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Springfield Museums, Exhibit: Working Women: Defying Convention

January 1 - February 10

through – May 26, 2019 In a world saturated with idealized and sexualized depictions of women, the work of Isabel Bishop (1902-1988), who painted from the 1920s to the 1980s, is a welcome respite. The subjects she most often portrayed were everyday women doing everyday things—enjoying a private conversation with a friend while standing arm-in-arm, shrugging into a coat, or checking lipstick with an unselfconscious teeth-baring grimace. Though by description those images might not seem appealing, the portraits are beautiful—in part because they express a humanity that is at once recognizable and relatable. They are also beautiful because Bishop forged her own distinct drawing and painting style, a style that defied conventions.

A rare collection of Bishop’s work is available for exploration at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts November 13, 2018, through May 26, 2019, in an exhibit titled Isabel Bishop’s Working Women: Defying Convention. Guest curated by Julia Courtney this exhibit features Bishop’s masterpieces such as the Springfield Museums’ own At the Noon Hour. Most notably, the show also includes a private collection of rarely seen and never-before-seen sketches, etchings, and paintings belonging to Bishop’s granddaughters, one of whom lives locally.

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Transcending Sexualized Images

American artist Isabel Bishop left her home in Ohio when she was only 16 years old to pursue art in New York City. There she became a member of the Fourteenth Street School of artists who followed in the footsteps of the Ashcan School by realistically depicting urban scenes from everyday life. Bishop, who had a studio overlooking Union Square, specialized in portraying people who frequented the Square. Her subjects most often included the “new woman” of the 20th century, office workers, shop girls, and in later years, students at New York University. Bishop’s subtle and emotive images of working women demonstrate a strength of spirit as the young women infiltrated territory previously occupied only by men. These “new women” reached beyond the boundaries of the previous decades to carve out new roles in the work force as aspiring clerks, stenographers, bank tellers, and office workers, determined to meet the financial challenges of the Great Depression. At the same time, Bishop pushed at the boundaries of the hierarchies of art to produce masterful work that stands the test of time.

This exhibit of over 200 rarely seen works including etchings, aquatints drawings, preparatory sketches, copper plates, and paintings, brings together the collections of Bishop’s granddaughters, who remember frequenting the city’s museums while visiting their grandmother in New York. A rare reproduction on which Bishop superimposed blocks of color to map out a final painting gives visitors a glimpse into the artist’s process as she determined the size and color passages of the painting she would create. In addition, the exhibit reunites work from renowned art collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, Smith College Museum of Art, the Mount Holyoke Art Museum, the Indianapolis Art Museum, and the Phillip’s Collection, and includes the D’Amour Museum of Fine Art’s own masterpiece, At the Noon Hour, which Bishop created in 1935-36.

Complementary Exhibit at the Wood Museum of Springfield History

Taking Care of Business

A Century of Women and Work in Springfield

November 13, 2018–May 26, 2019

Wood Museum of Springfield History

Taking Care of Business traces the history of local women in the 20th century as they respond to the changes and challenges of their times. For some this meant entering the work force in traditional and non-traditional ways, for others it was a call to non-paid work for the betterment of their community, and for most women it meant questioning their traditional roles at some point in their lives. From the era of fighting for women’s right to vote to the appointment of Springfield’s first woman mayor, this exhibit looks at the story of Springfield women in transition.

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Women working at the Spaulding Factory in Chicopee Falls.


January 1
February 10


Springfield Museums
21 Edwards Street
Springfield, MA 01103
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(413) 263-6800