A Room of Their Own

Two New York Galleries team up for an exhibition commemorating the National Association of Women Artists’ 135th anniversary
Meg Daly, American Fine Art Magazine, March 1, 2024

Two noted purveyors of American art, Lincoln Glenn and Graham Shay 1857, have teamed up for an important historical show of women’s artwork. The show celebrates the 135th anniversary of the National Association of Women Artists, the nation’s largest and longest running women’s artist collective.


Included in the show are early-20th century artists such as sculptor Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1972-1955), known for her small figurines and sculptures of motherhood, and Dorothy Eaton (1893-1968), a celebrated painter of rural life. Work by dozens of women artists will be on display, particularly from the traditional American art world. Collectors can enjoy works by Jane Peterson, Agnes Pelton, Anna Walinska, Alice Schille, Abastenia St. Leger Eberle, Gertrude Fiske, Dorothy Dehner, Blanche Lazzell, Doris Lee, Isabel Bishop, Mary Elizabeth Price, Anna Richards Brewster and Kyra Markham.


Lincoln Glenn gallery director Eli Sterngass notes that the traditional American art market has yet to see the recalibration of inclusion of women that the post-War art world has seen. “We hope to improve that with this exhibition,” he says. “There was never equality between male and female artists. We are trying to look back and even the playing field.”


Originally called the Woman’s Art Club of New York, the National Association of Women Artists (NAWA) was founded in 1899 by five women who wanted to correct the exclusion of women artists. NAWA became a homebase for many important American artists, providing camaraderie, exhibitions opportunities, salons and training for serious women artists. The organization is still vital today. Noted abstract painter and current NAWA member Pat Adams is quoted in a catalog accompanying the exhibition. She says, “[NAWA] serves as a very useful place for women artists. So many women embrace life fully but find their efforts as artists delayed by familial responsibilities. They need a point of reentry, a place to come together, show their work, and engage in critical dialogue.”


One of the numerous influential artists to belong to NAWA was Isabel Bishop (1902-1988). She was known for her realistic portraits of women in New York City. She taught art at the Art Students League of New York, and her work was included in the first three Whitney Biennials in 1932, 1934 and 1936. Her painting, Homeward, harkens her shift from realism toward the postwar trend of abstraction. Two apparently female figures clasp hands above their heads, perhaps dancing. The piece shows how motion and emotion can be conveyed with looser brushstrokes and indistinct features.


Most works in the exhibit were made between 1910 and 1950. A range of styles and subject matter can be seen, reflecting trends in society and art history. Abstraction bumps up against representation, energizing the display.


Graham Shay director Cameron Shay is particularly excited about a recent find: a sculpture called The Sunbeam by Vonnoh. “It’s a rare figure of a playful dancing child, set on a beautiful quarried variegated marble base,” he says. “It has been in a private collection since the 1920s.”


Shay notes that his gallery takes pride in its commitment to women artists. “This gallery has been for so long invested in American women artists like Alice Neel, Perle Fine, Malvina Hoffman, and many others,” he says. “We have a long history with direct contact and representation of these artists and it’s nice they are having a resurgence today. 


A key piece represented by Lincoln Glenn is Eaton’s 1935 oil Tully Lumber Mill, Orange, Massachusetts. This potent painting is saturated with rich color and seems to express something quintessentially American. There’s a hopefulness and industriousness to the scene, where two figures meet on a country road under a blue sky.


Another exciting painting in the exhibition is Walinska’s The Picnic, 1947. Interestingly, this painting features a similar palette to Eaton’s, yet Walinska’s abstract style is a totally different take on a day in the countryside. Walinska was a world traveler and was widely celebrated in her time. Her works are included in important public collections, including the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and many others.


The NAWA exhibition is the second collaboration by Lincoln Glenn and Graham Shay, following last year’s successful show of 1913 Armory Show exhibition artists. The NAWA exhibition overlaps with two other major art events in New York City this spring: the American Art Fair and the American Art Conference. A complimentary catalog accompanies the exhibition. An opening reception will be held on Thursday, March 28 from 6 to 9 p.m.