As students gathered in the Muscarelle Museum of Art Saturday, Feb. 10 there were two exhibits opening. One, “Women with Vision: Masterworks from the Permanent Collection,” kicks off the College of William and Mary’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of women in residence.
In February 1918, the College’s Board of Visitors met to pass a resolution that would allow co-education starting later that year in September. A few months later, the Virginia General Assembly passed a similar resolution, and 24 women began their collegiate journeys for the 1918-19 academic year.
This September, programming for the celebration of this 100th year celebration will kick off and continue throughout the 2018-19 academic year. The College plans to explore issues involved by this transformation, from same-sex higher education to co-education.
The exhibit features paintings, drawings and sculptures ranging across four centuries, beginning in 1660. This selection of artwork features works by over 30 female artists, including some of historical significance such as Marguerite Gerard, Julia Margaret Cameron, Rosa Bonheur and Mary Cassatt.
One of the exhibit’s self-proclaimed highlights is “White Flower,” a large still life by Georgia O’Keeffe, who once was a resident of Williamsburg and a recipient of an honorary degree from the College. The still life was gifted to the exhibit by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in 1932, and is considered the most important modern painting in the Muscarelle’s permanent collection.
For Rebecca Jaeger J.D. ’20, learning that O’Keeffe was once a resident of Williamsburg was one of the highlights of her night.
“We’re law students, so we don’t get to this part of campus very often,” Jaeger said. “… I think what’s impressed me so far about the collection is definitely the depth of different pieces: the sculptures, drawings, photographs and paintings. We also learned that Georgia O’Keeffe lived in Williamsburg, so we didn’t know that.”
In addition to historical figures, “Women with Vision” also includes artists from the 20th century, including Alice Neel, Louise Nevelson, Miriam Schapiro, Cindy Sherman and Kiki Smith. The permanent collection’s exhibit also features contemporary artists such as Carole Feuerman, Kay Jackson, Ana Maria Pacheco and Tania Brassesco.
“We are so happy to have the opportunity to show our diverse and growing collection of women artists; just before the official 100th anniversary celebration of the first female student admitted to the College,” museum Director Aaron De Groft said. “The quality of the art in this exhibition is impressive and shows the growth of this important area of our collection. The historic commemoration year coincides with the summer closing of the Muscarelle Museum of Art as we embark on our new building project.”
While some of the exhibit features works previously acquired by the museum, there are also new acquisitions, such as Barbara Holtz’s painting “Prospects,” Sue Johnson’s historical reinterpretations and Maria Larsson’s digital collage.
One student, Julia Bullard ’20, said that she was interested in coming to the event because she has several friends who intern for the Muscarelle and she has experience with campus art organizations through ROCKET magazine.
“I always come to these and I have a lot of friends who intern here, and one of them is on ROCKET magazine with me,” Bullard said. “I like to be involved with arts on campus. I am an English major, so similar to literature I think we have a lot of marginalized voices that are lost, and the messages that they convey in art and what they come to represent is very important, especially in retrospect.”
Another student, Caroline Abbott ’19, said it was very important to her to see the Muscarelle recognize women artists because she herself is passionate about creating art.
“While I feel, throughout history, women have been highly underrepresented in art,” Abbott said. “To me, as a female artist, it is important to see that kind of exposure so I feel inspired to submit my work to different galleries. My aunt is actually a painter, and as a child, one of the things that inspired me was seeing her pursue her work and see her get her work accepted places.”
Abbott said that while she came to the exhibit to see pieces she knew by name, she was also excited to be surprised by pieces and artists she was less familiar with.
The first floor of the museum will house the “Women with Vision” exhibit, while the second floor will feature “In the Light of Caravaggio: Dutch and Flemish Paintings from Southeastern Museums,” which is home to one painting by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.
For the exhibit’s public opening, admission was free for all students and catering was provided. One law student, Alexandra Amado J.D. ’20 said that she had never been to the Muscarelle before, but she appreciated the opportunity to see both public openings.
“The whole thing is honestly much more impressive than I realized,” Amado said. “I don’t think any of us have been here before, so it’s really exciting to get out of the law school grove and experience something that we didn’t realize was so wonderful.”