Women Collared For Work   

Curated by Judith Schwab



As an artist, I became intrigued with the study of “collars” worn by young girls and women at work, especially in the last century. After three years of research, I decided to curate a group exhibition.  I divided the 20th century into ten to twenty-year time periods and then approached seven other women artists to express their insights into a time period of their choice.


The definition of a collar is, according to a Random House dictionary, “anything worn or placed around the neck: the horse wore a collar of flowers after winning the race; a leather or metal chain fastened around the neck of an animal used as a means of restraint or identification … To detain someone anxious to leave” We may say that, “we collared someone in conversation,” thus introducing the idea of control. A collar can also represent a person’s professions, e.g., doctor or priest.


The focus of this exhibition, aptly titled,” Women Collared For Work,” is on how a collar can reveal “self image”, thus reflecting the changing roles we have played as women during the 20th Century.



The following artists’ statements and their choice of time periods are included in chronological order below:


Bernice Davidson chose to honor the Suffragettes of the 1900’s to 1920’s. She wove with vines to create life-size figurative busts of different Suffragettes from all walks of life who went to jail for the right to vote.


            “It is with great pleasure and joy that I begin to develop ideas for ‘The Collar Project.’ I have decided to create five sculptures depicting the women suffrage activists who went to jail for civil disobedience between 1915 and 1918. At this point I have decided on four of the five women. they are: Louisine Waldon Elder Havemeyer, Nell Mercer, Mrs. John Roberts and Catherine Flanagan.” 


            “These women represent different races, wealthy and poor. I will be weaving their portraits using reeds, vines and twigs. The visual aspects of these portraits will be both fun and challenging to work with. Just imagine the differences in their collars. Two women are pictured in their prison garb with high-buttoned and tight-fitting collars. They also wear the “Suffrage Banner,” which was a multicolored wide ribbon worn diagonally across the chest during protest demonstrations. I picture at least one of the women in prison garb to be placed behind a screen of vertical twigs representing prison bars. Woven hands will be grasping the bars.”


            “The wealthiest of the four, Mrs. John Roberts, was the sister of the U. S. Secretary of State. She is pictured in a lush fur stole and wide-brimmed hat. The hats that some of these women are wearing are every bit as interesting as their collars. One is shown in a hat that looks as if it had been borrowed from Robin Hood, complete with pointed top and wing-like bird feathers on each side. The type of weaving I will use to render these portraits will be very free and colorful. I think of them as three-dimensional drawings in space. “


            “The research for this project promises to be a great source of inspiration for me. It will be and honor to bring these courageous women to life in a woven tribute of vine sculpture.”


Maria Keane chose 1925 to 1935 to honor professional illustrators by doing abstracted figures in monotypes with mixed media.


Notable Women Artists of the Howard Pyle Studio: Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935), Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954), Ethel Pennewill Brown (1878-1959), Violet            Oakley (1874-1961) and Olive Rush (1873-1966).


            “As an active artist, teacher and art historian, I have great admiration for these notable women artist-illustrators of the Howard Pyle Studio, who I have chosen to honor for this exhibition. These distinguished women artists succeeded in supporting themselves, while culturally impacting their environment with accomplished paintings, murals and illustrations. Howard Pyle (1853-1911), recognized as the dean of American illustrators, taught and honored the talent of these women who had their artwork accepted in a world of illustration usually reluctant to accept the work of women. As a result, their artwork was sought by publishers, museums and institutions for their archives. All of these prominent women were born at a time that is now referred to as the “Golden Age of Illustration” (1880’s-1920’s). They sustained their vocations throughout the later 20th century in a period of excellence in book and art illustration. This era of illustration was prompted by the new technology of printmaking and widespread interest in the graphic arts. This was an age of the Depression, the Works Project Administration, but it was also an age ripe for these women illustrators to break into the male-dominated field, which was bolstered by new techniques in text enabled by color printmaking.”


