"To Be Someone and Not Something": Southern Women Artists' Quest for Education

TJC Gallery, Spartanburg, South Carolina
December 3, 2015 – January 29, 2016

Perhaps the most critically and commercially successful female American artist of her day, Mary Cassatt believed that women should strive “to be someone and not something.” Gifted with innate talent and born to privilege, Cassatt was determined to pursue her passion for art, both in the classroom and beyond. Fortunately, by the end of the nineteenth century, gradual social and political advancements were empowering women to seek equality in many different realms, including the arts. Beginning around 1860, female students were integrated into prestigious national art institutions, namely the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia—Cassatt’s alma mater—and the Art Students League in New York City. In addition to their gender, several of the artists showcased in this exhibition faced yet another barrier: the absence of formal art academies in the post-bellum South. Like their male counterparts, many Southern female painters, including Margaret Moffett Law, Clara Minter Weaver Parrish, and Sarah Mabel Pugh, traveled to the North and abroad to receive proper artistic training. Curated by TJC intern Avery Close, Wofford College Class of 2016, To Be Someone also highlights the work of female artists who were especially influential in establishing a supportive artistic sphere in the South, such as Marie Atkinson Hull, Gladys Nelson Smith, and Elizabeth O’Neill Verner. As a whole, these women represent the professional female artist of the early twentieth century: creators who pushed the boundaries of gendered limitations, built meaningful careers, and fostered opportunities for other women artists to become “someone.”