The Providence Art Club on Thomas Street boasts one of the most recognizable facades in the city, with its Fleur de Lys Studios building constructed to compensate for College Hill’s heavily slanted sidewalk and decorated with marigold-yellow accents and ornate reliefs.
The building is steeped in history and houses a members-only club, so many passersby do not realize that its three galleries are fully open to the public, including its ground floor Dodge House gallery and next door Maxwell Mays and Mary Castelnovo galleries upstairs at Fleur de Lys. Contrary to its old-fashioned demeanor, the club’s founding in 1880 embodied the progressive spirit that Providence and Rhode Island are known for: it was the first art club in America to admit both men and women members, and six of the original PAC compact signers were female.
To commemorate this unique history, the Art Club will be hosting Making Her Mark: Women Artists of the Providence Art Club, 1880 throughout the month in the Maxwell Mays Gallery. Exhibition curators Catherine Bert of Bert Gallery and Nancy Grinnell of the Newport Art Museum have spearheaded efforts to locate and borrow pieces by select female club members from the late 1800s.
Nancy Grinnell notes that they’ve focused on female members falling into one of three categories: professional artists who also exhibited outside of Providence in cities like New York and Philadelphia; art educators, including teachers at Wheeler and Moses Brown schools; and finally, women who simply loved to make art and exhibit it – loosely referred to as “artmakers.” About 40 works will be shown in total, some are in-house, but many have been stored in museums such as the RISD Museum, others are in institutions like Bryn Mawr College and some are coming from private collections.
“We’re bringing attention to the Art Club as a progressive place for women with careers in the arts,” says Nancy. “A lot of museums suffer from the idea that people think they’re elite places, but the Art Club has a very significant history of being progressive in terms of women’s rights. People shouldn’t think it’s just an old stuffy bastion of exclusivity.”
Other exhibits and relevant educational programming will be happening through April 22, including an archival exhibit about the club’s founding and origins at the Dodge House Gallery, running concurrently with Making Her Mark. It’s also an opportunity for the Art Club to show off brand new renovations to the Fleur de Lys galleries, including resurfacing and repainting of walls and ceilings, and newly sanded and finished floors. Brand new lighting systems have raised gallery walls three feet to allow for exhibiting of much larger works while still preserving the original ceiling moldings.
“It surprises me when I talk to people who aren’t familiar with the club, as visitors, that they’ve driven by it many times and wonder what’s behind it, without realizing that you can come inside and look at our galleries and enjoy them,” says club president David DePetrillo. “We’re hoping these shows will literally open the doors to many more visitors.”
Providence Art Club
11 Thomas Street