. Mrs. Delany identified her technique as a “new way of imitating flowers.” Inspired by the color of a geranium that was placed near a collection of paper in her bedchamber, Mrs. Delany began her distinguished career. In the next decade she created more than one thousand botanical artworks, which are in the collection of the British Museum. Our collection includes a book about a recent exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art entitled “Mrs. Delany & Her Circle.” The cover image is a detail from “Passiflora Laurifolia” created in 1777. I was so inspired by what I read about her and the collection, that I purchased a biography of Mrs. Delany for my personal library, The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 written by Molly Peacock. The more I read, the more fascinated I become by the techniques she used to create her flowers.
Rosamond Bowditch Loring (1889-1950), the great granddaughter of Nathaniel Bowditch, is known for her paste and marbled papers. She was also the first woman to be elected to the Board of Trustees of the Peabody Museum and held the position of Honorary Curator of Exhibitions (1942-1950). Paste paper is created by brushing coloured paste over a sheet of paper and making patterns in the paste before it dries. Loring had her own recipe for the paste from which she created beautiful designs, many examples of which are in the Rosamond B. Loring Collection of Decorated Papers in the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts at the Houghton Library on the Harvard University campus.
In her book Marbled Papers, an address delivered before the members of The Club of Odd Volumes in 1932, Mrs. Loring describes how she first began to make marbled paper; while studying bookbinding she had been frustrated by the choices of end papers to match the binding she was working with and decided that she wanted to learn how to color paper herself. While cleaning up her studio one day, she threw all the paint, paste, and water into one bowl and as she was preparing to dispose of the waste from the day, she “noticed a blend of lovely rainbow colors floating on the surface of the water.” She then put a spot of glue in clear water and spattered oil paints and turpentine on the surface. Amazed at the patterns created by this process, she began her career making marbled papers.
It was a pleasure to share what I learned about these five talented women. Like me, I hope you are inspired to create art of your own.
Editor’s Note: Even though women like Rosamond Bowditch Loring paved the way by becoming PEM’s first Trustee, a recent article in the New York Times details an ongoing gender gap in museum management.
Women run just a quarter of the biggest art museums in the United States and Canada, and they earn about a third less than their male counterparts, according to a report recently released by the Association of Art Museum Directors.