40 Years of Women Artists at Douglass Library
Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series 40th Anniversary Virtual Exhibit (1971-2011)
           


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VIRTUAL EXHIBIT

 

Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series
History of the Series & Chronology of Administration

The Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series, founded by Joan Snyder and established at the Mabel Smith Douglass Library (Rutgers University) in 1971, is the oldest continuous running exhibition space in the United States dedicated to making visible the work of emerging and established contemporary women artists. Formerly known as the Women Artists Series, in 1987 the Series was renamed in memory of Mary H. Dana, (Douglass College [DC], Class of 1942), by her friend, Professor Emerita Nelle Smither. The Series was initiated upon the suggestion of alumna artist Joan Snyder (DC, 1962), to Library Director Daisy Brightenback Shenholm (DC, 1944), who responded enthusiastically, and appointed the Series' first coordinator, Lynn F. Miller. During the Series' first twenty-five years, close to 200 artists, both acclaimed and emerging, have exhibited in the Douglass Library lobby gallery space and under the direction of other former coordinators Evelyn Apgar (DC, 1969), Beryl Smith (DC, 1982), Bonnie Goldstein, Karen McGruder, Elsa Bruguier, and Marianne Ficarra (DC, 1988). Dr. Ferris Olin (DC, 1970), Founding Head of the Margery Somers Foster Center/Rutgers University Libraries, has served as the Series' curator since 1994. In 2004, with Ferris Olin, Joseph Consoli and Sara Harrington were appointed co-curators of the Series. Since Fall 2006, the Series has been co-curated by Ferris Olin and Distinguished Professor Emerita Judith K. Brodsky, Founding Director of the Brodsky Center/Mason Gross School of the Arts. Olin and Brodsky also serve as the co-directors of the Institute for Women and Art at Rutgers. Since 2007 Nicole Ianuzelli (Mason Gross School of the Arts [MGSA] 2006) has served as the Series registrar and project manager. The Series is currently a program of the Institute for Women and Art in partnership with the Rutgers University Libraries.  The Institute for Women & Art (IWA) is a unit of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a center of the Office of the Associate Vice President for Academic & Public Partnerships in the Arts & Humanities. Exhibitions and events are made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.[1]

Inspired by the women's movement of the 1960s, the women's movement in art began by 1970 to work toward equal representation and recognition of women in contemporary art, and greater inclusiveness in art education. This impulse created the climate for the beginning of the Women Artists Series at the Mabel Smith Douglass Library, Douglass College, Rutgers University. Rutgers' New Brunswick campus already had a vibrant reputation in the contemporary art world, having provided a home for innovators like Allan Kaprow, Roy Lichtenstein, Lucas Samaras and George Segal.[2] However, the painter Joan Snyder (Douglass College, 1962 and Rutgers MFA) observed in 1971 that the studio art students of the all-female Douglass College had no female mentors or role models: all the full-time art faculty were male, and the college gallery exhibited only male artists. Snyder contacted Daisy Brightenback (later Shenholm, Douglass College, 1944), the director of the Mabel Smith Douglass Library, to ask if an exhibition of women artists could be held in the lobby and corridors of the library. Brightenback was enthusiastic, and enlisted Lynn F. Miller, a new reference librarian, to serve as coordinator while Snyder served as curator. The 1971/1972 season began with an exhibition of the works of Mary Heilmann and featured altogether eight artists, including Snyder. The Series was one of the first exhibition series in the US dedicated to women artists and the first on the east coast and predated the founding of A.I.R. Gallery and SoHo 20. It provided a venue for women artists, whose works were not shown in mainstream galleries, and created an opportunity for women artists and Douglass College students to interact. Soon the Series captured the attention of the media and the art world beyond Rutgers.[3] It remains the longest-running continuous series of exhibitions in the United States dedicated to women artists.

