A Look at Women’s History and Butter Sculpture as Art



Art historian Dr. Pamela H. Simpson lectures on Wednesday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Shenandoah Arts Council main gallery, located at 811 S. Loudoun St., Winchester. Her presentation, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Art: The History of Butter Sculpture,” examines the history of butter sculpture and its continued popularity. The lecture is preceded by a reception at 7 p.m. The reception also serves as the opening for the exhibition, “Celebrating Women’s History Month: The Scholarship of Professor Pamela H. Simpson,” a collection of books, articles, posters and other items relative to Simpson’s work.

On Thursday, March 3, at 9:30 a.m., Dr. Simpson gives a companion lecture, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” She will provide an overview of women’s exclusion from art history and their strategies for successful inclusion. This lecture takes place in the main conference room on the first floor of The Knowledge Point, Shenandoah University’s History and Tourism Center, located at 20 S. Cameron Street, Winchester. The exhibition will be relocated in the exhibition gallery (Room 213) on the second floor of the History and Tourism Center and open to viewing, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until March 31.

Both lectures and the exhibition are free and open to the public. The Ernest Williams II Professor of Art History at Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Va., Simpson has been active in national and regional organizations, presented and published papers, and chaired sessions at art conferences and vernacular architectural forums. Her visit is jointly sponsored by the Shenandoah Arts Council and the History Department, Women’s Studies Program, College of Arts and Sciences, and the History and Tourism Center of Shenandoah University. Her two-day visit, highlighting the university’s celebration of Women’s History Month, includes lectures, an exhibition, a talk and reception sponsored by Shenandoah University’s College of Lifelong Learning, and a faculty luncheon.

Simpson is currently the president of the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians and co-editor of Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture. Her focus and research in the areas of architecture, sculpture and building materials led to the publication of her books including “The Architecture of Historic Lexington” (co-authored with Royster Lyle, University of Press of Virginia, 1977); “Cheap, Quick and Easy: Imitative Architectural Materials, 1870-1930” (University of Tennessee Press, 1999); and “Monuments to the Lost Cause: Women, Art and the Landscapes of Southern Memory” (co-edited with Cynthia Mills, University of Tennessee Press, 2003). She has published numerous scholarly articles, book reviews and essays.

Simpson’s extensive research and knowledge of architecture and sculpture are reflected in the exhibition of her scholarship. Her books, articles, exhibition catalogues and butter sculpture images reveal the history of art and the materials used to produce it. The illustrated slide lectures, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Art: The History of Butter Sculpture” and “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” will consider not only art history, but also the role of women in art.

The history of butter sculpture began with the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 when Mrs. Carolyn Brooks made the Dreaming Iolanthe for the exhibit. This decorative form was the beginning of a new phenomenon -- butter sculpture. It became a regular feature of international fairs as well as state and regional ones and continues today. Based on her focus and research in sculpture, Simpson provides a revealing look at the history of butter art, the role of women amateurs in its origins and the reasons for its continued popularity.

According to Simpson, until recently, art history often excluded women. Her lecture on female artists looks at how women, using various strategies, have overcome their exclusion from art history. It will also show how in recent years they have righted the balance.

Shenandoah University’s History and Tourism Center – The Knowledge Point – serves as a primary resource and authority for history and historical research, heritage studies and tourism-product development, where the community and tourism industry come together to gain knowledge about the Northern Shenandoah Valley region. For more information, call (540) 535-3543, e-mail ssnyder@su.edu or visit www.theknowledgepoint.org. The Shenandoah Arts Council is a non profit organization working to foster awareness and appreciation of our community's diverse cultural heritage and to promote cultural tourism: develop and implement programs to showcase local artists and art organizations; strengthen arts education in local schools and in our community.
The history of butter sculpture began with the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 when Mrs. Carolyn Brooks made the Dreaming Iolanthe (pictured above) for the exhibit.

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