For over 124 years, Pen and Brush has been the only international nonprofit organization providing a platform to showcase the work of professional emerging and mid-career female artists and writers to a broader audience. This timeline is part of our ongoing historical research project. Pen and Brush's archives are stored on microfilm in the Archives of American Art.
In 1893, Miss Janet C. Lewis of New York, a painter, sent a letter to a number of female acquaintances proposing the establishment of a new group exclusively for women interested in pursuits of both art and literature. The purpose of this organization, as Lewis described, was to be for mutual improvement, advancement and social intercourse. The entity was to be called the “Pen and Brush.”
“The founders of Pen and Brush planted the seeds of an open and mutually beneficial organization for women artists and writers.” – Janice Sands, Executive Director
The first official meeting of Pen and Brush was held in the Fifth Avenue Hotel on March 29, 1894.
Under the presidency of accomplished writer and suffragist Grace Seton, the Pen and Brush became - eight years before women were granted the right to vote - an established legal corporation: The Pen and Brush, Inc. The organization continued to flourish under the 30-year presidency of investigative journalist and writer Ida Tarbell. Members included Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Marianne Moore, Margaret Widdemer, and Pearl S. Buck, who also received the Nobel Prize in Literature; and renowned visual artists Isabel Whitney, Malvina Hoffman, Clara Sipprell, and Jessie Tarbox Beals.
The purchase of the building on 10th Street in Manhattan marked the beginning of a period of stability for the organization’s programming. For 29 years before this, various locations had to be rented for all Pen and Brush activities, including meetings and exhibitions. The image shown here of the building shortly after its purchase was taken - fittingly - by Jessie Tarbox Beals, the first published female photojournalist in the United States.
The celebratory burning of the mortgage was a powerful moment in the organization’s history, and a visual representation of its commitment to utilizing its assets to further its cause. The catalog commemorating this event includes a list of the writers of The Pen and Brush, Inc.
“Our founders pioneered for the recognition of women in the fields of art and literature. It is up to us today and to those who will come after us to keep alive this pioneer spirit – to lead the way – to seek higher standards in our work – to live and create in the climate of our time, yet be tempered by experience and knowledge of the past.” - President Elizabeth Cowen, 1963
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed “Pen and Brush Day” on October 23, 2005. He cited the organization’s history and contributions “in a city that is both the artistic capital of the world and a bastion of opportunity” as cause for recognition: “Pen and Brush’s initial vitality shows no sign of waning. Every season, its galleries host numerous exhibitions, workshops, forums, discussions, concerts, recitals, and readings.” Bloomberg quoted Pen and Brush Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marianne Moore, “Beauty is everlasting / and dust is for a time,” concluding that, “For 110 years, Pen and Brush has helped female artists and writers express themselves through enduring works of art.”
After 120 years in the town house, Pen and Brush moved to a new state-of-the-art facility in New York’s Flatiron District, one that offers collectors, curators and the public the chance to experience diverse work by women that reflects the landscapes of contemporary art and writing.
When planning and creating the new space, Pen and Brush recommitted to the
mission of representing female artists and writers, in ways that would significantly impact their careers, by creating a professional space to celebrate their work.
The new program structure offered publishers, agents, collectors and gallery owners a constantly-renewing supply of high-quality work – enough high-quality work to trigger a lasting shift in the marketplace. On the organization’s 120th birthday, Pen and Brush promised to continue its work through 2014 and beyond.
On October 6, we debuted our new electronic publishing platform with four inaugural works selected by our reading board. Publications are available here on our publications page and through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore, and Kobo.
On October 8, we opened our new, purpose-built space with “Domesticity Revisited,” a group show featuring four international contemporary artists selected by curator Rick Kinsel from our new visual arts program. During our first season we held a “Literary Takeover” of our space and a large group exhibition titled “Broad Strokes.” We held a number of events that promoted a discourse about gender parity in the arts. Our reopening stated with conviction that the new era for the organization in creating greater opportunities for women artists and writers was from the minute to doors opened into the future.
Pen + Brush was featured alongside major art institutions - from MoMA to the Whitney to Lincoln Center - in this episode, demonstrating that we are still an important part of the cultural milieu after nearly 123 years. But even more importantly, the segment shared the story and work of one of our talented artists, Josephine Barreiro, providing her with exposure on a local, national and international level. Watch the video at NYC-ARTS.org.
King Woman, the centerpiece exhibition this fall the gallery, presented recent work by 25 contemporary women artists, bosting a roster that encompassed established as well as lesser-known artists creating in a range of media, including video. Many new works, some created expressly for King Woman, were shown for the first time.