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Museum shows off women's works

March 03, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

The 100 portraits, landscapes and still-lifes on display at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts share a common thread: All were created by American women between the 1850s and the 1930s, a period from which women's art is extremely hard to find.

Maryland first lady Frances Hughes Glendening spent Sunday afternoon at the museum for the exhibition's kickoff.

"This, today, is a very special day for me," said Glendening, the honorary chairwoman for the exhibit. "It is not often I can participate in an event that allows me to combine my two life's passions: art and women's history."

The Sellars Collection - on display at the museum until May 25 - is part of 600-piece collection painstakingly compiled by J. Alan and Louise S. Sellars of Marietta, Ga.

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The works have been shown in museums in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Knoxville, Tenn. About 100 people attended the public reception on Sunday.

Sue Sellars Rice said her parents began collecting works by women after they realized that women artists had created only about a dozen of the 1,000 paintings they owned.

Before his death five years ago, Alan Sellars called the period "the most neglected in American women's art history."

Museum Director Jean Woods said: "(The Sellars) quite literally gave this country a legacy and wrote a new chapter in art history for American women."

Rice, the curator of the collection, said her father extensively researched art created in the 1800s and early 1900s.

By examining enrollment lists at art schools and exhibition records, he discovered that women made up as much as 40 percent of the artists trained in that period.

Yet, hardly any have attained the significance of their male counterparts. "He just felt it was probably an oversight because of the times," Rice said.

Rice said the family was careful to include only artists with credentials - women who had taught in art schools or who had exhibited their works.

Woods, who flew to Sellars' home in Georgia to select the works for the exhibit, said she was left breathless by the entire 600-piece collection.

"They're just lovely," she said. "It was very, very difficult to decide."

Louise Sellars said she and her husband found joy in the compiling of the works of about 380 women artists.

"It was a lot of fun,'' she said. "He'd hear of a painting and catch a plane. This is something that no one had done. He had collected art, but this was a challenge."

The exhibit, which is being underwritten by the Hagerstown Trust Co., is on display in the wing of the museum that opened in late 1995.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday. The exhibit is free to the public.

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