            “Violet Oakley and Olive Rush distinguished themselves in their geographic regions of Philadelphia and New Mexico by painting murals, in addition to their publishing activities that sustained their livelihood. Jessie Wilcox-Smith’s mature work echoes the contemporary graphic approach to a spare, expressive graphic technique that reached beyond the fluidity of the Art Nouveau movement.  She was one of Pyle’s most gifted students and was closely affiliated with Elizabeth Shipper Green and Violet Oakley while they shared a studio with Pyle.  (They were referred to as ‘The Red Rose Girls,’ in a chronicle of their work and life written by Alice A. Carter.)  Both Olive Rush and Ethel Pennewill Brown had Delaware roots. They were the artists trusted to keep the Pyle Studio intact when their mentor was abroad with his family in Italy, where Pyle succumbed to illness.  After the notice of this highly regarded artist’s death, Pennewill Brown painted an interior of the Studio in commemoration of Howard Pyle (now in the collection of the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, Delaware.) Pennewill-Brown’s paintings are included in illustrations, landscapes and commissioned portraits for the Delaware portrait commission. In addition, Ms Pennewill-Brown was one of the founders, and the mainstay of the artists’ colony in Rehoboth, Delaware.”


“Through celebrating their talents, these outstanding women artists were all successful in creating art that contributed to their own communities. In addition, their illustrations contributed to a much broader audience with their work included in widely distributed, published literature. Each of my works of art will honor each of these impressive women artists during the decade in which they were most active: 1925-1935. My artwork honoring these notable women artists will be accomplished through creating mixed media paintings that incorporate a variety of printmaking techniques. “


Ann Stein chose Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in a President’s cabinet, of the 1930’s to 1940’s. Ann’s work is accomplished by doing assemblage. She uses objects, including collars, inside and outside of cabinets. Her choice of crates and boxes are the poetic equivalent of Perkins’ association with Roosevelt’s Cabinet.


            “Since hearing about Women Collard For Work, my ongoing interest in certain women’s issues has resurfaced with a sense of excitement. It’s all about their lives, their work, as well as what they wore. It’s a way to express ideas visually and in a personal way. The 1930’s decade has become my focus along with Frances Perkins after she became the first woman cabinet member to be appointed in the Roosevelt administration. This led me to visualize the 1930’s with women in and outside the box. For example, you will recognize heavy gloves that handled iron ice tongs, symbolic of the work that a person did in or near the home. Also old axes, saws, and lanterns appear in my assemblage, referring to the Agricultural and Union strikes and debates which eventually lead to the passage of the Workmen’s Compensation Act. Children’s shoes may be seen as a touching memento harking back to the effort to shorten the work day and eventually eliminate child labor. Also appearing are old family lace, a relic from that period, as well as pearls and bows Perkins wore, which influenced costume and fashion.”


            “I am visually touching upon issues related to this decade, focusing on social security, public health, organized labor, and child labor laws implemented through the efforts of Frances Perkins and the Congress. Also included are images of people of the period -- the way they looked, the clothing they wore, which appeared to reflect their attitudes, and the way they lived during the Depression, their cities, their schools and their farm life.”



Deborah Stelling chose 1930 to 1940 by doing mixed media paintings with stitching focusing on the contributions of Georgia O’Keefe and Eleanor Roosevelt.


            “As a young girl, I lived in a small village in India where there were daily reminders of the extreme poverty and despair among the people.  My father, a medical doctor, saw many similarities in India to his own childhood, when his father lost everything during the Great Depression.  Throughout my life, my father told us stories about the difficulties of life during the depression and how he and his siblings had to work as children to survive.  His stories left a dramatic impact on my life to this day.”

“In the 1930’s, during the Great Depression, the great American dream became an unbearable nightmare.  What was once the abundant land of opportunity was now becoming a wasteland of desperation.  What was once a country filled with optimism became overrun with rampant hopelessness.  The American people were questioning the success of all the maxims on which they had based their lives thus far; democracy, capitalism, and individualism.”


“During this challenging time an exceptionally strong woman, Eleanor Roosevelt, emerged as an inspiring leader and role model for women and men alike. Eleanor Roosevelt used her position as First Lady to further causes she perceived to be extremely important.  As the Great Depression ravaged the United States during the 1930s, Mrs. Roosevelt set out to create solutions to the unsavory plight of the nation’s poor.  Her unwavering activism became legendary.  She impressed upon her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the need for making ‘New Deal’ programs to assist the downtrodden, unemployed and neglected people.  She became a leading advocate for America’s poor and forgotten.  Because of Eleanor Roosevelt’s influence, the role of First Lady took on greater significance and visibility than ever before in the minds of the American people.”

