About the Illinois Women Artist Project

Ladies from the Decatur Art Club set out on an art-seeing tour of Europe. The Club was founded in 1882.

The Illinois Women Artists Project gathers information about artists who worked throughout Illinois between 1818 and 1980 and promotes the appreciation of their work and experiences. Until now, little has been known about many of these artists.

We are interested in their work—paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture and photographs—and in how they managed their creative lives. We’re curious about their experiences, and the roles they played in the history of Illinois and the Midwest. To learn their stories, look at their work, and recognize their strengths enriches our cultural history and supports the value of women’s art and the integrity of their experience.

One of the most exciting aspects of the IWA Project is that it has become a collaboration of contributors from around the state: Illinois art historians, librarians, art club members, university students, writers, collectors, and artists’ relatives. Information and biographical stories about the artists are included in a database that is available through this website, which was designed and is being hosted by Bradley University in Peoria.

We are eager to make the information we’re gathering engaging, accessible, and usable to a variety of audiences in large and small Illinois communities. The IWA Project will give today’s women a link to their heritage and history, and provide a cultural foundation for them to build on. It offers viewers the opportunity to become historians and to participate in documenting our creative past.

Further Details About the IWA Project

Illinois women worked in the early 1800s making elaborate samplers and miniature portraits. They painted landscapes at the turn of the 20th century and took on Modernism in the 1920s and '30s. They used their creativity to make art, raise children, establish community organizations—to teach and to run businesses. They have interesting stories to tell about their desire to create something and their willingness to go beyond societal boundaries to do it. In many cases, they sustained their creative interests throughout their lifetimes. Their work is a tribute to the female spirit.

There isn’t much recorded about Illinois women artists of that time period. Their stories are not easily found.

Ethel Crouch Brown, (1890-)
Autumn Splendor, 1941
Peter Couri Collection

Sharing what we're learning

In 2006, IWA researchers began collecting and collating data and asking questions about the artists’ lives. Over the years, our circle of contributors has grown, and their generosity and support continue to nurture this project. Fact by fact…story by story…artwork by artwork…we are adding to American history.

It is important that these women’s stories be heard—and used. So we continue to add to the database, develop educational materials, and help arrange exhibitions that will be enjoyable and informative to a variety of viewers. We would like the materials to be used in schools, clubs and museums; in art and historical centers and women’s history courses; in book clubs, and online activities…for mentoring programs…and for just good reading.

Creative inspiration

What are some of the benefits of the IWA Project? For one thing, we hope learning about these women’s activities inspires girls interested in art to continue with their art making…to recognize that obstacles can be overcome and that creativity will continue to be a valuable part of their lives, whether they become artists, historians, or electrical engineers. The early Illinois women artists found ways through or around obstacles, or they simply changed the rules. We can learn from them. We hope that hearing the stories of their perseverance will help girls and women today recognize that they too can succeed.

Amanda Williams, one of the Northern Illinois University students working on the Project, believes that studying the work and accomplishments of these women will help train young minds—both male and female—to expect to find achievements from women as they study various subjects and time periods, and to be suspicious if they do not.

The IWA Project is a unique, not-for-profit, educational endeavor. Bradley University has developed and houses the website and the archival materials. For more information, please contact Kristan H. McKinsey, Director, at kmckinsey@fsmail.bradley.edu. Donations to support this work should be made out Bradley University.