Walking into the Louisiana State Archives, one might think there’s some sort of family reunion going on. Clusters of women are scattered around the room, some wearing red heels, others rocking Birkenstocks, all chatting happily together. It’s clear these are people who have known each other a long time.
At the Associated Women in the Arts’ 35th anniversary exhibition in October, the theme seems to be continuity. It’s almost entirely attended by members of the organization and their families, chatting with each other about new grandkids just as much as new works while sipping wine. It’s a refreshing contrast from a typical exhibition opening, where people nod silently and seriously at each painting.
In the viewing room at the Archives building, rows of paintings feature everything from pale abstracts to umbrellas to foxes and nature scenes.
Almost everyone is eager to talk about the impact the association has had, or to promote a friend or two. Artist Dana Mosby, who has a second-place ribbon pinned by her painting, explains her process and why she chose to feature three pelicans. She loves to paint outdoors, especially nature scenes and landscapes, which she finds relaxing. “That’s my outdoors sport,” Mosby says.
Determining the first and second place awards at the exhibition was an in-house process, with members voting on the dozens of paintings.
In the organization’s 35 years, most of its 75 active members have taken a crack at leadership roles. “Pretty much everyone in the room was president [at one time],”one of the artists remarks of the crowd.
It also seems to be expanding, gaining about 20 members in the last two years alone. The group hosts classes and exhibits, as well as social events for members, like get-togethers, holiday parties and art events with guest speakers. Members are also planning a trip to the New Orleans Museum of Art in February.
Prospective new members are sponsored by a current member and submit an application. Those who get in tend to become lifelong members.
One of the longest members, Kathy Miller Stone, joined around 1985. She says the friendships and advice have kept her here, watching the organization become more structured and helping it grow professionally.
“Women artists, of course, really aren’t a whole lot different from men artists, except that men are taken more seriously in certain places,” Stone says. The women standing next to her are quick to interject: “But we’re making progress.”
Current president Susan Thibodeaux has been a member for 10 years. Besides the quality of the art, she says she was attracted to the strong relationships the women formed.
“It just seemed like a really good place to grow in my art journey, and it has proved to be just that: a wonderful place to grow,” she says.
The organization also helps give a professional advantage to artists who are serious about their work and making a living as an artist, Thibodeaux says.
“Having group shows gives us more of a presence. I’ve never had a problem with people taking my art seriously. I take it seriously,” she says. “Is it challenging? Of course. Anything worth studying at length and becoming a professional at is challenging.” associatedwomeninthearts.com
This article was originally published in the December 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.