            “The Great Depression also impacted the field of the arts.  Newly organized government programs, such as the Public Works of Art Project and later the Federal Art Project, gave jobs to unemployed artists.  Artists who were supported by these projects chose themes based on the previous and current American culture.  Artists who were struggling to survive were able to face these hard times by painting empowering and hopeful murals on the lobby walls of government buildings. It was the WPA project that inspired the beginning of the American regionalist style.  One outstanding, dedicated woman artist who adopted this style was Georgia O’Keeffe, with her landscapes and southwestern themes.  As early as the mid-1920s, O’Keeffe first began her notable, abstract paintings of large-scale flowers that gained substantial recognition.  In the 1930’s, she became even more nationally renowned as one of America’s most important and successful artists.  O’Keeffe’s interest in art was influenced by the revolutionary ideas of artist and art educator Arthur Wesley Dow.  She believed that through his teachings the goal of art was the expression of the artist’s personal ideas and feelings and that such subject matter was best realized through harmonious arrangements of line, color, and ‘notan’, the Japanese system of using lights and darks.  These ideas offered O’Keeffe an alternative to merely imitate realism.

I feel strongly connected to these ideas and have applied them to my own work for the past twenty years.


            “Many of the ideas for my artwork are conceived from listening rather than seeing.  I feel fortunate to have interacted with professionals outside of my medium, such as the composers and writers who have become an influential

source of my inspiration.  Although I cannot deny the visual experiences that impact my artwork, I will continue to be affected by others whose creative works speak to me on many levels and in many languages. “


“My artworks for this exhibition will be composed of abstract images, combining pattern, texture and color.  The different processes (wrapping, stitching, layering) and arrangements I use are important exercises in self-discipline and thought.  A variety of techniques and approaches are used to achieve my aesthetic direction: painting and pouring of acrylic and oil paint, using various printing styles, and collaging handmade paper and collected articles. “



Judith Schwab chose 1940 to 1959 by doing collage on canvas and collars on hatboxes of women who entered the work force during and after World War II.


            “I wish to share my mid-century view of the 1940’s and 1950’s showing collars as a means of adornment, identification and control.”


Rivets and Rations  -- To illustrate the female work force in 1942, I chose the notched collar as an example of the factory worker’s uniform. I used acrylic paint on canvas and attached round metal disks, using collage to create a bas-relief. These works of art are offered with a sense of history, flamboyance, nostalgia and humor. I chose to make the collars from acrylic gel medium. I formed the collars by pouring acrylic gel, which simulates fabric, and then embedded fibers and interference into the mixture. This transformed gel provided material for not only collars, but it also became a perfect surface for drawing as well as painting, bas-relief and mosaic. In the piece, we see Alice Graham, my artist friend’s mother, on her way to work in a jumpsuit. During this period, “Rosy the Riveter” became a symbol and trademark that exists today. This collaged canvas shows a vibrant spirit, combining details of airplanes, soldiers and rivets that capture the female “We can do it work ethic” of the day. Rations is a companion piece to Rivets. Rations focuses on the homemaker during WWII. We see food ration lines, a familiy near a victory garden with ration stamps being used as a decorative element. The lace collar and a notched collar appear in 1943


Bib Collar -- Crisp images in the early 1940’s are in direct contrast to the post-WWII canvas. Female faces are partly obscured in Bib Collar, softened to signify being displaced, moved into the background.  The most dominant element is a life-sized bib collar. On the top left of the canvas, a mother and daughter appear wearing matching bib collar outfits. I chose this style due to its historic popularity and because of the social connotation that a bib is used for babies.On the top left of the canvas we see a mother/daughter wearing matching Bib Collar dresses.  Right next to them is an ad for the beauty-tipped cigarette that was marketed to females. At the time, the cigarette was glamorized in newspapers, magazines and Hollywood movies, with the goal of marketing cigarettes to Women hence the name CIGAR-ETTE.  Pictured are two famous women who shaped those post War years: former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary Bethune.  Eleanor Roosevelt, worked tirelessly for social justice while Mary Bethune was busy developing the NAACP.


