“Little Cosette” (1870) by Ida Waugh, American (1847-1919), oil on canvas, 20 1/8 x 28 1/8 inches, gift of Mrs. John S. Haug, 1961. Part of the exhibition “Women and Biography,” on view at Woodmere Art Museum through June 1.

“Little Cosette” (1870) by Ida Waugh, American (1847-1919), oil on canvas, 20 1/8 x 28 1/8 inches, gift of Mrs. John S. Haug, 1961. Part of the exhibition “Women and Biography,” on view at Woodmere Art Museum through June 1.

by William R. Valerio

As I have written in this column a few times before, Woodmere is distinguished among museums for its history of acquiring and exhibiting the work of women artists. Current exhibitions dedicated to the great figurative realist Martha Mayer Erlebacher (1937-2013) and abstract painter Quita Brodhead (1901-2002) are soon to be complemented by a retrospective of self-taught modernist Jessie Drew-Bear (1879-1962), which opens in March.

To tie all of this together, we are also presenting “Women and Biography,” an exhibition of paintings and works on paper from Woodmere’s collection. With this, we not only show off some of our greatest treasures, but also build connections between the concurrent exhibitions of work by women artists.

In large part, the strength of Woodmere’s collection in works by women artists is the legacy of Edith Emerson, an artist herself and the director of Woodmere from the early 1940s through 1978. Woodmere is also indebted to Emerson, the life partner of Violet Oakley, for much of its important collection of works by Oakley and her circle. We are thrilled that with “Women and Biography” we have occasion to show portraits by Emerson and Oakley of each other, as well as works by their close friends Elizabeth Shippen Green and Alice Kent Stoddard.

The exhibition also brings together works by artists from the generations before and after Emerson and Oakley, reaching back to the 19th century with Ida Waugh, Mary Cassatt and Helen Corson Hovenden (who lived a short distance up Germantown Avenue and may well have been friendly with Woodmere’s founder, Charles Knox Smith).

Paintings by Edith Neff and Mitzi Melnicoff, influential teachers at the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) who made their mark as artists in the 1960s and 1970s, join those by recent graduates of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, including Catherine Mulligan, Aubrey Levinthal and Mickayel Thurin.

Works by Betty W. Hubbard, Gertrude Fisher-Fishman, Martha Armstrong and Millicent Krouse appear alongside two recent acquisitions, “Her Father’s Daughter” (2013) by Anne Minich and “Trayvon Martin and the Most Precious Blood” (2014) by Barbara Bullock, which are on view for the first time.

With so many great works by women artists in Woodmere’s collection, we chose to exhibit paintings that explore the intimate relationships of family, and women artists’ depictions of their spouses, partners, children, parents and themselves. The exhibition, however, does not “frame” women artists within the domestic sphere of family, but instead attempts to show how women artists have explored, embraced and sometimes turned upside down the traditional notions of women as nurturers of family.

Woodmere is most proud of its digital catalogues, and for more information on “Women and Biography,” including images of all the works on view, go to issuu.com/woodmereartmuseum. You can download the catalogue and read it on your computer or print it out.

William R. Valerio, Ph.D., is the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO of the Woodmere Art Museum

Please join us for “Quita Brodhead: Bold Strokes” and “Women and Biography” (through June 1). Just In: “Martha Mayer Erlebacher” (through March 2) and “Jessie Drew-Bear: Stories and Dreams” (March 22-July 13).

Woodmere Art Museum is located at 9201 Germantown Ave. For more information, call 215-247-0476 or visit woodmereartmuseum.org.

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