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Michener exhibition traces development of American Modernism in New Hope and New York


The James A. Michener Art Museum presents “Ethel Wallace: Modern Rebel,” on view Oct. 21 to March 10, the first comprehensive study of the artist’s career, focusing on Wallace’s unique adaptation of batik, garments, and oil paintings, popular among New York’s elite in the 1910s and 1920s.

Wallace’s story spans decades of culturally transformative eras in United States history, including first-wave feminism, the Roaring Twenties, the World Wars, and the Great Depression. Since her death in 1968, her body of work has remained behind the closed doors of private collections.

This exhibition at the Michener, 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown, will be the first public display of her work in decades and the artist’s first solo exhibition at a museum.

Tara Kaufman, associate curator of clothing and textiles at History Colorado and curator of the exhibition says, “Ethel Wallace is a legend in Bucks County, but more people should know her story. She was witty and passionate and unique, and anyone today can relate to her.”

Michener’s Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator Laura Igoe adds, “We are thrilled to present ‘Ethel Wallace: Modern Rebel’ during the Michener’s 35th anniversary year, demonstrating our ongoing commitment to highlighting the achievements of women artists from the greater Delaware Valley.”

Born in Recklesstown, N.J. (now Chesterfield Township), in 1886, Wallace grew up in the artistic community of New Hope, before moving to New York City and building a sensational reputation and successful business as a textile and fashion designer. However, with the onset of the Great Depression, Wallace returned to New Hope, where she struggled to maintain her career’s momentum amid economic upheaval. She remained in New Hope for the rest of her life, where she happily painted flowers from her garden and portraits of her cats.

The exhibition and its accompanying catalog, with essays by Kaufman and fashion historian Dr. Michael E. Mamp, aim to investigate how Wallace’s work—from her writings to her paintings and clothing designs—traces the development of two centers of modernism in America: New Hope and New York.

“Ethel Wallace: Modern Rebel” has been supported by the Richard C. von Hess Foundation, Jeniah Johnson and Tom Sheeran, the Coby Foundation, Ltd., and the Michener Art Museum’s 35th Anniversary Initiative.

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