“The Pearls “(Portrait of Mrs. James Crosby Brown (Agnes Hewlett) and Son Alexandre), 1911 (Private collection)

by William R. Valerio

When an exhibition opens, it always seems like there is plenty of time to see it. However, we have now arrived at the last ten days of “A Grand Vision: Violet Oakley and the American Renaissance” at Woodmere. I urge you not to miss it!

Oakley is among the greatest of American artists, and visitors concur that the experience in Woodmere’s galleries is revelatory. Individual works of art are each delicious to the eyes, and each one expresses a part of Oakley’s grand vision of world peace and universal equality of all men and women.

Here are three more reasons you should get to Woodmere by Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018:

First, you are unlikely to see many of the works in the exhibition any time again in the near future. The exhibition contains many works of art loaned by private collectors, which are not usually on view to the public. Large-scale murals are difficult to transport, so they are rarely lent to exhibitions. In addition, in order to preserve fragile, light-sensitive works on paper, museums will only allow them to be shown for a limited period of time.

Chances are it will be long time before you will again have the opportunity to see Oakley’s spectacular – though experimental and therefore delicate – finished oil sketch for the All Angels Church. This is the closest you are likely to get to the important commission (destroyed in the 1970s) that launched Oakley’s career and earned her the commission of the murals in our State Capitol in Harrisburg, which is one of the biggest commissions in all of American art.

Second, Patricia Likos Ricci, the guest curator of the show at Woodmere, has been studying Oakley’s work since the 1970s, when she worked directly with Oakley’s life partner, the former director of Woodmere, Edith Emerson.

The roughly 80 works in the show are Ricci’s selections of Oakley’s best, most meaningful paintings, drawings and watercolors – a selection of works that tells the overarching story of the artist’s lifetime of accomplishments. Ricci took care to select works that were Oakley and Emerson’s own personal favorites, works that hung prominently in their home, Cogslea, on St. George’s Road.

Third, the exhibition is an important opportunity to get to know Woodmere itself.  The museum’s collection includes more than 2,000 works of art by Oakley, about a quarter of the museum’s collection, which numbers just under 8,000 works of art. If you live in Chestnut Hill in particular, or in northwest Philadelphia in general and Woodmere is a cultural hub for you, this is a chance to get to know the work of an artist who contributes substantially to the institution’s reason for being.

Please remember that Woodmere is open late on Friday, to 8 p.m. Let me also invite you to join us for two events that promise to be special:

On Saturday, Jan.13, at 6 p.m., Woodmere is hosting a performance by Ursula Rucker. Rucker is an artist, activist, and poet who breaks boundaries in contemporary art in ways that Oakley did in her own time.

On Saturday, Jan.20, at 3 p.m., Woodmere will be hosting a lecture on Oakley by Sylvia Yount, the curator of American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Dr. Yount will talk about Oakley’s Arts and Crafts impulse. A closing reception will follow the lecture, and I urge everyone to please attend and join us in raising a glass!

William R. Valerio, PhD., is the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO at Woodmere Art Museum.

 

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