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The State Museum Opens New Exhibit on Artist Violet Oakley’s Studies for Pennsylvania Capitol Murals, Commemorating 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage

Harrisburg, PA – Artist Violet Oakley (1874–1961) was the first woman in America to receive a government mural commission. She embodied the ideal of the "New Woman" embraced by feminists of her era who fearlessly pushed past the limits that society imposed on them because of their gender. In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, The State Museum of Pennsylvania is pleased to present "Picturing a More Perfect Union: Violet Oakley's Mural Studies for the Pennsylvania Senate Chamber, 1911–1919." The exhibit, which opens to the public on Friday, November 22, features more than 50 of Oakley's original studies for the Senate Chamber murals from The State Museum's collections.

Violet Oakley spent nearly a quarter of a century – from 1902 to 1927 – painting murals for the Pennsylvania State Capitol. Of the 43 murals that resulted from that work, the nine panels for the Senate Chamber, produced between 1911 and 1919, are the most impressive in scale and scope.

Oakley's Senate Chamber murals highlight people and events from Pennsylvania and American history, but the panels also depict topics rarely seen in American public art of that era. African Americans appear in four of the nine murals. Women also appear with unusual frequency, either as allegorical or historical figures. Quaker social ideals, which Oakley embraced, infused the murals throughout.

Created during a decade of national and international conflict and landmark social change – including the enfranchisement of American woman with the passage of the 19th Amendment – Oakley's murals today can be seen as a bold political statement in pictorial form. The series is both a remarkable revisionist interpretation of contemporary and historical events and a singular achievement in American Renaissance mural painting.

"Picturing a More Perfect Union" takes visitors through Oakley's process, using her studies to illustrate the many layers that went into creating each mural. That layering idea is repeated in both the layout and graphic design of the exhibit, starting first at completed mural and then taking viewers back through the intricate steps Oakley carried out to achieve each figure that makes up a part of the whole.

 "Picturing a More Perfect Union" is curated by State Museum Senior Curator of History Dr. Curtis Miner and Fine Arts Curator Amy Hammond. Special advisor to the exhibition is Dr. Patricia Likos Ricci, an art historian and professor at Elizabethtown College. Ricci is the preeminent Oakley scholar who has studied the artist for more than 40 years.

The public is invited to the exhibit opening on Friday, November 22, from 3:00 PM to 7 PM during the museum's annual Holiday Marketplace, a showcase for The State Museum Store and select museum stores from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission's historic sites and museums. Admission to the museum will be free during this time.

The exhibit runs through Sunday, April 26, 2020.


The State Museum of Pennsylvania, adjacent to the State Capitol in Harrisburg, is one of 24 historic sites and museums administered by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission as part of the Pennsylvania Trails of History. The State Museum offers expansive collections interpreting Pennsylvania's fascinating heritage. With exhibits examining the dawn of geologic time, the Native American experience, the colonial and revolutionary eras, a pivotal Civil War battleground, and the commonwealth's vast industrial age, The State Museum demonstrates that Pennsylvania's story is America's story.

Museum hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and Sunday, 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Admission is $7 for adults (ages 12-64), $6 for senior citizens (ages 65 and up), and $5 for children (ages 1-11).

The State Museum has joined other museums across the country in Museums for All. This program enables low-income families to visit participating museums for a nominal fee of $2 per person with the presentation of an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card and identification. This offer is for general admission only and excludes special programs or events.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Howard Pollman, 717-705-8639

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Press previews of "Picturing a More Perfect Union: Violet Oakley's Mural Studies for the Pennsylvania Senate Chamber, 1911–1919" will be offered on Monday, November 18 and Tuesday, November 19 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM. Please contact Howard Pollman, PHMC's director of external affairs, at 717-705-8639 or to confirm a time.  

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