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Go West, Young Woman : Female artists blaze new trails in portraying western subjects, a field historically limited to males.

November 04, 1994|SHARON MOESER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Sharon Moeser is a regular contributor to The Times

LANCASTER — The works on display at the Lancaster Museum/Art Gallery are varied--painted flowers, Native Americans and cowboys, sculpted horses and even a few pieces that seek to make a political statement.

Despite the variety, one fact binds the 99 pieces of art. The artists who created them are women.

The exhibit, "Women Artists of the West," runs through Nov. 27 and seeks to shatter the myth that the subject of women's art is limited to flowers and vases, said Christy Widmayer, museum assistant.

A pair of paintings by Sylmar artist Joan Wright were intentionally placed at the museum's entrance "to show women can portray cowboys and Indians," Widmayer said.

"You don't have to be feminine and soft to paint like a woman," she said. "You look at one of Joan Wright's works, and you wouldn't know whether a man or woman painted it."

Wright has been told many times that she paints like a man. She said she thinks that stems from her style--she uses bold colors and a hard edge rather than blended brush strokes. She also depicts the American West in her works, a subject traditionally viewed as the domain of men.

Wright's painting "Hazard's Hideout," which depicts a gang of bad guys standing around a small campfire near a stand of trees, and "Ready," which shows three cowboys crouched behind a wagon with their guns drawn, greet visitors to the exhibit.

"They may have come in expecting flowers and feminine subjects," Widmayer said. The exhibition, however, "gives a more widespread viewpoint, that there are women artists . . . that paint and draw and sculpt quite well."

"It's a beautiful show," said Wright, who helped jury the work submitted for the exhibit, which also includes a brief written history of women artists from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance. Wright has six oil paintings in the show.

"I get a lot of my characters by going to places like Old Nevada, Calico Ghost Town, Tombstone, the places of the gunfighters," Wright said.

Linda Walker, an Acton resident and wildlife artist who is exhibiting four oil paintings, said, "A show like this educates people in the sense that there really are some fine women artists."

The 26 artists whose works are on display are members of Women Artists of the West, a nonprofit group founded in 1971 primarily because Cowboy Artists of America, the most prestigious association for American West artists, does not accept women, said Walker, area director for the group.

Membership in Women Artists of the West was originally limited to female artists whose work portrayed the American West but in 1988 the group expanded to allow all women artists.

"We have tried to educate people to the fact we're serious in our intent, in our work and that our work is every bit as good as men's work," said Wright, a vice president of the group.

"We're trying to promote good art. It doesn't matter (whether) a man or woman did it."

A fact sheet prepared by the Lancaster Museum about group members states: "They all hold impressive credentials as dedicated, award-winning professionals, working hard in their chosen fields, proving that art produced by women is enlightened, powerful, inspirational and will withstand the test of time."

The group has about 125 members nationally and has presented shows in such places as the Wickenburg Caballeros Museum in Arizona and the Los Angeles Arboretum. A juried membership show is held annually in Taos, N.M.

Jo Gayle Gerner, a Pearblossom artist and adviser to the group's board, suggested to Lancaster Museum Curator Norma Gurba that the museum hold a show featuring the works of Woman Artists of the West.

"I've had shows at the museum and been to a lot of the shows and I like their presentation, I like their museum," Gerner said. "The community receives their shows there very well."

Gerner, who has five works in the show, paints florals and landscapes. Among them is "Lois' Rose," a 16-by-20-inch oil painting that features a single peach-colored rose blossom centered on the canvas.

Gerner said Women Artists of the West functions as something of a support group for its members.

"Women artists do have it a little tougher than men," she said. "They're not as readily accepted in the marketplace as men are."


What: "Women Artists of the West."

Location: Lancaster Museum/Art Gallery, 44801 N. Sierra Highway, Lancaster.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Ends Nov. 27.

Call: (805) 723-6250.

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