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Violet Oakley papers, 1841-1981

Violet Oakley papers, 1841-1981

Oakley, Violet, 1874-1961

Muralist, Painter, Stained glass artist

Collection Information

Size: 57.4 linear feet

Summary: The papers of painter, stained glass artist, and muralist Violet Oakley measure 57.4 linear feet and date from 1841-1981. Found within the papers are biographical materials; personal and business correspondence; writings, including essays, lectures, and project drafts; diaries and journals; financial material; artwork; printed material, including scrapbooks; and photographs, 3 albums, 322 glass plate negatives, and 1600 film negatives of Oakley, her family and friends, and her work.

Biographical/Historical Note

Painter, muralist, and stained glass designer Violet Oakley (1874-1961) lived and worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was known for her Renaissance-revival style of art and the series of murals she completed for the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

Provenance

The papers were donated in 1977 and 1984 by Oakley's longtime friend and companion, Edith Emerson. In 1988, two additional feel of materials were donated by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, who had received the papers from Emerson's estate.

Related Materials

Originals of material loaned for microfilming, which consist of Violet Oakley's scrapbooks containing press clippings, correspondence, programs, invitations, reproductions of artwork, and ephemera dating from 1896 to 1962, as well as a family photograph album and photographs of artwork, were returned to Edith Emerson. Loaned material is still available on reels 1204, P12, 1187-1188, 1272, and 1194-1195 but is not included in the container listing of this finding aid.

Reel 1204 consists of two scrapbooks (circa 1896-1952) containing clippings from magazines of illustrations by Violet Oakley and her sister, Hester, and of Violet's murals for the State Capitol at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Reel P12 is of a scrapbook (1898-1936) containing a photograph of Oakely at her easel, clippings, and letters. Reels 1187-1188 consist of five scrapbooks (1920-1962) containing letters, clippings, exhibition announcements, catalogs, and awards. One of the scrapbooks is devoted to "The Holy Experiment", a limited edition publication by Oakley which commemorating William Penn, and which includes reproductions of Oakley's capitol murals in Harrisburg.

Reel 1272 consists of two albums (circa 1900-1949) containing photos of Oakley working on murals in her studio, as well as her works of art, including stained glass windows at the Church of All Angels, New York; murals at the Harrisburg State Capitol; preliminary drawings and site photographs of "Dante's Window"; the lunettes and window for the Yarnall House; murals and preliminary drawings for the Cuyahoga Court House; the mural and dedication ceremonies for the Vassar Alumnae House; and photos and printed mate

Funding

Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Location of Originals

  • Scrapbooks and portions of photo albums: Originals returned to Edith Emerson after microfilming.
  • Reel P12: Originals returned to the lender, Violet Oakely, after microfilming, 1959.

