Violet Oakley was a painter, stained-glass artist and illustrator. She is best known for her murals currently on display inside the Pennsylvania State Capitol. Those paintings represent the largest public work ever to be completed by a woman.
This week’s Pennsylvania Treasure, an oil-on-canvas entitled Red Rose Studio, depicts the Red Rose Inn, Oakley’s home in Villanova, Pa. Oakley began the paintings for the Governor’s Reception Room at the Pennsylvania State Capitol while living at the inn. From 1902 to 1906, she shared the home with her friends from school, Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954) and Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935). Together, the artists became known as The Red Rose Girls. This painting, dated 1904, evokes a warm glow, directly at the center, signifying the love and camaraderie she shared while living at the Red Rose Inn. Selected by CAP Curator Carol Buck, Red Rose Studio is featured in the Pennsylvania Icons exhibit.
Oakley (1874-1961), a native of New Jersey, grew up in a family of artists and traveled many times to Europe to study art. In 1896, she enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. One year later, she was admitted to the Drexel Institute School of Illustration. There, she met Shippen Green and Willcox Smith and studied under American illustrator Howard Pyle (1853-1911). As a young woman, Oakley’s first career was as an illustrator for magazines.
By the time she was 28 years old, Oakley was spending her days creating murals in her studio, works of art that would later grace the walls of the Governor’s Reception Room. By 1927, Oakley had spent 25 years working on the murals for the capitol building.
About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.