Nebraska’s women artists between 1880 and 1950 left a huge legacy. Twelve of the most influential were: Sarah Wool Moore, Cora Parker, Sarah Sewell Hayden, Elizabeth Tuttle Holsman, Alice Righter Edmiston, Angel DeCora Dietz, Elizabeth Honor Dolan, Marion Canfield Smith, Alice Cleaver, Gladys M. Lux, Katherine “Kady” Burnap Faulkner, and Myra Biggerstaff. The Fall 2007 issue of Nebraska History in an article by Sharon L. Kennedy discusses the contributions these women made to Nebraska art and reproduces some of their most noted works.
The influence of these women was widespread. Through involvement with local artists’ guilds and the development of sketch clubs they encouraged participation in the arts within their communities. By establishing art organizations they helped to develop art collections and host exhibitions that included notable artists from centers of artistic achievement throughout the country. Under their leadership, as instructors and administrators, the art department became a viable, independent entity of colleges and universities across the state.
The establishment of a state-supported normal school at Peru in 1867 and the State University in Lincoln in 1871, followed by the Nebraska Normal School at Kearney in 1903, the University of Omaha in 1908, and the Nebraska State Normal School in Chadron in 1911, offered opportunities for women to instruct and practice art in institutions of higher education. The fact that women took advantage of these openings is demonstrated by the predominance of women in the art department at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln for many of its early years.
Many of the students of the state’s women artists went on to contribute their own work to art collections. In addition to exhibiting their works in museums, salons, expositions, and world’s fairs, they accepted national and international commissions and, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, participated in the Public Works of Art Project that gave the nation a priceless endowment of public art.
Although these enterprising pioneers have received relatively little attention, they have had a great influence on art and art education in Nebraska. As women gained more rights and more independence, their art moved away from portraiture and became increasingly varied and individualized, ranging from impressionism and regionalism to cubism and geometric abstraction. They paved the way for today’s women artists who are entering an art world where gender equality seems to be a more reachable goal than ever before.