Central to Their Lives: Southern Women Artists in the Johnson Collection

Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, Virginia
February 6, 2021 – July 18, 2021

“Art is central to my life. Not being able to able to make or see art would be a major deprivation.” Nell Blaine’s assertion about the centrality—the essentiality—of art to her life has a particular resonance. The Virginia painter’s creative path began early and over the course of her life, she overcame significant barriers in her quest to make and see art, including serious vision problems, polio, and paralysis. And then, there was her gender. In 1957, Blaine was hailed by Life magazine as someone to watch, profiled along with four other emerging painters whom the journalist praised “not as notable women artists but as notable artists who happen to be women.”

Spanning the decades between the late 1890s and early 1960s, this exhibition examines the particularly complex challenges Southern women artists confronted in a traditionally conservative region during a period in which women’s social, cultural, and political roles were being redefined and reinterpreted. How did the variables of historical gender norms, educational barriers, race, regionalism, sisterhood, suffrage, and modernism mitigate and motivate women seeking expression on canvas or in clay? Whether in personal or professional arenas? Working from studio space in spare rooms at home or on the world stage, the artists considered made remarkable contributions by fostering future generations of artists through instruction, incorporating new aesthetics into the fine arts, and challenging the status quo.             

After opening at the Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, the exhibition traveled to the Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson; the Huntington Museum of Art, West Virginia; the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, Tennessee; the Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina; Wofford College, Spartanburg, South Carolina; and the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, Virginia.

The 264-page companion catalogue is composed of six lead essays and forty-two catalogue entries by experts in the field of Southern art, as well as a  foreword written by Sylvia Yount, the Lawrence A. Fleischman Curator In Charge of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Illustrated with more than eighty color images, the volume also includes a directory of over two thousand women artists with documented professional activity in the South in the period under consideration. Central to Their Lives: Southern Women Artists in the Johnson Collection is available for purchase via Spartanburg's independent bookseller Hub City Bookshop.

Featured artists: Anni Albers, Wenonah Bell, Nell Blaine, Sarah Blakeslee, Selma Burke, Elisabeth Chant, Adèle Clark, Kate Clark, Josephine Couper, Ida Crawley, Minnie Evans, Virginia Evans, Zelda Fitzgerald, Maud Gatewood, Emma Gilchrist, Anne Goldthwaite, Angela Gregory, Ellen Hale, Ella Hergesheimer, Marie Hull, Clementine Hunter, Anna Huntington, Loïs Jones, Nell Jones, Ida Kohlmeyer, Margaret Law, Blanche Lazzell, Adele Lemm, Edith London, Blondelle Malone, Maud Mason, Corrie McCallum, Helen Moseley, Anne Nash, Willie Newman, Augusta Oelschig, Clara Parrish, Theresa Pollak, Mabel Pugh, Andrée Ruellan, Augusta SavageHattie SaussyDixie Selden, Alice Smith, Gladys Smith, Anna Taylor, Alma Thomas, Mary Thomas, Helen Turner, Elizabeth Verner, Catherine Wiley, Emma Wilkins, Eola Willis, Bayard Wootten,  and Enid Yandell.