It’s time for good-bye, or at least the beginning of a good-bye as this article holds the announcement that Advancing Women Artists, which works in Florence to restore and exhibit art by women, will be closing its doors come June. Because this news will be a blow for many readers who have worked alongside us or followed the organization’s activities with interest, I’d like to take this page to share a few reflections and extend the invitation to accompany AWA in its final months.
I’ll begin this piece by sharing an “unrelated” conversation with US sculptor Meredith Bergmann, which somehow helped me metabolize the news. She is the artist whose 14-foot monumental sculpture was inaugurated this year in New York’s Central Park. Hers is the first statue depicting real women in a collection that counted just two “female” sculptures: Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose. Her interpretive Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument shows Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth at work. In Meredith’s words, “it is about a group struggle for social justice and it symbolically begins around a table—as any group begins to blossom at the kitchen table. I didn’t want to make statues of women ‘displaying’ themselves or seeming important. Nor did I want to show them having tea and being ‘ladies’. They are working… they may even be having an argument… because that is part of the process as well! As far as this commission goes, I am in a state of disbelief about it. I look at it and I still feel, ‘Wow! We got away with it!’”
At this poignant time, in which we prepare to close AWA’s doors, I am heartened by Meredith’s “sculptural” thoughts for two reasons. The first is the reminder that wonderful things do indeed happen around the kitchen table: Advancing Women Artists was born that way, through enlivened conversations in Jane Fortune and Bob Hesse’s Florentine kitchen, along the Lungarno. And, since I write this piece on Thanksgiving Day, I will never stop being thankful for having been the third person at that party. The guiding question for us was: “Where are the women artists in Florence’s historic collections and why not restore their artwork to the public eye?” It wasn’t meant to engender an organization, but enthusiasm and hard work is contagious, and we simply could not stop hundreds, even thousands of people—not least Florentine’s museum curators—from joining the quest, “arguments” notwithstanding!
Advancing Women Artists has a busy last six months ahead, with upcoming episodes of the “Restoration Conversations” series and several events planned for spring, including “Oltrarno Stories”, an in-person fireside chat in the Oltrarno with emerging and veteran artisans sharing vignettes, accompanied by a pop-up exhibition of in-studio scenes by photographers Viola Parretti and Alessandra Barucchieri. Our Il Palmerino lectures and a grant program supporting young artisans will continue the discussion started in September with the exhibition of Victoria Slichter’s portraits: The Oltrarno Gaze. And, as the small-screen stateside welcomes our TV special on the restoration of Nelli’s Last Supper, we are busy planning a traditional Odeon premiere in Florence in early May. That same month, expect the unveiling of Violante Ferroni’s two paintings depicting episodes from the life of Saint John of God, at the San Giovanni di Dio complex. Called the ‘Art of Healing’, the project has been a source of reflection for all of us and simply put: we cannot wait to see them on the wall!
In closing, I’d like to tell you that I feel the same way about the AWA experience as Meredith Bergmann feels looking up at her 7,000-pound bronze. By summer, the organization will have restored 70 artworks by women whose works span five centuries. They have begun to claim their place in the collective consciousness and, Wow! We got away with it! Many supporters have shared the efforts and the privilege of this quest, which I am certain will continue in the hearts, minds and muscles of many. For them, today, my heartfelt thanks.
Advancing Women Artists books published by The Florentine Press
Invisible works. Remarkable artists. Who were these extraordinary women painters and why are many of their works still hidden from the public eye?
Purchase AWA books from The Florentine Shop.