We can see an example of converting warfare equipment into peacetime usage with the turning of the gas mask into Tupperware: food containers that are in use today. Appearing is a reference to women invited into other persons’ living rooms across this country, marketing this new peaceful product for the kitchen that bore the name of its inventor Earl W. Tupper, for the Tupperware Party. My mother Eleanor is my symbol of everyday greatness. She truly believed in the value of life insurance. A homemaker by day, she sold life insurance at night. While I was in elementary school she sewed mother-daughter outfits to save money. You can see her image emerging from the top right side of the bib.


Johnnien Madison beautifully explains the plight of widows and the dilemma of women workers after the war when they had to give up the jobs they did so well during the war. Their status as widows or single parents didn’t matter; their jobs, they were told, were needed for men returning from combat. Tax incentives evaporated, daycare centers were closed. Married women were encouraged to return to their domestic duties and single women were supposed to resume positions in traditional female low-paying service industry jobs.” It was this quotation that inspired me to aesthetically subdue female faces in Bib Collar as a reference to being displaced.  Coincidently, hat styles changed. Veils with dots and lace physically removed part of the facial image that fashionably covered a woman’s features at a time when women were actually forced into the background.


Peter Pan Collar + thinking outside the box -- Hatboxes were a favorite carryall, a perfect vehicle to document a changing era for women during the 1950’s. The hatboxes I used all have tulle as a decorative element and suggest three subject areas: style, television and the struggle for Civil Rights. We see “Thinking outside the box,” + “Coming of age in the 1950’s” in this profile view. I chose the Peter Pan Collar to symbolize this morally ‘tight era’.  “Good Girls” waited until marriage to try out conjugal urges. The sex goddess appears next to the schoolgirl with repeated images of innocence, symbolizing a passage of time, a coming of age in the 50’s.  When our nine-year-old granddaughter saw this artwork, she gasped and said “Grandma that’s Marilyn Monroe!” Due to copyright considerations, I did a line drawing on a clear gel medium.

Monroe is such an icon that I did not even have to use her name.


There are personal references to fashion.  Here I am pictured in a ball gown next to a high school prom ticket that has the name of the famous 50’s singer, Patty Page, who sang at my high school prom. 


Stone facades on brick row houses began to appear. I simulated this look by using violet-colored gel to create a mosaic affect on the surface of the hatboxes. An image of my face, which you saw before, is peering over a fashion illustration that I did in the 1950’s to indicate “thinking outside the box”.


Comedy Tonight  -- The sparking “Choker Collar” is shown, as black/white television programs began to enter middle-class homes. The film industry, in order to keep an audience, began making epic Technicolor productions. Drawings of female television comediennes appear: (Imogene Coca, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance.)  Again, I used a mosaic technique to simulate the stone facades on brick houses as a design element along with the popular fabric tulle. To show the modern art of the day, I used a copy of my painting created during the 50’s. Pictured is an isolation quiz show booth as well as the dancing cigarette box.


Brave Innocence Blind Rage -- “Civil Rights struggles in Little Rock, Arkansas are shown as documented in an article by Helen E. Starkweather with photos by the late Will Counts (Smithsonian magazine, Sept.2 1957, pp. 19-20) and an anniversary meeting in 1997 of two women in the award–winning photograph. Two collars are on the top front lid of this hatbox. They represent the dichotomy between teenage brave innocence and teenage blind rage. Two portraits in circle format are on each collar.


 I chose Elizabeth Ekford to represent the Little Rock Nine, and all the other children and adults blocked from quality education because of race. (A bus boycott line drawing on acrylic gel is attached to Elizabeth’s lapel.) The hatbox lid has a window cut into it through which Ms. Ekford can be seen in front of Central High School with Ms. Massey, the jeering teenage girl in the 1957 photo. Tulle was worn under skirts as a ruffled half-slip. Elizabeth’s dress in the photo appears to have this kind of fashionable underskirt. Around the bottom of the curved box are hints of the news items of the day! The Red Scare made everyone want to have a well-stocked fallout shelter, and pictured astronauts shooting for the moon. This Civil Rights path reminded me of an experience I had seeing signs on water fountains in a Wilmington, Delaware train station in the 50’s that said “WHITES ONLY”.


Since my time period was the 40’s and 50’s, I realized that I had forgotten the Americans who were displaced to California during WWII, because of their ethnicity alone. I invited a contribution on that topic from artist Margo Allman.”


Margo Allman chose to do the internment of Japanese-American women during WWII in California by doing calligraphic monochromatic paintings.


