This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 18 °C Friday 23 August, 2019
Advertisement

Search on for Irish family of pioneering American artist

An exhibition on her fascinating work is in Ireland for the first time.

THE SEARCH IS on for the Irish family of two artists whose work is now on show in Dublin.

The artists, Wilhelmina Weber Furlong and her husband Thomás Furlong, are a fascinating pair – and Wilhelmina all the more as she was both an artist and a woman ahead of her time.

Now their art is on show for the first time in Ireland thanks to family member Clint Weber. And as he is in Ireland for the launch of the exhibition, he is hoping that the Irish family of the pair (Furlong’s father was Irish) might make themselves known. 

Thomás and Wilhelmina were “madly in love”, Weber says. “Tom was the grandson of John, formerly of Ireland and Mary Fitzgerald of Scotland.”

Some of the artwork on show is by Furlong, and includes paintings of his wife. However, to date no relatives of the pair have come forward, and it is hoped that the exhibition might be a chance for them to reveal themselves. 

Who was Wilhelmina Weber Furlong?

The exhibition, which has opened at the Irish Georgian Society on Dublin’s South William Street, is chiefly dedicated to the work of Wilhelmina, with the addition of some paintings of her husband’s.

Wilhelmina is considered the first female American modernist painter. The modernist movement saw artists embrace a more experimental side to their work.

Rather than being slaves to history or tradition, modernist artists took their own approach – think of Pablo Picasso and his embrace of cubism, or Willem de Kooning, an artist who never stayed ‘on trend’. Wilhelmina was friendly with them both.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wilhelmina was an avid traveller, spending time in Paris and Mexico City. After her travels, in 1913, she opened one of the first modernist painters’ art studios and gallery at 3 Washington Square North in Manhattan, New York. It was called the Yellow Shop, and was a place where the public could see what modernist painters like her were creating.

This might seem like something small – opening a shop to display her wares – but it was significant. This was not a simple time for female artists. When she began her career, women were not allowed to show their work in public alongside men, and it was up to women like Wilhelmina to bring about the change.

As a student in the early 1890s, she was one of the first women activists allowed to exhibit artwork alongside men.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘If she were a man, she’d be an Old Master’

Weber-Furlong’s grand nephew Clint Weber, who is the curator and the caretaker of all of Wilhelmina’s work, is responsible for bringing the exhibition to Ireland. Weber’s father was left with the couple’s paintings and belongings, which he passed on to Clint. 

“If she were a man, she would be an old master,” says Weber when TheJournal.ie takes a look around the exhibition with him. He says the paintings in Dublin represent one third of the actual paintings by Wilhelmina and her husband that he owns. ”She’s among the first woman to exhibit alongside men.”

Weber says that Wilhelmina couldn’t take on a feminine name, so always painted under Weber, then later Weber Furlong. “So she took on the name and she always painted as Weber where people didn’t know if she was male or female,” he says.

Wilhelmina Weber Furlong was born in 1878, and passed away in 1962. “She started painting at a very young age for the family business, which was illustrating sale items,” Clint Weber explained.

She began painting young, aged around 12 or 13, and went on to study at the St Louis Academy, which is now Washington University. She went to Paris in the 1890s, and after that went to Mexico, during the Mexican revolution.

When she returned from Mexico, she set up the studio in Manhattan. “There was only one other modernist studio that was about eight years prior to that,” says Weber. “So this was the first place that a person could go in New York City and see a modernist paint.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the exhibition in Dublin are two different articles about Weber Furlong in 1914, focusing on how she went to Mexico, and her role in the gender revolution. They demonstrate how Wilhelmina was, as Clint Weber puts it, “very ahead of her time”.

She lived with her husband for three years before they married, for example. 

Thomás, who was a muralist, “spoke seven languages and played the concert piano”, says Clint. His family weren’t entirely happy with him marrying Wilhelmina. 

Clint Weber is particularly taken by how pioneering Wilhelmina was. “We’ve all heard of Georgia O’Keeffe. Well, when this woman started painting, Georgia was two years old,” he says of her.

Or Mexico, you have Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo – Frieda was probably not even born, Diego would have been five or six [when Wilhelmina was active]. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Part of his work is showing how talented Wilhelmina was, and finding a more elevated position for her in art history.

It’s not uncommon for female artists to have to do this type of work, given that it was harder for them to reach the levels their male counterparts did, due to social norms. 

But Clint points out that in her time, Wilhelmina was successful – as evidenced by the large newspaper spreads dedicated to her in the 1910s. So for Clint, part of the work is “positioning her back where she’s been positioned in the history of ours, because she was she was popular for so long of a period of time”. 

For Clint, the exhibition “represents her return to Europe”. He is now hoping to get in touch with the family of Furlong, so they can see the legacy of both him and his wife. 

Clint has put a huge amount of work into their story, spending years digging through archives. Things really began to take off when he met Mona Blocker Garcia of the International Women’s Foundation in Marfa, Texas. When Blocker Garcia found out about the art that Weber owned, she encouraged him to put them on show. 

For Blocker Garcia, the visit is notable because 2019 is the hundredth anniversary of the right of American women to vote. “This woman was very involved in that,” explains Blocker Garcia. “She was a suffragette. That’s fantastic. So she was really, you know, she was so brilliant.”

“You see that she represents the struggles of American women,” adds Clint.

Among Clint’s possessions is a note written by Wilhelmina, which he believes was her attempt to show that she wanted her story to be remembered. “This was written by her hand shortly before she died,” he says of the note, and he believes it shows “she desperately wanted to tell her story”.

“We ended up fulfilling her last request,” says Clint. 

Wilhelmina and Thomas’s work was given to Clint and now he’s determined to spread the word about them across the world. 

“This was a gift entrusted to me, and my father would say, ‘I don’t know what to do [with the paintings]‘. He had to work for a living and didn’t know what to do.

“And he says, ‘maybe you’ll figure it out’.”

Wilhelmina Weber Furlong exhibition is presented by Clint Weber, director and curator of The Weber Furlong Collection of Modern Art, Mona Blocker Garcia of the International Woman’s Foundation and artist Martin De Porres Wright, in association with the Irish Georgian Society at Irish Georgian Society City Assembly House, South William Street until 29 August 2019.

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

Read next:

COMMENTS (5)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel