The Etchings Of Women

Posted: July 16, 1988

Among the female etchers of the last quarter of the 19th century were some of the greatest American artists of their day. But neither in their lifetime nor in the years since their death has the American public gotten to know them well.

Now Woodmere Art Museum is the host of a major traveling show, "American Women of the Etching Revival," organized for Atlanta's High Museum of Art by the scholar Phyllis Peet. It will be strange if the public still withholds its cheer, for there is a timeless quality about much of this artistry that should win popularity in any age.

The etchings in the show have been lent from museums and private collections. Of the 36 artists represented, 16 were born in or lived in Philadelphia, and quite a few studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, with Thomas Eakins or at Moore College of Art.

The show is the first to attempt to set the record straight about these

artists, many of whom supported themselves and their families with their artwork. Ironically, because the artists have suffered segregation from the Etching Revival mainstream, primarily because they were women, it takes a segregated display to accomplish this.

Etchings were the first great American prints. Like their male counterparts, the female practitioners of the medium avoided such Industrial Age subjects as technology, mechanization and industrial sprawl in favor of bucolic landscapes and other peaceful views. American printmakers of either sex also did not produce many figure subjects.

The pastoral mood that suffuses many of the featured landscapes in the Woodmere show seems dignified and solemn when it is derived from an intense feeling for the artist's native landscape, portrayed as a private vignette usually without human figures. The mood also may be idyllic with ties to the Romantic tradition, as in a picture of a brewing storm with sharply contrasted deep shadow and light.

We expect Mary Cassatt, with her vibrant, forward-looking figure work, to stand tall in this context, as indeed she does. But Mary Nimmo Moran is the show's most outstanding revelation; her spacious landscapes, reflecting some universal law, are notable for their boldness, range and subtlety. She died in 1899 at the age of 57, but her work still searches out eternal truths that lie beyond outward appearances.

Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 17. Telephone: 247-0476.

O'BANNON. A growing American interest in exotic art is acknowledged by the exhibit "Tibetan Rugs Redux" at George O'Bannon. While various Tibetan tankas (hanging painted scrolls) and bronze sculptures are recognized as masterpieces, rugs also deserve attention. Such art, an offshoot of the Indian tradition, actually is an eclectic lamination of various nearby cultures, including Chinese.

These rugs, mostly early-20th century, emphasize colors such as vermilion and saffron. Produced by an unusual looped weave in villages shadowed by glaciers and avalanches, these rugs tend to be understandably cruder in feeling and production than their more refined Indian counterparts. In subject, they contain hints of a Himalayan penchant for the grotesque.

George O'Bannon, 2100 Spring St. Hours: noon to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Through July 25. Telephone: 557-6555.

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