Women Artists

By Virginia Scotchie
Professor of Art
University of South Carolina

In 1992 I moved to Columbia from Indiana to serve as Head of the Ceramic Area Studio at USC. The tenure track position was very interesting to me for many reasons. First, it would give me the opportunity to develop an international program in the ceramic arts. Secondly, I grew up in Asheville so being closer to my family and the many artists I know in the Southeast was a plus. During this period there was considerable concern about the lack of female faculty in the Department of Art at the University which was actually part of a national concern about the “invisible women artists” not only at institutions of higher learning but also in our National Museums and galleries.

Soon after I was hired our much beloved Department Chair, Dr. John O’Neil, was approached by a group of women known as The Gorilla Girls. Their mission, which is still on-going, is to recognize, promote, and bring women artists, (who historically have been ignored or over looked), to the forefront of the art world. Dr. O’Neil, who was a very amicable and pro-active Chair, duly recognized this as an important issue that needed attention.

As an educator in the arts I have had the honor and privileged to work with many talented young women. I am still very close to my first BFA student, Jelene Morris, who is working and living in Columbia as an artist. She supports her wonderful artwork through her international web site, which she designed and also works as a web designer for a local jewelry business. Her creative work is in collections all over the US and as far away as Australia. A recent BFA student, Brittany Kinnard, was the first BFA to have her solo exhibition at the Columbia Museum of Art. She is now completing her MFA at the very prestigious RIT School for American Craft in New York. In the spring of this year two MFA women students in ceramics will be completing their degree with solo exhibitions at the McMaster Gallery in the Department of Art, Laura VanCamp and Frieda Dean. Other women graduates of the ceramics program have gone on to professional teaching or studio careers in Philadelphia, New York, Oregon, California, and North Carolina.

Being an artist is not an easy road to stay true to. There are few high paying jobs waiting for you when you graduate, teaching jobs are highly competitive, and funding for artists from government agencies is few and far between. Working as a studio artist can be challenging and expensive but at least with the growth of community art studios and galleries young artists now can find a tribe – a home base – and share in art events and collaborations as their careers develop.

Looking at the arts community in Columbia it is greatly satisfying to see the number of women who hold positions of leadership, including the Director of the Columbia Museum of Art, Karen Brosius; the new Director at the McKissick Museum on the USC Campus, Dr. Jane Przybysz; Mana Hewitt, who is the Director of the Department of Art Gallery at USC; and newly appointed Executive Director Brenda Schwartz of the Tapps Arts Center on Main Street. Galleries here in Columbia also have several women directors, many of whom have been long standing through good and bad economic times. Galleries such as Carol Saunders on Gervais Street established in 1984 and HOFP Gallery on Devine Street, directed by Alice Perritt, and in recent years, Art + Cayce, headed by Columbia Architect and art lover Maryellyn Cannizzaro, have exhibited many women artists.

Living in one place and basically developing your career as an artist has many advantages. I am happy to say that not only in my career as a ceramic artist but in the careers of many of my female artist friends there has been support for exhibiting, funding, and recognition for the art created by our talented artists working in a vast array of media in Columbia. This has not come easy and we still have much work to do to recognize, promote and value the women in the arts here in Columbia.

The women artists in this issue of Jasper embrace the making of Art and the hard work, joy, and beauty that comes from sharing their art with us all.

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