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An inspiring memoir relating how Wilhelmina Cole Holladay succeeded in founding and establishing the best-known museum devoted to women in the arts.
Over the centuries, until quite recently, the work of great women artists had been ignored, forgotten, or denied; they had been largely left out of museums and histories of art. Along came Wilhelmina Cole Holliday, who boldly decided it was time to rectify this oversight by founding a museum in 1987 in a landmark building near the White House. A critic for the Washington Post wrote, “Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, the museum’s founding president, has accomplished something radical. No player in the art scene here has a deeper understanding of power and money and of how our system works. Despite her white-glove graciousness, hard-working Billie Holladay is a warrior and a winner ”
This thrilling story of the birth and early years of the NMWA is a lively, anecdotal, behind-the-scenes, eyewitness glimpse of the efforts of dedicated individuals who shared Mrs. Holladay’s vision and, under her leadership, helped her expand the permanent collection, organize outstanding exhibitions, renovate the Museum, and fund a robust endowment. Moreover, NMWA now boasts a growing membershipamong the top ten museums in the worldwith active, vocal committees all across the nation and in many countries. Illustrating the text are 130 color pictures, which include works from the collection and from exhibitions, as well as 40 archival photographs of landmark events that led to the Museum’s impressive growth.
|Publisher:||Abbeville Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||10.30(w) x 11.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, the founder and Chair of the Board of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, was elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame and was awarded the National Medal of Arts and the Legion of Honor from the French government. She lives with her husband, Wallace, in Washington, D.C.
Read an Excerpt
A Museum of Their Own
National Museum of Women in the Arts
By Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, Philip Kopper
Abbeville PressCopyright © 2008 Wilhelmina Cole Holladay
All rights reserved.
Excerpt from: A Museum of Their Own:
This book is not an autobiography, because it is not a full and complete account of my life. This is certainly not a kiss-and-tell, because I have no intention of going into the private crannies of my life or anyone else’s. It is not a day-by-day reconstruction of what happened, because even if I had the permanent records to support such an endeavor, I doubt I could take the time to write it all down, and very few readers would want to wade through it. This is not even a complete accounting of every twist and turn in the course of the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ journey.
This is a memoir. It is my account of the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ conception, founding, and first twenty years of operation in its magnificent home in the nation’s capital, three blocks from the White House. Others are entitled to their opinions and viewpoints; forgive me if they differ from mine. As far as NMWA’s founding and early years are concerned, I have a certain advantage: I was there at the creation, and I have been there up until now. So I write as best I can and offer this account of our odyssey as I remember it.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts opened to the public on April 7, 1987, one of the most exciting and fulfilling days of my life. This splendid event required the cooperative and individual efforts of an army of women and men. The opening celebration was held outside the Museum building. Anne Radice, the Museum director, and I welcomed the guests, including many artists, scholars, and Museum members from as far away as Paris, London, San Francisco, and Saint Petersburg, Florida. Effi Barry, the wife of Washington Mayor Marion Barry, and Frank Hodsell, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, delivered celebratory speeches. Under a blue sky Barbara Bush, the vice president’s wife, cut the bright red ceremonial ribbon and declared, The Museum will enrich our city, our nation, and the lives of Americans for generations to come. God bless the National Museum of Women in the Arts.” The audience applauded enthusiastically. Red, blue, and white balloons floated high into the sky. The crowd pushed its way inside the building to view the Museum’s inaugural exhibition, American Women Artists: 18301930, and the permanent collection of works by women artists from the Renaissance to the present.
I can’t possibly name all the individuals who worked on that wonderful debut, but some must be recognized even now for their sterling contributions. Ruthanna Weber was the general chair; Marjorie Nohowel organized the black-tie dinner for founding members, who had pledged to give at least five thousand dollars over the course of five years. Martha Dippell chaired our debut gala, and Roma Crocker hosted a splendid cocktail party beforehand.
Our inaugural concert featured Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, which we had commissioned from Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman to earn a doctorate in music composition at Juilliard and the first to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music. It was a feather in our cap that Frank Hodsell awarded us a grant of fifteen thousand dollars from his discretionary fund to support that commission. Gerald Lowrie, a board member and head of the Washington office of AT&T, made it possible to engage the National Symphony Orchestra, which performed with pianists Jeanne Rees and Stephanie Stoyanoff in the Museum’s Great Hall. My goddaughter, Mildred Tyree, a prominent opera star in Europe, sang classical works by women composers including Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger, and Alma Mahler.
