a renovated Masonic temple just a few blocks from the White
L. Larson 98PhD presides over the only museum
in the country dedicated solely to art by women.
isnt it? asks Larson (left), smiling at the thought
that the former all-male enclave now fairly radiates with female
of Women in the Artswith a permanent collection containing
works by eight hundred female artists dating from the sixteenth
century to the presentis so surprising in scope that visitors
who intend to take a quick tour between the Smithsonian and
the Mall end up spending the whole afternoon wandering its galleries.
museums exhibits are eclectic and wide-ranging: from pottery
with hand-painted geometric designs by American Indian women
to botanical engravings of exotic plants and insects; stark
black-and-white photographs of elderly women in the South during
the Depression to glamour shots of starlets during Hollywoods
heyday. The propriety of an eighteenth-century silver George
II tea caddy contrasts with a 1980s pop sculpture of dancing
museums collection also contains the only Frida
Kahlo painting in a public collection in the District of
Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky,
which, says Larson, has been getting a lot of attention since
the Kahlo biopic, Frida, was released. Other popular works in
the museums collection include the mother-child study
Bath (below) by Mary Cassatt, 1891; The
Abandoned Doll (left) by Suzanne Valadon, 1921, which
poignantly captures a girls emerging sexuality; a Georgia
OKeeffe still life,
Alligator Pears in a Basket, 1923; and Louise Dahl-Wolfes
portrait of an aged Colette,
exhibit Insomnia: Landscapes of the Night will be at the museum
through November 30. From the depiction of a clock frozen at
4 a.m., to a woman with three pairs of wide-open eyes, to a
bed covered with newspaper personal ads, the exhibit captures
the feelings and causes of a sleepless night as interpreted
by forty female artists.
who has been executive director of the museum since September
2002, was curator of American Art at the High Museum of Art
in Atlanta while working toward her doctorate at Emory through
the graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts (ILA). Her major
areas were womens studies, African-American studies, and
was the perfect background for this position, Larson says.
My time at the ILA really prepared me for interdisciplinary
projects. And the High was a great place to hone my skills.
They have very high standards and a certain consistent look.
I took away that discriminating eye.
served as executive director of the Art Museum of Western Virginia
in Roanoke, where she oversaw the acquisition of $33 million
of American art, before coming to D.C.
the National Museum of Women, she heads a full-time staff of
fifty-five and oversees a budget of $9 million. About 120,000
people visit the museum annually.
Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, who is still actively involved, started
the museum in her home after she and her husband began collecting
art in the 1960s and noticed the underrepresentation of women
in major exhibitions, museum collections, and art history texts.
The museum remains well supported by the capitals elite.
is one of the first museums Mrs. Bush visited. An inaugural
ball was held here. And just this afternoon, we gave a tour
to the Senate wives and had lunch with them afterward,
Larson says as she stands overlooking the spacious Great Hall
and Mezzanine. It definitely has the ooh-ahh factor.
Larson is equally proud of the museums behind-the-scenes
resources: its library and research center, which contains nearly
seventeen thousand files on individual women artists, over eighteen
thousand volumes about female artists, 650 artists books
created by women, and rare exhibition catalogues. Women
artists wont be better known until people start doing
research and writing dissertations about them, she says.
Larson is busy organizing a spring 2004 show, Nordic Cool: Hot
Women Designers, that will feature female architects, fashion
designers, industrial designers, and trade artists from five
vision for the future is to reach beyond the visual arts, to
include the decorative and applied arts as well, says
Larson. Did you know the Volvo design team last year included