Last winter I felt compelled to begin the Matrons of the Arts initiative at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Following the sage advice of a friend to "look within my realm of influence to find something I could bring light to,” I (with the full support of the Museum) went about forming a women’s initiative that focused on representation and education. An initiative that sought to tell a broader story ... the her-story and whole-story of art.
Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, Daphne, modeled 1853, carved later, marble, Purchased with funds provided by the Calvin and Marisa Allen Foundation, Anne Allen Cheatham, and Lizzie Cheatham McNairy and Charlie McNairy on behalf of the Matrons of the Arts Initiative, and by the bequest of Carlisle Adams
While I was passionate about the work, I felt equally ill equipped and unqualified. For heaven’s sake, I had struggled to name "5 women artists"
during the campaign of the same name launched by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Furthermore, up until a couple of months ago, I had hardly noticed the staggering underrepresentation of women in the arts. Certainly there was someone better suited for the task: perhaps a business-minded artist with a double doctorate in art history and women’s studies. Maybe Wonder Woman was available; wasn’t she working at the Louvre?
When it became clear that Wonder Woman was busy saving the world and my ideal woman for the job wasn’t going to materialize, I took a deep breath and got to work. I set down my insecurities and reached instead for help. I asked my friends in the art world which female artists they were collecting and who inspired them. I camped out in the library, scoured the Internet, and spent a small fortune on Amazon. I asked a million questions and sent even more emails. The more I learned, the more passionate I became. And all the while, I kept a list.
I kept a list of kick-ass women in the arts—most of whom, up until my research, I had never even heard of. I kept a list of women whose stories had been left out or glossed over in art history courses and whose works had been passed over or locked away in the basements of galleries and museums. I kept a list of women whose stories deserved to be told and whose works I longed to see in the galleries of the NCMA.
“A perfectly emancipated female,” according to poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Harriet Hosmer was perhaps the most distinguished female sculptor in America of the 19th century. She was definitely on my list.
I first met Hosmer’s Daphne over email. Pictures were sent, and I was asked if I might have an interest. If so, she would be available that weekend. While I admit she wasn’t exactly my “type” (I tend to lean more exotic and edgy), there was no denying that special something about her graceful features and elegant lines. Hair swept up into an intricate bun, she was captivating. Although some might have mistaken her soft gaze and downward-tilting head for submission (a trait I considered rather boring), I felt differently. To me Daphne exuded purpose and serenity. I needed more of both in my life. I needed Daphne. I told Linda Dougherty, chief curator at the NCMA, and John Coffey, deputy director for collections and research, “Let’s bring her home.”