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Don’t miss the Petticoat Painters exhibit at BIG ARTS Founders Gallery

By Staff | Oct 22, 2014

Petticoat Painters Susan Klein (left), Jamie Friedli, and Diane Schmidt next to a Martha Hartman painting. ANITA FORCE MARSHALL

Celebrating their 60-year anniversary, the Petticoat Painters open at BIG ARTS this week. How special is this group of painters? Well, they are one of the oldest continuous exhibiting art groups in the US.

How did they get their name? We all hear about it, read about it and sometime it happens to us; those not so nice words “gender discrimination.”

The Petticoats Painters were formed back when gender inequality was acceptable. Here were college graduates and talented artists not given the same opportunities or prizes or the right to exhibit because they were women. The group’s formation began back when petticoats were worn in 1950s. Founder Martha Hartman lived in Sarasota and had just graduated from the Ringling School of Art and Design. She had won first prize for a painting and was given a certificate of award and not the money prize that went with her accolade.

It was still very common into the 1950s that women weren’t taken seriously or expected to worry about money; a little flashback reference to the movies and the very popular iconic “How to Marry a Millionaire” filmed in 1953. The three female stars could never aspire to be millionaires during that era, but they could only use their feminine wiles to marry the millionaire. So, women could be secretaries not bosses, nurses not doctors, and artists, if it was her hobby.

In response to her award, Martha Hartman and her husband, Bill, opened Sarasota’s first art gallery. They were enterprising and savvy and created an opportunity to offer the community many unusual art shows. Unusual for the 1950s featuring all female artists and fueled by being looked over as a professional artist.

BIG ARTS Visual Arts Committee members Jerry Churchill, Deborah Butler, Bea Pappas, and Lauren Huff (executive assistant). ANITA FORCE MARSHALL

The initial seven female artists had such a successful show that they formed a group. Petticoat Painters originally was decided on as a sarcastic gender-bias retort. Over the years lots of discussion to change the frilly name, but Petticoat Painters stuck. It even over time began helping to motivate the gusty group to be more determined to be taken seriously.

How talented are the Petticoat Painters? Well, today membership is by invitation only and the group stays at a constant 20 members. Their vacancies are filled by a two-thirds vote in the group. Each artist has a firm commitment to move beyond the boundaries of materials, of techniques, of standard images, and preconceived notions. They are motivated by their individual process of making art. The group offer lots of diversity, with the current ages ranging from 50 to 94 years.

Talk about survivors; 60 years later, their initial motivation was to be allowed to exhibit so, they have always had at least one exhibition annually. Thanks to the BIG ARTS Visual Arts Committee, the island is fortunate enough to be hosting this very special group of talented, innovative women artists.

Plan to attend the Artist Reception at Founders Gallery and welcome the Petticoat Painters to BIG ARTS and Sanibel.

Myakka series by Susan Klein. ANITA FORCE MARSHALL