The first season's success led to subsequent years, along with expanded budgets and fundraising activities. A deliberate attempt was made to exhibit both established and emerging artists; each season typically featured artists at very different stages in their careers, with artists receiving their first solo exhibitions alongside the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Alice Neel and Nancy Spero. The first annual catalog was published in the second season, funded by the exhibiting artists themselves. A grant from the New Jersey Council on the Humanities in 1974/1975 allowed for the establishment of educational outreach programs, and the recruitment of catalog essayists including Linda Nochlin,[4] Lucy Lippard,[5] and Lawrence Alloway.[6] A series of group exhibitions of New Jersey women artists began in 1974/1975. By 1976 the Series was being discussed in major art periodicals such as Art in America[7] and Arts Magazine.[8]

Lynn Miller left Douglass Library in 1979 and Evelyn Apgar (DC, 1969), adding to her responsibilities in the Douglass College Dean's Office, was named Series coordinator. Under Apgar's leadership an Advisory Board was formed from members of the University community, and the establishment of a jury procedure ended the selection of artists by open submissions. A tenth-anniversary retrospective exhibition was held in 1981, which subsequently traveled to the A.I.R. Gallery, a women's cooperative in New York City, and a day-long conference was held entitled "The Women's Art Movement: Ten Years of Change."[9] At that time, Alice Aycock (DC, 1968) was commissioned to create a commemorative sculpture - "Miraculating Machine in the Garden."

Apgar left the University in 1983 and Beryl K. Smith (DC, 1982) became coordinator. A highlight of her tenure was Representative Works, 1971-1984: Women Artists Series, an exhibition of the work of thirty past Series participants, coordinated by Ferris Olin (DC, 1970) and organized jointly with the Women's Caucus for Art/New Jersey Chapter (WCA/NJ), and held during the National Women's Studies Conference at Douglass College in June of 1984.[10] Two years later, the Women's Caucus for Art presented Douglass College with the first WCA institutional award, for its contributions and commitment to women's art. In 1987 a significant endowment fund was established by Professor Emerita Nelle Smither in memory of Mary H. Dana (DC, 1942), and the Series was renamed the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series.[11]

Karen McGruder became coordinator in 1991 and immediately oversaw the twentieth anniversary celebration, planned by Beryl Smith, including a retrospective exhibition of works by thirty Series artists, a major public program, and a special issue of The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries devoted to the exhibition and to the history and significance of the Series.[12] Ferris Olin became curator of the Series in 1994, and in the same year established the Contemporary Women Artists Archive (later renamed the Contemporary Women Artists Files) to permanently house documentation on all the women artists who have ever supplied information about themselves to the Series.

The twenty-fifth anniversary celebration in 1996 was even bigger than the twentieth. It included three exhibitions -- Artists' Portraits and Statements held at Douglass Library, the 25th Year Retrospective Exhibition at the Mason Gross School of the Arts Galleries, and Documents and Images from Feminist Contemporary Art at the Rutgers Libraries' Special Collections and University Archives -- a reception and public programs featuring the lecture Feminist Content, Feminist Form: American Women Artists 1966-1996 by Dr. Judith E. Stein, extensive media coverage, and a commemorative print, Another Version of Cherry Fall, created by Joan Snyder in collaboration with the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper (RCIPP) master printer, Eileen Foti. The retrospective exhibition featured works by 125 artists and had a substantial catalog with essays by Joan Marter and Judith K. Brodsky. It was curated and the catalog compiled and edited by Marianne Ficarra (Douglass College, 1988) and Ferris Olin, who organized the entire celebration.[13]

Other significant publications were generated from their authors' experiences with the Series. In 1981, Lynn Miller and Sally Swenson published Lives and Works: Talks with Women Artists, a collection of interviews with Series artists.[14] In 1996, Beryl Smith, Joan Arbeiter and Sally Swenson published a second volume of interviews.[15] A Web site was created for the Series in 1999.[16] In 2003/2004, as part of the initial phase of the D21: Douglass Library for the 21st Century renovation project, galleries were created, giving the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series its first dedicated exhibition space. The first exhibit was of artwork from Douglass Library's permanent collection, including several works by Series artists.

Another Version of Cherry Fall does not represent the first time a work of art was created for the Women Artists Series. In its first season, Jackie Winsor created the sculpture Brick Dome for the front lawn of the Mabel Smith Douglass Library.[17] In 1981, a Women Artists Series residency by Alice Aycock (DC, 1968) produced The Miraculating Machine in the Garden (Temple of the Winds), sited next to the Library and recently restored.[18] In addition, a number of Series artists, including Lisa Collado, Suzanne Guite, Harriet Kittay, Ora Lerman, Marion Lerner Levine, Mae Rockland and Joan Snyder, have donated works to Douglass Library following their exhibitions.

