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Women Artists Take The Spotlight In Sarasota-Manatee

In 1950, a female artist from Sarasota took the top spot at a city art show.

What happened next led to one of the oldest continuously exhibiting group of women artists in the country.

When Martha Hartman won, she was expecting to receive the as advertised cash prize. Instead, the all-male jury figured the little lady would be just as happy with a certificate.

She was not.

In 1953, Hartman started the Petticoat Painters when she invited seven artists to display their work at the gallery she owned with her husband, artist William Hartman.

The group's current president, artist Evelyn McCorristin Peters, says its mission remains just as relevant today.

"I think women supporting women, no matter if they're equals or not, is a really important thing because we come at life with a different perspective,” she said.

When the Petticoat Painters formed, Sarasota was becoming known as an artist colony and male artists  receieved the bulk of attention.

Even though women artists have seen greater exposure since, they still have a ways to go.

A recent survey of the permanent collections of 18 prominent art museums in the U.S. found that out of over 10,000 artists, 87% are male, and at auction, women’s artworks sell for significantly less than those by men.

That inequality is rooted in history.

For centuries, women were barred from studying the nude model. That kept female artists from even considering the profession. 

Sarasota painter Kathy Wright is the newest member of the Petticoat Painters. She says the art world is slowly moving towards gender parity.

"We are getting closer to change as the millennial's begin to step forward with a different frame of reference," she said.

Credit Evelyn McCorristin Peters
Evelyn McCorristin Peters is a former scenic artist with Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus.

McCorristin Peters agrees.

"So much is changing for women right now with the 'me too' movement and all those things,” she said. “But the same prejudices and exclusions are happening. We are not there yet and we need to support each other so we can be there.”

Peters adds that the advent of social media has helped level the playing field for female artists.

“Being able to sell online has entirely changed the art market particularly for people in our category because we can advocate for ourselves,” she said.

Even so, she’s not suggesting that art should be viewed on a small screen.

“We still need galleries,” she said. "You need to see the work that way because it’s a much different experience. It broadens your world.”  

The Petticoat Painters 66th annual exhibition is now on view at ArtCenter Manatee in Bradenton. You can meet the artists at an opening reception Thursday April 4 from 5 to 7 p.m.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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