#5WomenArtists in Historic New England’s collections

Mar 8, 2019

For the last three years, the National Museum of Women in the Arts has posed a question on social media for Women’s History Month: Can you name five women artists?

Historic New England is proud to join the more than 11,000 individuals and 1,000 organizations from forty-seven countries participating in the #5WomenArtists campaign. Follow along on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds this month as we highlight important women who have made an impact on New England’s history and culture. Keep reading to learn about five women artists featured in our collections.

Ida von Rydingsvärd

Born in Brunswick, Maine, in 1898, Ida von Rydingsvärd was the second wife of Karl von Rydingsvärd, a Swedish immigrant largely responsible for creating an interest in artistic wood carving in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. Karl taught wood carving classes out of their home in Brunswick, and it’s unclear whether Ida started her training before she got married.

Prior to being acquired by Historic New England in 2014, the chest below was among the furnishings at Hewn Oaks, the summer home of artist Douglas Volk. Hewn Oaks was an active Arts and Crafts center and Ida and Karl both displayed examples of their wood carving at a special exhibition there in 1901.


This chest features a hinged lid, large spear-shaped cast iron hinges, and four square block feet. Carved panels on the front and sides depict mythical animals from Norse mythology.

Miye Matsukata

Matsukata was a jewelry designer and metalsmith born in Tokyo in 1922 to a prominent Japanese family interested in Western traditions. She studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston before opening a jewelry studio, Atelier Janiye, with collaborators Alexandra Watkins and Nancy Michel in Boston in the 1950s. Eventually, Matsukata became the sole owner of the studio and she worked there until her death in 1981.

Matsukata’s work exemplifies the modern studio jewelry movement in America. Known for combining precious and non-precious materials in unique compositions, she was one of the first American jewelers to make one-of-a-kind pieces.

necklace featuring enamel pendant with a silver frame and gold embellishments on a silk braided cord
This Gorget-style necklace features a central enamel pendant set in a silver frame with gold embellishments. The Gorget is suspended on a Japanese silk braided cord with a silver and gold handmade hook and eye clasp.

Gertrude Fiske

Born to a prominent Boston family, Fiske went to the Boston Museum School and began working with Charles Woodbury at the Ogunquit Summer School in 1909. By the late 1930s, Fiske was a well-known painter in New England and exhibited with various art associations.

Fiske mostly painted portraits, but she was also interested in plein air landscape painting and sketching. The painting below, Man Whittling, is a recent Historic New England acquisition that features her skill in portraying detail and light in portraiture.

Typical of Fiske’s best portraiture, the subject in Man Whittling is brightly lit and sharply contoured.

Clara Keezer

Known for basketmaking, Clara Neptune Keezer was born on Passamaquoddy tribal land in Maine in 1930. Keezer learned to make baskets from her grandmother and mother, working with the traditional materials of split brown ash and sweetgrass.

Keezer’s baskets, which build on the strawberry basket tradition, have appeared in many exhibitions around the country. She was also a founding member of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, which is credited with saving traditional basketmaking in Maine. Keezer was known as a key link to Maine’s basketmaking tradition until her death in 2016.

This square basket from 1969 is made from ash splints and braided sweetgrass.

Lizzie Monmouth

Sarah Elizabeth Harper Monmouth loved art, music, and literature from a young age. Born in New Hampshire in 1829, Monmouth was originally interested in poetry and creative writing. After the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, however, she was driven to philanthropy. She became involved with the Hill’s Corner Church in Canterbury, New Hampshire, decorating it and giving tours to raise money.

The large banner below is a great example of the folk art Monmouth made to decorate the church. After her death, this one was probably hung at the Worsted Church in the 1930s. Some of her other works were acquired by the Smithsonian Institution for its folk art collection or exhibited at local New Hampshire art centers.

This paper banner or wall hanging is made from decoupages white paper backed with white fabric. It also includes elements from a paper window shade, wallpaper, and paper fringe.

Sources:

Historic New England magazine, Summer 2016

Art Jewelry Forum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum

Vose Galleries

American Native Arts and Antiques

Portland Press Herald

Historic New England magazine, Summer 2015