Educational programs have always played a significant role in the Series' mission of outreach to the Rutgers community. In a first collaboration between the Women Artists Series and a Rutgers academic department, Joan Marter's "Women in Art" class curated the 1982 exhibition Modern Masters: Women of the First Generation, featuring artists Dorothy Dehner, Sari Dienes, Elsie Driggs, Perle Fine, Dorothea Greenbaum, Dorothy Hood, Buffie Johnson, Lois Jones, Esphyr Slobodkina and Jane Teller.[19] In 1986 the New Jersey Department of Higher Education funded a Faculty Development and Curriculum Transformation initiative called "Models of Persistence," a team-taught course on 20th century American Art that incorporated the Women Artists Series into the classroom; the team consisted of Louise Duus for Douglass College, Ferris Olin for the Institute for Research on Women, Judith K. Brodsky for Rutgers' Visual Arts Department, and Hildreth York for the Art History Department's Museum Studies Program.[20]

An endowment in memory of the artist Estelle Lebowitz provided for the establishment, in 1999, of the Estelle Lebowitz Visiting Artist-in-Residence Lectureship. This ongoing program affords the University community and general public the opportunity not only to view the work of a distinguished contemporary woman artist, but also to meet with her in a series of classes and public lectures.[21]

Series exhibits and programs have routinely been the subjects of spirited discussion, and occasionally of controversy. Student protests arose in 1974 over the works of Bibi Lencek with their strong suggestions of sexual activity. In response, Lynn Miller organized a panel to discuss freedom of expression, and as a result the exhibition continued.[22] Similar protests resulted a quarter-century later from an exhibition by Bailey Doogan (Women Artists Series, 1999/2000), whose paintings involved frank depictions of unidealized nude females. Ferris Olin's response was, like Miller's, to turn controversy into an opportunity for education. A seminar on "Censorship, Intellectual Freedom and the Arts" was organized, co-sponsored by the Series and the Rutgers University Libraries Advisory Committee on Diversity, Doogan was invited to give a talk on censorship at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, and a reading file consisting of copies of journal articles, reviews and visual resources about the artist, was placed on reserve at Douglass Library for interested students.[23]

This last practice was begun in the previous season in response to negative reactions to the works of Kara Walker in the exhibition Private Eye: A Group Exhibition. Some viewers interpreted Walker's silhouettes and cartoons of African-Americans as destructive negative stereotypes, and the reading file was compiled to augment knowledge of Walker's background and artistic intentions.[24] Racial stereotypes had also been a controversial issue in the works of Eve Sandler (Women Artists Series, 1997/1998). A panel presentation, "Hair Culture: African American Women, Beauty and Identity," had already been planned during the run of Sandler's exhibition, but when her sculptural forms made largely of synthetic hair and fingernails were seen by some viewers as enforcing negative stereotypes, these issues were incorporated into the presentation, in which Sandler was one of the speakers, enriching the discussion and the attendees' appreciation of Sandler's work.[25]

The power of symbols generated strong reactions in two very different instances, both of which provided opportunities for dialogue and education. In 1988 Vida Hackman inspired protests by incorporating a swastika into her works, which investigated the power of symbols as propaganda; later, University police confiscated as a security threat an inoperable, carborundum-coated rifle incorporated into one of Hackman's pieces, and withheld it for the remainder of the exhibition. As on other occasions, a forum was organized to encourage dialogue.[26] An exhibit of works by Michiko Rupnow featured wall reliefs containing artifacts such as bullets, body parts, and harmless bacteria cultures, and its accidental timing soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001 brought on a storm of controversy. Again, a substantial educational campaign was launched and dialogue encouraged.[27] Visibility and communication -- between artist and student, student and student, women and the art world -- have always been at the heart of the Series' mission.

 

Adapted from Rutgers University Libraries, "History of the Series," Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series, July 15, 2011 <http://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/rul/exhibits/dana_womens.shtml#history>; and William Hemmig and Jesse Traquair, "Administrative History of the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series," Miriam Schapiro Archives on Women Artists, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University, May 2010 <http://www2.scc.rutgers.edu/ead/manuscripts/wasb.html>.
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[1] The preceeding history of the DWAS was originally published by Rutgers University Libraries, "History of the Series," Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series, July 15, 2011 <http://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/rul/exhibits/dana_womens.shtml>.

