Exhibit spans 137 years of Vermont women artists

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(Host) The artistic accomplishments of five women artists of Vermont are on display at Rutland’s Chaffee Art Center.

Their collective work spans 137 years and reflects many different styles.

VPR’s Nina Keck has more:

(Keck) Despite the social constraints of the 19th and early 20th century – the five women artists highlighted in the Chaffee exhibit show they had the skills, independence and downright chutzpah to succeed in the arts.

Mickey Myers is executive director of the Bryan Memorial Gallery in Jeffersonville and the curator of Masters of Vermont – Five Women Artists.

(Myers) "All of these women went for it. Ruth Mould accepted her future husband’s proposal of marriage only after he guaranteed her that no matter where she lived she would have a studio in the house."

(Keck) Ruth Mould was born in Morrisville in 1894 and planned to be a teacher.

But she became so captivated with painting, that she left Vermont to study visual arts in the Midwest and New York City.

After returning to Vermont, she became a well-respected portrait painter. Several of her works hang in the State House and Vermont Supreme Court building.

Artist Georgia Balch of Johnson, Vermont, was born in 1888. Her specialty was outdoor landscapes.

Curator Mickey Myers says all the women in the exhibit were much better known during their lifetimes than today. That’s a shame, she says, considering the caliber of their work.

(Myers) "What struck me looking at their work was how each one of them was their own person. They were their own artists. They weren’t copying anybody."

(Keck) Myers says she was also amazed by the lives these women led.

(Myers) "I think that Martha Wood Belcher’s story is a story that would make a fantastic screenplay.”

(Keck) Belcher was born in England in 1844 but came to the United States when she was 12. Within a few years her brother and father had both died, leaving her mother to care for three daughters.

(Myers) "And they basically supported themselves by taking in laundry and sewing and Martha painted."

(Keck) Martha Belcher’s painting caught the eye of an arts patron from New York City – and in fairy tale fashion – he paid for her to study in New York City and Europe.

(Myers) "It was unheard of that women go to art school. She managed to study in many places of great repute for men at the time."

(Keck) When she finished her studies, Martha Belcher settled in Pittsford. Martha’s daughter, Hilda Belcher, who was born in Pittsford in the 1880s, became a skilled artist as well.

Thanks to an inheritance from relatives in England, she was able to live in New York City and study with some of the greatest masters of the time.

Curator Mickey Myers says Hilda Belcher’s big break came in 1908 when she won a painting contest sponsored by the Strathmore paper company.

(Myers) "And The New York Times had a headline in its arts section when she won this. "Girl Wins Prize Over 658 Men" (laughter) She was the only woman who had entered this particular painting competition using Strathmore paper. And that competition parlayed her into being a very well-known artist nationwide when she was very young."

(Keck) In 1935, The New York Times called her one of the most distinguished women artists in America.

(Myers) "Hilda would be very simple in her use of color. She would concentrate. For example, I’m thinking of one particular portrait of a woman from a gospel choir. The woman is wearing the most marvelous purple hat. I wish I had such a hat! And a cobalt blue dress. And the colors just radiate from the paper. She did a lot of portraits in Mexico and the colors are delicious. They just pop off the page."

(Keck) The most contemporary of the five women artists in the exhibit is Mary Taylor Bryan, of Jeffersonville, Vermont. Born in 1906, her work is more varied and abstract. Micky Myers says Bryan never met a style or a medium she didn’t soon master.

(Myers) "And her work really becomes the breakthrough artist, the artist who is very much living and working in the 20th century.

(Keck) Besides highlighting the talents of five amazing women artists, organizers at the Chaffee Art Center also wanted the exhibit to encourage, emerging young artists.

So part of the gallery will also display work of young women from local high schools.

Masters of Vermont – Five Women Artists opened over the weekend and runs through November 25th.

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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