A Finding Aid to the Violet Oakley Papers, 1841-1981, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.oaklviol
Author
Finding aid prepared by Judy Ng
Biographical/Historical note
Painter, muralist, and stained glass designer Violet Oakley (1874-1961) lived and worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was known for her Renaissance-revival style of art and the series of murals she completed for the Pennsylvania State Capitol.
Born in Bergen Heights, New Jersey, to a family of artists, both of Violet Oakley's grandfathers were painters and members of the National Academy. In 1892, she began her art studies at the Art Students' League and traveled abroad a year later to study in Paris at the Academie Montparnasse, and in England with Charles Lazar. Upon her return to the states in 1896, she continued her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and at Drexel Institute with Howard Pyle.
For fourteen years, Oakley shared her early studios at Red Rose Inn and Cogslea Estate with fellow artists and illustrators Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Willcox Smith. These two studio homes were managed by their friend Henrietta Cozens in a cooperative arrangement which allowed all three artists to focus on their work as commercial artists. Early in her career, Oakley designed covers for magazines such as
Collier's Weekly
and
Century Magazine
, and also found work as a stained glass designer for the Church Glass and Decorating Company of New York. In 1900, she received her first major commission to design and execute two large murals and six stained glass pieces for the All Angels' Church in New York City.
In 1902 Oakley was approached by architect Joseph Huston to design 13 murals for the Governor's reception room in the new Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg. She eventually completed two additional mural commissions for the Capitol's Senate (1911-1920) and Supreme Court (1917-1927) chambers. Her studies of William Penn in connection with her murals for the State Capitol inspired Oakley to work for international peace and eventually led to the publication of a portrait folio depicting League of Nations delegates (1932). Other significant works include murals, panels, and stained glass commissions completed for the Vassar College Alumni house, Charlton Yarnall house (Philadelphia), and Cuyuhoga County courthouse.
While working as an established artist, Oakley also taught courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, arranged a yearly lecture series, and published folios and other writings on topics ranging from art history to Christian Science under the Coslea Studios imprint. Her later studio, Lower Cogslea, was shared by artist and lifelong companion Edith Emerson, who after Oakley's death in 1961, established a memorial foundation in her name.
Oakley was the first woman elected to the National Society of Mural Painters, was a recipient of the Gold Medal of Honor of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and was the first woman to receive the Gold Medal of Honor from the Architectural League of New York. Her writings include
The Holy Experiment: A Message to the World from Pennsylvania
(1922) and
Law Triumphant: The Opening of the Book of Law
(1933).
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 8 series. A comprehensive index of individidual correspondents for the chronological correspondence is found in the first folder of the chronological correspondence in box 5, folder 41. Glass plate negatives are housed separately and closed to researchers, but listed where they fall intellectually within the collection.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1841-1970 (2.8 linear feet; Boxes 1-3, OV 69, OV 71)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1857-1979 (26.7 linear feet; Boxes 3-30)
Series 3: Notes and Writings, 1899-1976 (10.6 linear feet; Boxes 30-38, 58-64, OV 66, OV 70)
Series 4: Diaries and Journals, 1891-1958 (0.9 linear feet, Boxes 38-39)
Series 5: Financial Material, 1874-1977 (3.1 linear feet; Boxes 39-42)
Series 6: Artwork, 1883-1955 (0.7 linear feet; Boxes 43-43, 64, OV 67, OV 71)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1866-1981 (7.3 linear feet, Boxes 43-50, 65, OV 67)
Series 8: Photographs, 1890-1980 (5.3 linear feet; Boxes 50-57, 65, OV 68)
Scope and Contents note
The papers of painter, stained glass artist, and muralist Violet Oakley measure 57.4 linear feet and date from 1841-1981. Found within the papers are biographical materials; personal and business correspondence; writings, including essays, lectures, and project drafts; diaries and journals; financial material; artwork; printed material, including scrapbooks; and photographs, 3 albums, 322 glass plate negatives, and 1600 film negatives of Oakley, her family and friends, and her work.
Biographical materials include certificates, family records, curriculum vitae, and identification cards, and studio guest books. About one-half of the collection is comprised of correspondence with family, friends, and business associates. Writings include Oakley's notes, essays and lectures, and writings related to 16 of her major artworks and publications, including her work on the Pennsylvania Capitol murals in Harrisburg. Diaries and journals include Oakley's travel notes and research on planned artworks.
Financial materials include a catalog of artworks and price lists, accounting records, and art supply receipts. Artwork includes early childhood juvenilia, a sketchbook, sketches of travel and friends, architectural renderings, and artwork by others. Printed materials include books, clippings, exhibition catalogs, programs, and reproductions of artwork by Oakley and others. Photographic materials include photographs, albums, and negatives depicting Oakley, her friends and family, her studio at Cogslea, and reproductions of artwork.
Provenance
The papers were donated in 1977 and 1984 by Oakley's longtime friend and companion, Edith Emerson. In 1988, two additional feel of materials were donated by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, who had received the papers from Emerson's estate.
Separated Materials note
Originals of material loaned for microfilming, which consist of Violet Oakley's scrapbooks containing press clippings, correspondence, programs, invitations, reproductions of artwork, and ephemera dating from 1896 to 1962, as well as a family photograph album and photographs of artwork, were returned to Edith Emerson. Loaned material is still available on reels 1204, P12, 1187-1188, 1272, and 1194-1195 but is not included in the container listing of this finding aid.
Reel 1204 consists of two scrapbooks (circa 1896-1952) containing clippings from magazines of illustrations by Violet Oakley and her sister, Hester, and of Violet's murals for the State Capitol at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Reel P12 is of a scrapbook (1898-1936) containing a photograph of Oakely at her easel, clippings, and letters. Reels 1187-1188 consist of five scrapbooks (1920-1962) containing letters, clippings, exhibition announcements, catalogs, and awards. One of the scrapbooks is devoted to "The Holy Experiment", a limited edition publication by Oakley which commemorating William Penn, and which includes reproductions of Oakley's capitol murals in Harrisburg.
Reel 1272 consists of two albums (circa 1900-1949) containing photos of Oakley working on murals in her studio, as well as her works of art, including stained glass windows at the Church of All Angels, New York; murals at the Harrisburg State Capitol; preliminary drawings and site photographs of "Dante's Window"; the lunettes and window for the Yarnall House; murals and preliminary drawings for the Cuyahoga Court House; the mural and dedication ceremonies for the Vassar Alumnae House; and photos and printed material on "Divine Presence--Christ at Geneva," "The Life of Moses," "Great Women of the Bible," and triptychs for the Army and Navy.
Reels 1194-1195 consist of photograph albums (circa 1870-1960) containing photographs of the Oakley and Swain families, of Violet Oakley, Edith Emerson, Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green, friends, her home, Oakley's "Red Rose" studio in Villanova, Pennsylvania, her "Cogslea" studio in Philadelphia, and of her works of art, mainly portraits of her friends and of delegates to the League of Nations.
Related Archival Materials note
Also found among the holdings of the Archives of American Art are the Violet Oakley Memorial Foundation records and the Violet Oakley autograph and photograph. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts holds the Violet Oakley Foundation Art Collection, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art holds the Violet Oakley Collection.
Location of Originals
  • Scrapbooks and portions of photo albums: Originals returned to Edith Emerson after microfilming.
  • Reel P12: Originals returned to the lender, Violet Oakely, after microfilming, 1959.
Processing Information note
Materials received a preliminary level of arrangement after donation and correspondence within the collection was microfilmed onto reels 3716-3745. In 1985, nitrate negatives were removed and duplicated onto safety based film. In 1988, 8 photos were professionally conserved. The collection was further processed to a minimal level and a finding aid prepared by Judy Ng in 2014, with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
The Archives of American Art has implemented minimal processing tactics when possible in order to increase information about and access to more of our collections. Minimal processing included arrangement to the series, subseries, and folder levels. Generally, items within folders were simply verified with folder titles, but not arranged further. The collection was rehoused in archival containers and folders.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of the correspondence in this collection is available on 35 mm microfilm reels 3716-3745 at the Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan. Researchers should note that the arrangement of the papers as described in this finding aid does not reflect the order of the collection on microfilm due to reprocessing.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Glass plate negatives are housed separately and closed to researchers. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Violet Oakley papers, 1841-1981. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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