Distant Voices I -- “These unsung anonymous Women were ’collared’ in remote and guarded camps. They survived this national tragedy with dignity and self-respect, despite being treated with such extreme cultural mistrust. These Women are a testament to the triumph of the human spirit and deserve to be so honored and not forgotten …”


“Using a black and white calligraphic approach, Distant Voices I relates to Japanese art. Margo centered this painting on the important Japanese Sun Symbol. This symbol is “collared” by folding, repetitive and delicate patterning signifying both women’s enforced internment as well as the vital beauty of their cultural background. The unanchored askew rectangle represents the lack of stability in their highly restricted environment and lives.”


Distant Voices II -- “Now having been released from internment, these women are represented by a rectangle that is upright and firmly anchored.  The open sun symbol is a window through which these women can see a much larger view and take their rightful place as contributing citizens in America …”


Wilma Bulkin Siegel, M.D. chose the 1960’s to 1970’s by doing soft sculpture collage to represent the flower children that continue the spirit of the era today.


            “This collection of portraits of living people who have been Flower Children were a group of accomplished individuals who have continued to carry the theme of the era, which is extreme creativity to better mankind and carry the flame of life force of an era in which the theme was ‘make love not war.’ For me it was a subliminal statement about today’s involvement of the United States of America at War today. What did we learn when the leaders of today, who grew up in that time, are still leading us to war and where is the love?  I decided for The Collar Project to include some of the portraits of some of the female subjects I had painted in my own project Flower Children Grown Up and collaged them onto costume tops representing the beautification collars of the type of clothes that would have been worn by each of the individuals matching their personalities. Also included are the stories I wrote for each subject honored and affixed to the costumes.”


Rosemary Lane, former Professor of Art, University of Delaware, chose the artists of the 1980’s to 1990’s such as Louise Nevelson, and created figurative hand-made paper relief sculptures.


Women of the 1980's

The heart of the artistic muse transcends barriers between genders, races, countries, as well as our personal universes.” The decade, from 1980-1990, was rising out of extreme male and female images emerging out of the pop culture. Madonna’s fun yet irreverent music blasted “good girl” stereotypes while emulating superficial values. However, the message rung out that women could express themselves however they wanted to!  Michael Jackson’s compelling performance in Thriller revealed a dark, obsessed expression of the libido driven man/boy. In the art world, Andy Warhol was in the limelight as the reigning king of Pop Art. Exploiting the commercial and the commonplace, Warhol created icons of our American culture with his cult groupies, the Factory, mass producing his images for public distribution and exhibition. In the greater American world, Christa McCollough, empowered as an astronaut, had a heroic presence on the Challenger as it met with tragic disaster. Highly respected as both a female astronaut and teacher, Christa continued to live on in the spirit and heart of the country. The image of women was being redefined as brave, driven and independent.

Indeed, this was also the time that the power of woman fully emerged as artistic muse and transcended the often thin, transparent values of the 80’s. There were still impossible odds for a woman artist to receive justifiable acknowledgement for her gifts, yet the female’s heroic nature was fully expressed through these strong and resilient women artists. These women were leaders who forged their unstoppable path in the resistant field of the professional arts for all other women artists to follow. Among these strong, inspired artistic muses who shared the depths of their being were Louise Nevelson, Georgia O’Keefe, Miriam Shapiro, Helen Frankenthaler and Judy Pfaff. For Lane, these particular women’s lives represent significant accomplishments that paved the way for all the artistic muses that followed. They provided women the hope that was necessary to take on what seemed to be the arts/impassable, steel boundaries that formerly held only men in the center with top status and high regard.”


Lane’s works of art are a sacred acknowledgement of the resilient heart of the woman. The power and strength of character it takes for women to rise up and overcome the barriers of a male dominated culture is expressed through the contrast in the materials, color and form. Stolid, resistant barriers in the background are sometimes discovered in the dense geometric forms made of wood. At other times, the same wood emerges as a stable, triangular form that supports hand cast paper forms representing woman’s well tested, inner strength. The sacred female is shown through her use of hand cast and poured paper fiber combining to give a sense that the miraculous is ever present. Birth and rebirth of the self are burgeoning images using altered found objects subtly integrated into the breastplates and torsos of these accomplished women.

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