It seems that wherever I find myself, there are artists nearby whose interesting stories I relish discovering. Below me on the first floor of this apartment building lives Barbara Rhoades, a retired art teacher whom I met out by the community gardens one day not long after I'd moved in. I had already noticed the license plate on her car, Artcart, a first clue. It was only after a few conversations with her, however, that she mentioned that she was arranging an exhibit of paintings by her great-aunt, Katharine Nash Rhoades, whose work had been "lost" for a while. and now, found, was on its way to the Art West exhibit hall at Elon University for a long-overdue renaissance.
It's an interesting story, best told by simply showing you the photos I took, for Barbara had done a wonderful job of displaying not only her great-aunt's art, but her letters, journals, and some discovered history, personal and artist. [I apologize for the poor quality of these photos...lighting in the university gallery was not really professional quality, and for some reason the angle of my lens crooked itself. But I think it is still worth showing them here, because where else would you see them now?]
There were also a significant number of photographs taken of her throughout her life, particularly in the era in which she was a correspondent and model to Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, two of the U.S.'s most influential photographers of the early twentieth century, who put her portraits on display at exhibits, art journals and books. In fact, Barbara has related, a photo whose model was attributed to another woman by the archivists at the Yale University collection is instead one of Katharine.
Katharine, I was particularly interested to learn, was also one of Duncan Phillips' "three graces", helping him make connections to some of the best artists of those years, which became what is now the Phillips Collection, off Dupont Circle, one of my favorite museums to visit.
How is it, more than just I ask, that women's art doesn't make it to the historical public eye, even when they are clearly part of, supportive of (maybe that's the problem?), and working in their own right next to the men whose names and work fill the pages of art books and museums the world over? Tonight, as if to make my point, Antiques Roadshow featured the art of a woman whose daughter brought her work to light by bringing two paintings and asking about them. They were clearly excellent examples of two major styles of the '30's. Any museum ought to be proud to own them, any art class intent on studying them.
Although she was part of the famed Armory Show in 1913, Katharine's work almost disappeared from not only public view, but even private, piled-in-the-closet view. I will let Barbara's history explain here, and then let you readers weigh in on the issues which that part of the story brings up.
Meanwhile, because I was out of the country for most of the time that the exhibit ran at Art West, I managed to get to see it only in its last week, days before Barbara, who will be moving to Arizona in a few weeks, took it down to ship to herself and family members. I wish I had had enough time to bring others with me, another way, if only small, to further her. Fortunately, however, several museum and documenters of the work of that era came to take notes and correct errors. Barbara's determination to fill in an important history made the difference between anonymity and recognition for Katharine Rhoades.