For Women Only

by ELYSIAN Magazine

The National Museum of Women in the Arts celebrates women artists–across the years and around the world.

Only one major art museum in the world is exclusively dedicated to women—the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1981, the Museum holds over 5,500 works by more than 1,000 women in the visual, performing, and literary arts. The collection dates from the 16th century to the present and from all around the world and includes such diverse categories as 18th century sterling silverware, botanical prints, and books—all designed, made, and written by women because, as the name suggests, the NMWA is all about women. Only women. But more than that, the Museum champions women through a diverse, comprehensive, and ongoing educational and vocational platform of events and activities.

The Museum, which opened its doors in 1987, is currently closed for renovation. “The bones of this building are good,” explains architect Sandra Vicchio. “It is a majestic structure—timeless and beautiful. Revitalizing the building is all about positioning the museum for a triumphant future.” Central to the renovations is a completely redesigned “visitor experience,” starting with an orientation gallery that tells the stories of women artists, and a refurbished Great Hall which will host daily events and programs. The plan also answers the need for improved mechanical systems and infrastructure, storage and lighting upgrades, climate control systems to improve the long-term conservation and security of the Museum’s collections, enlarged interior spaces, a new gallery space dedicated to research and educational programs, improved signage, wayfinding, and ADA accessibility to help visitors navigate through the Museum, and an exterior envelope will retain the building’s integrity for the first time in the 35 years of constant daily use since its last full renovation and the dire need to meet advances in engineering, building codes, and sustainability.

The building was designed in 1908 by the architecture firm Wood, Donn & Denning in the Classical Revival-style as a Masonic Temple, a men’s only organization whose women’s only counterpart is the Eastern Star. Sandra Vicchio, founder, and principal partner of Sandra Vicchio & Associates of Baltimore leads the project partners with her 30 years of experience that includes work on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, the development of the overall plan for the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, the Walters Art Museum, and the collections storage plan for the Smithsonian. She began work with the NMWA to develop the Museum’s Facilities

Preservation Plan in 2015, then assembled a design team of top experts in their respective fields to deliver the plan in 2016 and refine it in 2017. Among the project partners are JM Zell Partners, Ltd., a Washington-based commercial real estate firm that, since 1989, has served nonprofits, museums, and cultural organizations, among others, providing strategic advisory, transaction, project management, and implementation services. Among the fourteen project partners is Retail Design Consultant Eileen Ritter & Associates and overseeing the expert care and conservation of the collections is Wendy Jessup & Associates.

Fortunately, the Internet has made it possible to continue its course. Behind the scenes are the often-unheralded talents of many professionals who work tirelessly to achieve the Museum’s mission: to acquire, research, preserve, and exhibit works of art so many can view, appreciate, and be inspired, when they open their eyes to the talents and skills inherent in women as creators, regardless of our sex. To this end, NMWA conducts educational programs, maintains and is constantly expanding the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, publishes a member magazine and books on women artists, serves as a center for the fine, performing, and literary arts, and represents the interests and welfare of women artists in government.

While the Museum is closed for renovation, you can explore the Museum’s searchable online collection at, which features over two hundred works and artist profiles, and by following @WomenInTheArts on social media. In addition, there is a full schedule of upcoming events and programs you can likewise access online. The Museum’s signature educational and public program, the “Women, Arts, and Social Change Initiative,” is comprised of ongoing series, such as “Fresh Talk,” which features cause-driven conversations with artists, designers, activists, social innovators, and others who aim to empower women and spark community involvement. “The Tea,” held the first Friday of each month, is an online series where women musicians live-stream original work and discuss their creative process over a cup of tea. “NMWA xChange” is a monthly talk show involving women artists, educators, and curators in discussions over relevant topics for women in the arts. Other series include “MakeHER Summit,” “Brews and Views,” and “Curative Collection Conversation.”

In her Director’s Message, Susan Fisher Sterling, the NMWA’s Alice West Director recently wrote: “Our building serves as the nexus for a worldwide community of advocates for art and women. Its renovation will enable us to tell a more complete story of women in the arts and to share that story widely.

As we enter this new phase in the museum’s history, I cannot help but reflect on the recent loss of our visionary founder, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay. She and her husband, Wallace, purchased the building in 1983 and transformed it into our unique museum. We are honored to carry her vision forward.

This comprehensive building restoration is supported through Space to Soar, our $66 million capital campaign. Donors and friends have stepped up in wonderful ways, putting us within sight of our campaign goal. We encourage you to join this effort, stay involved, and celebrate with us as we look to the museum’s future.”

You can feel the spirit of an artist if you look at her work properly and almost hear her voice—and when you do, you know she has touched your soul. That is the power of art. Among the hundreds of artists and their most celebrated works are Fisher Woman in Profile, by Danish artist Anna Ancher, who was associated with the Skagen Painters, an artists’ colony in Denmark; contemporary American artist Polly Apfelbaum’s 2007 “fallen painting,” Rainbow Love Mountain Ranch, New Mexico, Dada artist Alice Bailly’s Self Portrait; Portrait of Princess Belozersky by Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, one of the preeminent artists of the Romantic Period; African-American painter Amy Sherald’s statement portrait, They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake; Jo Baker’s Bananas from New Jersey painter, writer, mixed media sculptor and performance artist Faith Ringgold’s American Collection #4, and Italian Renaissance painter Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman—to name but a few from the Museum’s treasure trove of art.


Behind each work of art is a story—a story that inspires; stories of women whose fierce commitment to their art required bravery, ingenuity, and fortitude. To keep their stories alive, consider donating to the NMWA’s Matching Gift Challenge. Your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar to support the Museum’s $66 million Building Renovation and Capital Campaign to restore its landmark building, just three blocks from the White House, at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., and to revitalize and reimage its iconic home for the future of women in the arts.

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