This month marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote. This historic centennial offers an unparalleled opportunity to commemorate a milestone of democracy and to celebrate the achievements of women — especially in the arts.

Quad City Arts’ September and October exhibition at Quad City International Airport, Moline, titled “A Portrait of Remarkable Women,” will feature portraits painted by Heidi Hernandez of Davenport, and Cecile Houel of Fort Madison, Iowa, as well as sculptures by 11 women artists living within a 250-mile radius.  They are: Kristin Garnant, Hilde DeBruyne, Lisa Mahar, Liz Wakita, Judy Bales, Joan Webster-Vore, Stephanie J. Baugh,  Elizabeth Rhoads Read, Lori Roderick, Karen Brinson and Justine Zimmer.

“A Portrait of Remarkable Women” offers a glimpse of both the extraordinary women artists in our community as well as the women commemorated by Hernandez and Houel.  “One hundred years ago, female artists struggled to be taken seriously in the profession, which meant being included in important exhibitions alongside men and selling their work at comparable prices,” said Dawn Wohlford-Metallo, visual arts director for Quad City Arts.

“Now female artists can be self-supporting, have work purchased for museum collections, can own an art gallery, be curators, esteemed educators, critics, writers, and speakers,” she said. “We now have numerous outstanding female artists here in our region to celebrate and share with the public. These artists can all stand on their own merit and many have had solo exhibitions, previously, but this anniversary provides us an opportunity to highlight talented women living here, now.”

Convinced that art can contribute to world peace, internationally recognized artist Cecile Houel started the “Nobel Peace Prize Collection: Peace Starts Within” in 2014, to celebrate all of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates of the prestigious Nobel Foundation since 1901.
Dividing her time between Iowa and France, she paints very personalized, large portraits of the famous laureates to honor their will and dedication to make a better world with strength, courage, and creativity. Each figure, internationally acclaimed, or subject to controversy, brought their light and contributed to humanity’s evolution. As part of this special exhibit commemorating women, Houel will exhibit six female Nobel Peace Prize Winners at the airport gallery.

Another 10 paintings from “Nobel Peace Prize Collection: Peace Starts Within” will be on view at Bettendorf’s Beréskin Gallery from Aug. 28 to Oct. 28, with one from Hernandez. The display, sponsored by WVIK, Quad-Cities NPR, will also feature preliminary drawings and studies.  The public (with mandatory masks) is invited to the opening reception and opportunity to meet the artists on Sept. 4 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The focus at Beréskin Gallery is not only the gender of the artists, but on the amazing accomplishments of people in the struggle for peace.

Houel said she plans to do portraits of all 107 Nobel Peace Laureates. Working from her studio in Fort Madison – a two-minute walk from the Mississippi River — she typically completes 10 of the intensely personal 4-foot by 4-foot portraits each year. Included in the display at the Bereskin gallery will be portraits of Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Elie Wiesel and Barack Obama, among others.  Born to a Catholic father and a Muslim mother, Houel said she witnessed discrimination while growing up in the Middle East. “I have a deep compassion for diversity,” she said, noting her goal is to create peace events where she can display all of her works.

Pat Bereskin, owner of Beréskin Art Gallery & Academy, sees the Houel exhibition as a perfect opportunity for families involved in online schooling to learn about these important figures in history. A downloadable “Passport for Peace” on the gallery website (bereskinartgallery.com) lists where each piece is displayed in the Quad-Cities and gives a biography of each Laureate. “Together we will have a body of work that tells the history and importance of working for peace through the lives and brushstrokes of Cecile Houel,” she said.

Hernandez, who will be exhibited at the airport, chose to paint local and national female artists she admires. “The collection of portraits I painted capture an exterior, a façade judged unfairly based on stereotypes and bias,” she said. “Hidden truths gleaned during interviews with the artists, are presented behind the portraits, peeking out underneath the edge of the painting, inviting the viewer to take a closer look.” Through the process of painting and dialoguing with her subjects, Hernandez explored the term feminism and what it means to contemporary artists.

Additional paintings from the Nobel collection, along with preliminary drawings and studies, will be exhibited at the German American Heritage Center and Museum, and the River Center Adler Theatre display case (also from Aug. 28-Oct. 28). The Adler case also will feature eight portrait paintings from Houel’s student, Rose Moore (who has taught at Bereskin Gallery).  “They’re absolutely beautiful,” Pat Bereskin said. Both she and Quad City Arts emphasize the importance and value of seeing all the women’s artwork in person, as opposed to online.  The art is complemented by related long-term exhibits at Davenport’s Figge Art Museum and Putnam Museum & Science Center.

“Seen and Heard: The Art of Empowerment” at the Figge Art Museum (on the second floor through May 2021) features women artists who asserted their artistic empowerment despite social and cultural barriers. In addition to empowering themselves, several of the artists on view give voice and visibility to the marginalized through their work.This exhibition, drawn from the Figge’s collection, features 13 women artists, including Marisol Escobar, Grace Hartigan, Louise Nevelson, Lee Krasner, and Alison Saar.

A number of the artists also created work concerning women’s experiences, establishing that it was a subject deserving visibility and recognition. Other artists created work that brought attention to societal injustices and traditionally marginalized groups, such as Carrie Mae Weems, who probes the racial, social, and cultural inequities in art history through her work.  The artists featured here have contributed to a more inclusive environment in the art world and beyond.   “We are proud to present these dynamic artworks from the museum collection, including several recent acquisitions,” Figge assistant curator Vanessa Sage said. “While issues of inequality and representation remain prevalent in the art world, the Figge is dedicated to better representing the world in which we live and the artists who are an essential part of it.”

The Putnam Museum has extended its exhibit on the women’s suffrage movement – “Liberated Voices / Changed Lives” – until Nov. 4 (the day after the presidential election).  The Putnam exhibit – whose major sponsor is Royal Neighbors of America — showcases how changing technology provided more time for women to work on the suffrage movement, which culminated in the signing of the 19th Amendment Aug. 26, 1920.  The Putnam features an original touch-screen exhibit on Quad-Cities men and women who worked for and against suffrage between 1900 and 1920.

Together, these six Q-C venues provide visual art and historic displays that reflect the importance, power and struggle of female artists, as well as all people who have worked tirelessly for the equality of women, world peace, and the advancement of humankind.

To learn about the Iowa artists, visit www.cecilehouel.com and www.heidihernandezart.com.   For the full article on this new collaboration visit: https://www.quadcityarts.com/blog

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Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.