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Needlework is for Girls

Women etchers from the WMA Collection

This exhibition is curated and presented by Christa Story and Brooke McCammond'21.  All etchings are in the permanent collection of the Wright Museum of Art, Beloit College.


Needlework is for Girls

    Women etchers from the WMA Collection

Needlework is for Girls highlights etchings by women artists held in the Wright Museum of Art’s permanent collection.  


Needlework, like sewing and embroidery, generally evokes the domestic work of women, but late in the 19th century, women artists wielded a different type of needle, and made a space for themselves in the male dominated world of printmaking.  


Etching is a printmaking method using a copper plate, in which the lines are incised into the plate using acid. First, the plate is covered in a ground, protecting the copper. The image is drawn through the ground with a sharp steel-pointed needle, exposing the copper. Next, the plate is submerged in an acid bath, which eats away (or etches) the exposed copper, creating grooves. After the plate is  wiped clean, the plate can be inked. An oily ink gets pushed down into the grooves and then the surface of the plate is cleaned, leaving the ink in the recessed lines. To make the print, the etcher lays a dampened piece of paper on the plate, and runs it through a press, squeezing the ink onto the paper. The plate can be altered until the artist achieves the desired result.



Twilight, ca. 1882

Mary Nimmo Moran (American, 1842-1899)

Etching, roulette, sandpaper, and scotchstone

Museum Purchase, 2017.13.1


Wind, ca. 1903

Rosa Prevot-Frankfurt (Austrian, active early 20th century)


Gift of Dr. Charles S. Bacon class of 1878, 1922.8.18

Painterly compositions of nature and weather are composed of color and sometimes texture—but in etching, the artist is working in black and white and without the possibility of buildup. Showing depth and atmosphere with such limited resources is challenging. Mary Nimmo Moran, the first woman elected to both the New York Etching Club (1879) and London’s Society of Painter-Etchers (1881), and Rosa Prevot-Frankfurt succeed with needle and acid by re-working the plate with a variety of line and tone to create atmospheric drama, light and shadow, and movement akin to the painters of the Barbizon. In the late 19th century, Mary Nimmo Moran was introduced to etching and became one of the leaders of the American etching movement of the 1880s. She was hailed as one of the most successful etchers of her day, lauded for her technical expertise and inventive approach to printmaking (experimenting with tools, techniques, inks, and papers).  For some time, she kept her identity hidden, signing her works “M. Nimmo Moran” to prevent discrimination in the art circles dominated by men. 

Dominique Jouvet-Magron was active in Paris ca. 1930s, and was an active member of the Salon des Artistes Français in Paris from 1908. She is also known as Dominique Jouvet, which may have been her maiden name. As with so many early women artists, it is difficult to find biographical information about her, even confirmation of her gender. In fact, a 1923 monograph in the American quarterly magazine The Print Conoisseur spends the entire article discussing “his” etchings.  


Jouvet-Magron achieved depth by experimenting with stopping-out, or letting the acid bite over the entire plate, then covering parts of the work which the artist wishes to keep light in tone (generally in the distance) with ground before bathing the plate in acid again. This technique can be seen in this print, wherein the cloister structure is much darker (the lines are bitten deeper) than the light ruins seen in the distance. The alternating light and dark of the colonnade, getting generally paler the more it recedes, also draws our eye further. 


The Cloister, St. Trophine d’Arles, 1911

Dominique Jouvet-Magron (French, active 1930s)


Gift of C&J Goodfriend, 217.6.19


The Uprising, 1901

Kathe Kollwitz (German, 1867-1945)

Etching, drypoint, and aquatint

Laura Aldrich Neese Fund Purchase, 1961.5.3

For many artists, especially women, printmaking was foreign territory, and experimentation was imperative. Kathe Kollwitz was one of the more prominent graphic artists, and her notoriety remains today. Her friend describes her first lesson in etching: "Her right hand gripped the etching knife surely as she pressed it into the black wax. The manner in which she etched was much freer and more expressive than what they were used to; her etching looked more like a pen-and-ink drawing… The copper face shone out impressively from the blackened plate; she felt satisfied, and ready to etch..."  (Beate Bonus-JeepSechzig Jabre Freundschaft mit Käthe Kollwitz (1955) p. 40)

Although Kollwitz was trained as a painter, by 1890 she had turned to primarily to printmaking, and had joined the Munich Etching Club.  She made a total of 275 prints, nearly all black and white, and focused on etching until about 1911, before turning to lithography. Kollwitz became the first woman elected to Prussian Academy of Arts in 1919.

Because tools, presses, papers, and inks weren’t readily accessible to many, the formation of clubs and societies sprang up in major cities. The Etching Club of Viennese Women Artists opened  April 1903 proved crucial for Austrian women artists, who had few opportunities in patriarchal society of Austria. Artists represented in the Wright’s collection include Hermine Scheid, Maria Ressel, and Emma Lowentamm—all exhibit prowess especially in tone, which demonstrates the communal training of these clubs. 

An early twentieth century Hungarian painter and etcher, Mariska (sometimes Maria) Augustin specialized in both landscapes and depictions of country life and labor. Augustin exhibited her work in both Budapest and Paris (see Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts, Magyar 

Kepzomuveszeti Egyetem). 