The opening of the National Museum of Women in the Arts filled several days of Washington’s cultural calendar and attracted worldwide press coverage. A few articles included the old argument about ghettoizing” women, but the fact of controversy, whether genuine or faux, made us newsworthy and continued to raise our profile, generating more press coverage.
Still, there’s a fact that headlines tend to obscure. In my viewcall it contrary or politically incorrect or simply dated if you likeart is about beauty. Art reflects our shared humanity, the traits, talents, and qualities that make us human. Art transcends politics, gender, color, religion, age, and nationality. Art is the great unifier. Controversy might be useful from a public relations standpoint, but as far as aesthetics and beauty are concerned, controversy is best ignored.
As I write today, two decades after the announcement of our intentions, some people still question whether there ought to be a museum for art by women because on the one hand it might segregate women artists, and on the other as someone wrote rather foolishly, next we’ll need a museum for bottles made by left-handed glassblowers. I admit that I was pleased that the great feminist artist Judy Chicago loaned us Through the Flower for the opening. When asked her opinion she came down on the side of NMWA: It’s important to protect and preserve women’s art. My preference is that art by women be preserved by existing institutions, but they don’t have a very good track record. Mrs. Holladay’s museum doesn’t have to conform to my standards. The real issue is taking care of the work.”
I was amused that John Wilmerding, deputy director of the National Gallery of Art, joined the media-led conversation by reporting, somewhat hastily it seemed, that the Gallery had organized two shows by women, Berthe MorisotImpressionist and Georgia O’Keeffe 18871986. (Need I remind anyone that until NMWA’s opening there were only four solo exhibitions of women artists in the Gallery’s history. In any case, Dr. Wilmerding was quoted in a New York Times article as saying: I think we can’t help but support a new museum devoted to a specialized area of human creativity. Yet in the long run, there are lots of arguments whether a museum should be devoted to race or sex. We like to consider art in terms of its merits rather than its makers.”
In the same Times story, Lowery Sims, who was then a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said: One wants to believe that there is already enough integration of women and minorities into the art establishment. However, there remains a lot to be done. As a specialized institution, like the Studio Museum [Harlem, New York] and the Museo del Barrio [New York], the Women’s Museum could find talent that might be overlooked. So I think it’s an exciting venture.”
Our hometown art critic, Paul Richard, offered both a snide remark and substance that still gives me pride. He wrote in the Washington Post that "The National Museum of Women in the Arts has an aura so genteel you’d think it might be called the National Museum of Ladies in the Arts The museum, like a debutante, honors the traditional and accepts the rules of etiquette. Many women, many artists, snarl at the establishment, but this museum seeks a place within the art world’s aristocracy The spirit of the place in many quiet ways suggests a sort of demure sweetness. But do not be misled. Washington’s Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, the museum’s founding president, has accomplished something radical. No player in the art scene here has a deeper understanding of power and of money and of how our system works. Despite her white-glove graciousness, hard-working Billie Holladay is a warrior and a winner Primarily by strength of will she has called into existence a national museum of vast potential influence. She has built an institution of remarkable effectivenessit’s like a high tech tank wearing a corsage."
Excerpted from A Museum of Their Own by Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, Philip Kopper. Copyright © 2008 Wilhelmina Cole Holladay. Excerpted by permission of Abbeville Press.
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents from:
A Museum of Their Own
Introduction: Raison d’Etre: For the Love of Art
1: Links in a Golden Chain
2: Preparing the Canvas for My Life’s Work
3: NMWAA Rose Called by Another Name
4: From the Temple of the Masons to the Temple of Women Artists
5: The Early Tours, The Library, The Membership Campaign, The State Committees and The Monthly Luncheons
6: The Grand Acquisitions
7: The Shows That Went On—The First Ten Years
8: More Room of Our Own
9: Special Gifts, Special Friends
10: Pursuing Our Mission—The Major Exhibitions of the Second Decade
11: The Legacies and The Future
Chronology of Exhibitions: NMWA