Suzanne Valadon, The Blue Room, 1923. Pompidou Center, Paris. Courtesy image.

In the early 1970s, a pair of art lover and scholars decided to go hunting for great women artists, largely because their lack of training as art historians didn’t expose them to the misguided conventional wisdom that they didn’t exist.

In the course of their research, J.J. Wilson and Karen Peterson found plenty of great women authors, so much so that, in 1976, they published Women Artists: Recognition and Reappraisal from the Early Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. The book chronicles their discoveries, and as part of the annual Bay Area Women Artist show, O’Hanlon Center for the Arts is shining a light on their work at an event on Saturday, August 17 (7-9pm).

“The only places they did not find women artists were places they did not look: sometimes in the guise of nuns, sometimes in the disguise of their fathers or husbands, sometimes simply as “Anon,” but yes, women doing art were there,” says Erma Murphy, O’Hanlon’s co-director. “The story of this dis/un/covering project is important not just because it adds immeasurably to the history of art, but because it applies to many other fields as well. Think of women writers or indeed cooks. Women do the work, men take the credit. It happened and indeed, it happens still.”

Murphy says the event “will re-trace some of our steps and missteps and share the excitement of recovering these works of art, many of which will be new to you because, of course, they were so rarely reproduced in those art history text books like Janson. You will become aware of many ‘hidden figures’ and be reminded to never take official history as the whole story in any area.'”

Wilson and Peterson will be on hand to discuss their work and their respective backgrounds. Wilson has worked as a secretary at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Bank of America in San Francisco and the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. She earned a PhD in Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley and taught at Sonoma State University, where she now serves as a Prof. Emeritus in the English Dept. Petersen is a retired librarian from Santa Rose Junior College and is a founder of the Petaluma Art Center and of the Sitting Room community library devoted to books by and about women writers and artists.

The 411: On Saturday, Aug. 17 (7-9pm), authors J.J. Wilson and Karen Peterson lead an exploration of the women artists they discovered in writing their 1976 book Women Artists: Recognition and Reappraisal from the Early Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. O’Hanlon Center for the Arts, 616 Throckmorton Avenue. $10. MORE INFO.

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