Seamstresses, ca. 1904

Hermine Scheid (Austrian, active early 20th century)

Etching and aquatint

Gift of Dr. Charles S. Bacon class of 1878, 1923.1.8

New Year, early 20th century

Marie Ressel (Austrian, 1877-1945)

Etching and aquatint

Gift of Dr. Charles S. Bacon class of 1878, 1922.8.19

Mask of Beethoven, 1920

Emma Löwenstamm (Czech, 1879-1941)

Etching and aquatint

Gift of Dr. Charles S. Bacon class of 1878, 1922.8.15


Refugees, ca. 1850

Mariska (Maria) Augustin (Hungarian, 1880-1949)

Etching and drypoint

Gift of Dr. Charles S. Bacon class of 1878, 1922.8.29


Jimson Weed, 1939

Bertha E. Jaques (American, 1863-1941)


Museum Purchase from the Chicago Society of Etchers, 1939.3


Ah Yen, 1898

Helen Hyde (American, 1868-1919)


Museum Purchase, 2017.26.1


Female etchers supported and promoted their colleagues. A founding member of the Chicago Society of Etchers and author of the instructional text Concerning Etchings (1912), Bertha E. Jaques collaborated, assisted, and encouraged countless etchers in her nearly forty years as secretary to the CSE, reinvigorating etching across the nation. Over her career she produced 461 etchings. The CSE would include 450 members and exhibit over 10,000 prints; by the early 20th century, at least 20 societies were modeled after CSE. 


In 1898, Jaques wrote a letter to Helen Hyde after reading about her color etchings (something Jaques had never fathomed, and the two established a lifelong relationship). 

 “With the confidence of early enthusiasm, I wrote Miss Hyde that I did not believe in adding color to etching and would like to know what she had to say about it.” Hyde responded, sending along two of her own color etchings, colored a la poupee—meaning manually dabbing and wiping different colors on different parts of the plate—prompting Jaques to attempt the technique. 





Thames at Dusk, London, 1913

Bertha E. Jaques (American, 1863-1941)


Museum Purchase, 2019.19.2

Along with Kollwitz, Helen Hyde is perhaps the second most recognized female printmaker in this group.  Hyde, who found her identity in Japan where mastered the art of the Japanese Woodblock print. However, her etchings, although much fewer in number, are equally as admirable. In San Francisco in 1894, before rooting herself in Japan, she joined the Sketch Club, an association for professional women artists, and met Josephine Hyde (no relation) who encouraged her to try etching. Together the young women experimented with color etching, well ahead of its time. 


Another of Jaques' acquaintances, was the English-born Eileen Alice Soper, who made her first etching at the age of only thirteen, in 1918. When her etched work was first exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts summer exhibition in 1921, the sixteen-year-old Soper attracted immediate attention. Over the next ten years she produced around 160 original etchings.


The Three Wees, 1921

Eileen Soper (British, 1905-1990) 


Museum Purchase, 2019.11.1


Ô Take San, 1900

Helen Hyde (American, 1868-1919)

Colored etching

Museum Purchase, 2018.12.1


Canada Thistle, 1921

Bertha E. Jaques (American, 1863-1941)

Colored etching

Museum Purchase, 2017.18.1


Big Meadows, 1973

Jeanne Richards (American, 1923-2002)


Gift of Drs. Christopher Graf and Frederick P. Nause, 1973.1.29

In the 1960s, after three decades dominated by other printing methods, such as lithography, a renewed interest in etching swept the art world, owed in large part to the Atelier 17,  a “school” known for its impressive roster and innovative ideas. Students of Atelier 17’s Stanley William Hayter went on to teach printmaking at universities, or established workshops, and perpetuated Hayter’s ideologies. Hundreds of women entered the Atelier 17, and thousands more walked through doors that had been opened, into printmaking studios and schools as they popped up across the globe in the twenty-first century. 


Jeanne Richards studied printmaking at the University of Iowa with famed Mauricio Lasansky, a direct decendent of Hayter’s Atelier 17. In 1954/55 she studied at the Atelier in Paris on a Fulbright Grant. Krystyna Smiechowska, Polish, born 1935 was another such printmaker. Ellen Milan, who lived briefly in Madison, Wisconsin (a printmaking mecca in the late 60s) created and administered a studio and gallery in Jerusalem, Israel. Ellen’s work can best be classified as innovative and experimental both in techniques and materials. 


Manoeuvers, 1969

Krystyna Smiechowska (Polish, b. 1935)

Color etching

Museum Purchase, 1969.1.2


The Commuters, 1969

Ellen Milan (American, b. 1937)


N.J. Ross Memorial Fund Purchase, 1969.5

After studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, Myers transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where at least two former Atelier 17 artists were teaching. Myers lectured and taught printmaking at schools such as the College of Art and Design in Birmingham, St. Martin’s School of Art in London, England,  University of California-Berkeley, Mills College in California and, beginning in 1975, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she became Chair of the Graphics Department. 


Perhaps owing to her background in sculpture and material objects, some of Alison Saar’s prints take intaglio printing to new levels, printing on cloth rags, handkerchiefs, and burlap. 

Saar’s style encompasses a multitude of personal, artistic, and cultural references that reflect her own experiences. Saar was awarded Southern Graphics Council International’s 2019 Lifetime Achievement in Printmaking Award. 


Out for Lunch, 1990

Frances Myers (American, 1936-2014)

Soft-ground intaglio with added relief elements

Museum Purchase, 2017.16.4

Borzoi Watching, 1971

Frances Myers (American, 1936-2014)


Permanent Loan by Wisconsin Arts Board, 1977.1.7


Coal Black Blues, 2017

Alison Saar (American, b. 1956)

Intaglio on cotton shop rag

Museum Purchase, 2017.16.5

To inquire further about these artists, works, or the collection in general, please contact curator Christa Story

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