[2] Joan Marter, ed., Off Limits: Rutgers University and the Avant-Garde, 1957-1963 (Newark, NJ; New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999).

[3] Beryl K. Smith, "The Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series: From Idea to Institution," The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries, 54.1 (1992), pp. 4-5.

[4] Lawrence Alloway, "Introduction," Women Artists Series Year Five (New Brunswick, NJ: Women Artists Series, 1976), pp. 1-2.

[5] Lucy Lippard, "Introduction," Women Artists Series Year Five (New Brunswick, NJ: Women Artists Series, 1975), pp. 1-5.

[6] Linda Nochlin, "Preface," Women Artists Series Year Four (New Brunswick, NJ: Women Artists Series, 1974), pp. 1-3. For more detailed information on the establishment of educational outreach, production of the cataloges, and the essayists, see Smith, 6-9.

[7] Lawrence Alloway, "Women's Art in the '70s," Art in America, May 1976, p. 66.

[8] Joan Marter, "Women Artists," Arts Magazine, February 1978, p. 23.

[9] Smith, 9-10.

[10] Representative Works, 1971-1984: Women Artists Series and Focused Fragments (New Brunswick, NJ: Women Artists Series, 1984).

[11] Smith, 10-11.

[12] Joan Marter, "Then and Now: Recognition of Women Artists Since 1970," The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries, 54.1 (1992), pp. 25-27. See also Ferris Olin, "Thawing the Chilly Climate: Two Decades of Women Artists at Douglass College," The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries, 54.1 (1992), pp. 28-33. See also Smith. See also Joan Snyder, "It Wasn't Neo to Us," The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries, 54.1 (1992), pp. 34-35.

[13] Marianne Ficarra and Ferris Olin, eds., Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series 25th Year Retrospective: 25 Years of Feminism, 25 Years of Women's Art (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Libraries, 1996)

[14] Lynn F. Miller and Sally S. Swenson, Lives and Works: Talks with Women Artists, vol. 1 (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1982).

[15] Beryl Smith, Joan Arbeiter, and Sally Shearer Swenson, Lives and Works: Talks with Women Artists, vol. 2 (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1996).

[16] Rutgers University Libraries, Mary H. Dana Women Artist Series, July 15, 2011 <http://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/rul/exhibits/dana_womens.shtml>.

[17] Ficarra and Olin, 140.

[18] Ficarra and Olin, 144; see also Smith, 10.

[19] Ficarra and Olin, 145. See also Modern Masters: Women of the First Generation (New Brunswick, NJ: Women Artists Series, 1982).

[20] Ficarra and Olin, 146.

[21] Rutgers University Libraries, Mary H. Dana Women Artist Series, July 15, 2011 <http://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/rul/exhibits/dana_womens.shtml>.

[22] Smith, 13.

[23] Frederick Kaimann, "Artist Reinterprets the Body Beautiful," Home News Tribune, 11 February, 2000, p. 7. See also Exhibition Materials, Exhibited Artists Files, Folders Doogan, Bailey 1-3, Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Collection, 1971-[ongoing], Miriam Schapiro Archives on Women Artists, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

[24] Exhibition Materials, Exhibited Artists Files, Folders Sillman, Amy 1-3, Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Collection, 1971-[ongoing], Miriam Schapiro Archives on Women Artists, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

[25] Exhibition Materials, Exhibited Artists Files, Folder Sandler, Eve 1, Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Collection, 1971-[ongoing], Miriam Schapiro Archives on Women Artists, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries. See also "Hair Culture Program," Operational Files, Folders 1997,9-1997.11, Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Collection, 1971-[ongoing], Miriam Schapiro Archives on Women Artists, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

[26] Ficarra and Olin, 147; see also Smith, 13-14.

[27] Exhibition Materials, Exhibited Artists Files, Folders Rupnow, Michiko 1-2, Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Collection, 1971-[ongoing], Miriam Schapiro Archives on Women Artists, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.