WRITTEN BY CURATORIAL INTERN BRITTANY BERTAZAN
Can you name 5 women artists? It turns out, most people can’t. This simple question calls attention to the inequity women artists face, inspires conversation, and brings awareness to a larger audience. As a part of the #5WomenArtists initiative through the National Museum of Women in the Arts and in celebration of Women’s History Month, we will be highlighting women artists in the Cummer Collection. Museum founder Ninah Cummer was a supporter of women artists. Each of the artists we are highlighting are from the original 60 pieces of artwork donated by Ninah Cummer that are the foundation of our collection. To learn more about women artists, follow the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or follow #5WomenArtists. This post is the last of five published as part of our #5WomenArtists series.
When Mrs. Cummer hired Ellen Biddle Shipman in 1931 to embellish her property, she was reaching out to one of the most respected and sought-after landscape architects in the country. Shipman was part of a generation that succeeded in breaking into a largely male-dominated field, and her clients included famous American magnates such as the Fords and the Astors. Her gardens often appeared in magazines, and by 1933 House & Garden had named her the “Dean of Women Landscape Architects”. She shared her passion through many lectures and completed more than 600 projects.
Born to a prominent military family from Philadelphia that often relocated, Ellen Biddle Shipman (1896 – 1950) was introduced to horticulture in her early years while living with her grandparents in New Jersey. However, it was not until she moved to Massachusetts that she began to cultivate her landscaping skills. In 1912, she started her career as a garden designer in Cornish, New Hampshire under the mentorship of architect Charles Platt, known for his interest in Italian gardens. By 1920, she had opened an office in New York City, and she made a point of hiring graduates of the Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture for Women, the first of its kind to open the profession to women.
Because of the labor-intensive nature of her designs, few preserved spaces have survived. Among those, however, is the Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University in North Carolina, considered to be one of the most beautiful American college campuses, with its Italianate style. The Longue Vue House & Gardens in New Orleans is still admired today for how it included the architectural design of the house itself into the gardens, cleverly blending interior and exterior spaces.
And of course, there is the Italian garden at the Cummer Museum, one of the jewels of our grounds. Mrs. Cummer’s vision and love for a landscape style she discovered while traveling with her husband in Italy still exists today for us all to enjoy.