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Violet Oakley Memorial Foundation Violet Oakley collection


Held at: Woodmere Art Museum [Contact Us]9201 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, 19118

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Woodmere Art Museum. 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

"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 [Villanova, PA] and Cogslea Estate [Mount Airy, Philadelphia, PA] 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 Cogslea 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)."


Ng, Judy. "A Finding Aid To The Violet Oakley Papers, 1841-1981, In The Archives Of American Art." Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Last updated December 29, 2014. Accessed August 17, 2016.

The Violet Oakley collection, circa 1882-1949, consists of artworks and preliminary works done by Violet Oakley beginning from the time she was a child and adolescent to her adult work; works done by other Oakley family members including Violet's sister, Hester Oakley; scrapbooks on books, book making, and illuminated manuscripts; reference photographs; copies of Oakley's books The Holy Experiment: A Message to the World from Pennsylvania (1922) and Law Triumphant: The Opening of the Book of Law (1933); materials used to make copies of the books; and printed matter that contains work done by Oakley.

Works in the collection include Oakley's nature, figure, and pageant studies, as well as studies after other artists; preliminary works for portraits, landscapes, altarpieces, murals, illustrations, posters, book plates, and stained glass designs; and other artworks. Mediums used include charcoal, paint on wood, ink, graphite, chalk, pastel, oil on canvas, watercolor, and others. There are scrapbooks that contain information on books and book-making and illuminated manuscripts, which includes illuminated manuscript designs that Oakley used as reference materials. There are also some reference photographs in the collection depicting nature, sculpture, and other subjects of interest to Oakley.

Additionally, the collection contains two boxes of Oakley family materials: canvas paintings, drawings, sketches valentines, and other artworks featuring mostly individuals, but also other subjects. Many works are on unstretched canvas. Some of the portraits are labeled with the person's name. One water color depicting Tangiers says "From Hester and Violet, to Papa." Some items in these boxes are sketches and other artworks by Violet's sister, Hester Oakley. Mediums used include ink, pencil, and watercolor. Subjects depicted include landscapes, street scenes, and people. Also in these boxes is a print of William Elder Bailey and a drawing, by Violet Oakley, of Charles Woodward.

Also included in the collection are poster designs by Oakley and printed matter such as the Germantown Crier, pamphlets, booklets, and flyers that contain work by Oakley.

A large portion of the collection consists of published copies (average and oversized) of Oakley's elaborate illustrated portfolio books, The Holy Experiment: A Message to the World from Pennsylvania (1922) and Law Triumphant: The Opening of the Book of Law (1933), the subjects of which were the murals that Oakley completed for the Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg between 1902 and 1927. These books were sold by subscription. There are also several boxes of materials used to make the books, including book plates (copper and lignin cuts), text blocks, and loose book covers.

A more detailed finding aid for the collection is available on-site.

Transferred from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 2015

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Woodmere Art Museum directly for more information.

Woodmere Art Museum
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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