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Reading the Sister Arts: The Exhibit

Throughout the nineteenth century, women’s literary production far surpassed that of male authors; the unique market conditions that supported reform literature, and later regionalist literature, granted access to otherwise marginalized authorial voices. Beecher’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin set a standard for sales that Hawthorne and Melville never achieved in their lifetime. This trend endured into the latter half of the century, and it comes as no surprise that the role of women in American art is a similarly unheralded success story. In fact, the 1890 U.S. census reveals some eleven thousand self-identified “professional” female artists made up an astonishing 48.1% of all American artists. It is this history that the art exhibit will, in part, reclaim. Women artists may not make up the bulk of museum holdings and exhibits, but they certainly accounted for nearly half of the real world numbers. 

Planning for this Sister Arts Exhibits is underway. These are some of the exciting components under development:

  • Literary excerpts paired with their authors’ visual art, allowing viewers to see how textual representations of region, homeland, and culture resonate with the artistic techniques of the authors. These excerpts will be printed, or in a recorded reading, in the author’s voice, when available. The exhibit will feature visual art from many authors, including Willa Cather,  Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Flannery O'Connor, and Eudora Welty.
  • Relevant materials from the Stony Brook University Archives and Special Collections, and/or other consortia archives, that showcase the University’s holdings, raise awareness of the role of Special Collections to scholarly research, and afford the public an opportunity to view historical artifacts. 
  • Paintings from the master woman painters of the Hudson River School, which connect the narrative of women’s substantive role in art history throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Civil war photographs coinciding with Emily Dickinson’s war poems, and other examples of women authors producing and/or responding to visual art.