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Violet Oakley Collection


Held at: Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives [Contact Us]Philadelphia Museum of Art, PO Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA 19101-7646

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

As the first woman artist to receive a major public art commission in America, Violet Oakley combined her artistic talents with her commitment to pacificism and feminism. Considered an important American Renaissance artist, Oakley is best known for her murals and stained glass projects. Oakley was born June 10, 1874 and raised in Bergen Heights, NJ. She began her art studies by the age of 18 and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she later taught. She also studied with Howard Pyle at Drexel University, which awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Laws Degree in 1948. Oakley began her career as a magazine and book illustrator. Her most signficant project, which took 25 years to complete, was for the State Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. For that commission, Oakley painted 43 murals, decorating the Governors Grand Reception Room, the Senate chambers and the Supreme Court room. Oakley maintained a studio in Philadelphia's center city for about a decade, and then spent a few years in Villanova, Pennsylvania, before settling permanently in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia. The residence was dubbed "Cogslea," and Oakley lived there with two fellow artists, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Willcox Smith. Pyle nicknamed the trio the Red Rose Girls. Henrietta Cozens and Oakley's partner Edith Emerson also lived there. Violet Oakley died February 25, 1961.

This collection documents Violet Oakley's brilliance in combining her artistic talents, particularly as a muralist, with her commitment to pacificism and feminism. The seven scrapbooks in the first series primarily contain newspaper and magazine clippings, as well as pamphlets, programs, exhibition checklists, ephemera and correspondence, and chronicle Oakley's career from 1899 to 1962, one year after her death. The second series consists of four publications written, designed and illustrated by Oakley that were printed in limited editions. "The Holy Experiment, our heritage from William Penn..." pertains to the dramatic mural project Oakley executed for the State Capitol in Harrisubrg, Pennsylvania. The oversized plates illustrating the 1922 portfolio edition are housed separately from the original, leather cover and calligraphic text. There is also an octavo-sized version of "The Holy Experiment," that was published in 1950, with black and white illustrations. Oakley published "Law Triumphant" in 1932 to commemorate the Disarmament Conference that began in Geneva that year. Its four-color plates are also housed separetly from the original oversized volume. The 1949 pamphlet, "Great Women of the Bible..." pertains to the ten murals Oakley, who was more than 70 years old at the time, created for the Pastoral Aid Society, which was the women's organization to the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The pamphlet is not illustrated. The "Other" series consists primarily of black and white photographs. Most of these feature a pet cat, which from the notations on the verso of a few of the images was "Cogs," taken in 1909. The women who are included in a couple of these photographs appear to be Oakley and Edith Emerson. There are also two sheets of pencil sketches of a cat in various poses. The material identified as "Reference" probably was assembled by museum staff or scholars in 1979 in preparation for the Oakley exhibition held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. These include mounted copy prints, most of which show the artist working in her studio on various mural projects and details of the artwork, a multi-page list identifying all the images in five photograph albums belonging to Edith Emerson, and two four-color photographs of Oakley's murals on the north and south walls of the Senate chamber in the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

Transferred from Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Summer 2006.

These materials were arranged and described by Bertha Adams. Funded by a grant from The Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Bertha Adams
Finding Aid Date
Funded by a grant from The Institute of Museum and Library Services
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

The Viole Oakley Collection are the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Collection Inventory

Volume 1., 1899-1904.
Box 1 Folder 1
Volume 2., 1905-1913.
Box 2 Folder 1
Volume 3., 1914-1921.
Box 3 Folder 1
Volume 4., 1921-1925.
Box 4 Folder 1
Volume 5., 1921-1948.
Box 5 Folder 1
Volume 6., 1948-1956.
Box 6 Folder 1
Volume 7., 1957-1962.
Box 7 Folder 1

The Holy Experiment. [Portfolio edition.] Incl. International Supplement. No. 121 of 500., 1922.
Box 8 Folder 1
The Holy Experiment. [Portfolio edition] Plates 1-8, 10-21., 1922.
Box 9 Folder 1
The Holy Experiment. [Portfolio edition] Plates 9 a-c., 1922.
Box 1006 Folder 1
The Holy Experiment. [Portfolio edition] Plate 22., 1922.
Box 1006 Folder 2
Law Triumphant. No. 40 of 300., 1932.
Box 10 Folder 1
Law Triumphant. Plates I-XVI., 1932.
Box 10 Folder 2
Great Women of the Bible. [not illustrated]., 1949.
Box 11 Folder 1
The Holy Experiment. No. 773 of 1,000., 1950.
Box 11 Folder 2

Drawings. Pencil (Two 8.5" x 11" sheets, ea. w/ multi-images). Cats., undated.
Box 12 Folder 1
Photographs. B/W (26 images). "Cats of Cogslea.", 1909, undated.
Box 12 Folder 2
Photographs. B/W, mounted (three 8" x 12" boards, ea. w/ single image). Cats, incl. photo of woman [Oakley?] w/ cat., undated.
Box 12 Folder 3
Photographs. B/W, mounted (three 12" x 15.5" boards, ea. w/ multi-images). Cats., undated.
Box 12 Folder 4
Photographs. B/W, mounted (four 12" x 15.5" boards, ea. w/ multi-images). Cats and one photo. of woman w/ dog., undated.
Box 12 Folder 5
Reference. Copy prints, mounted (13 various sizes). Incl. images of Oakley in studio., undated.
Box 13 Folder 1
Reference. List of 19 B/W photographs from Edith Emerson albums. Ts. [identifies copy prints?]., undated.
Box 13 Folder 2
Reference. List of images from Edith Emerson's five photograph albums. Ms. compiled by S. Kall., 1979.
Box 11 Folder 3
Reference. Photographs. 4/C, mounted (two images on oversize board). Senate chamber of Pennsylvania State Capitol., undated.
Box 1006 Folder 3

Print, Suggest