Violet Oakley

Violet Oakley, born in 1874, was a pioneering American artist known for her contributions to mural painting, illustration, and stained glass design. In the early decades of the twentieth century, she broke barriers in the male-dominated field of mural decoration, establishing herself as a trailblazer in the realm of public art.

One of Oakley’s most significant achievements was becoming the first woman artist in the United States to receive a commission for a public artwork. This commission resulted in a mural that still adorns the Pennsylvania State Capitol, showcasing her talent and significance in American art history.

Among Oakley’s notable works is the iconic altarpiece titled “Life of Moses,” located at the Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philadelphia. Commissioned by Samuel Fleisher, an influential supporter of the arts and advocate for public art education, this piece highlights Oakley’s ability to blend artistic skill with profound storytelling.

Oakley’s artistic journey was intertwined with her studies and teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Additionally, she was associated with Philadelphia’s The Plastics Club, a group dedicated to promoting art for its intrinsic value. Her studio, located at 13th & Chestnut, served as a hub of creativity and innovation.

Upon Oakley’s passing, her life partner, Edith Emerson, who is also recognized in the Icon Series, donated Oakley’s extensive body of work to the Woodmere Art Museum. Oakley’s art can be found in numerous prestigious collections, including the Philadelphia Art Museum, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Drexel University, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Violet Oakley’s legacy endures not only through her remarkable artworks but also through her trailblazing spirit, which continues to inspire generations of artists and art enthusiasts alike.

Last updated: Apr 9, 2024