Maria Oakey Dewing is one of ten artists we chose to include in SAAM’s new comic series, Drawn to Art: Ten Tales of Inspiring Women Artists. Born on October 27, 1845 (one year before the Smithsonian was founded), Dewing was considered one of the most promising painters of her day. She studied at the Cooper Union School of Design for Women and the National Academy of Design and had solo exhibitions at both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1907), and at the prestigious gallery, Knoedler & Co., in 1914.
Despite her early success, her life became overshadowed by her more famous husband, Thomas Wilmer Dewing. She devoted much of her time to their daughter and the upkeep of their home—all expectations of a woman in the nineteenth century. She had been primarily a figurative painter but became inspired by the lush gardens in their summer residence in New Hampshire. Though she painted less frequently, she often collaborated with her husband by contributing floral scenes for his figurative paintings.
When you look at Dewing’s painting, Garden in May, you can see why she referred to herself as a “garden-thirsty-soul.” As John Davis, a former Smithsonian provost wrote in a blog post in 2019, “The artist creates a muted symphony of envelopment for the viewer, bowing and blowing in the wind. There is almost a feeling of being underwater, subject to rhythmic eddies and currents. Dewing wrote about the individual flower as the ultimate abstraction. Here, grouped together, the luminous blossoms offer the possibility of pure self-loss amid the layered shadows.”
Illustrator Kippy Sage, a student at the Ringling College of Art and Design, enveloped herself in Maria Oakey Dewing, the books she authored as well as her artworks, and researched women's dress in the nineteenth century. The comic illustrates the artist’s life, with its promise, achievements, and disappointments. In other words, real life. Kippy’s drawings capture Dewing’s description of being a “garden-thirsty soul,” as she’s pictured in the garden that inspired much of her work. As an older person looking back on her life, Dewing wrote, “I have hardly touched any achievement. I dreamed of groups and figures in big landscapes...and I still see them.”
Kippy also made a short, behind-the-scenes video, where you can watch a few of her illustrations from the comic come to life as they go from sketches to fully realized colorful pages. The flowers—and the artist’s life—bloom before you.
We invite you to read the comic and share with your friends and young people in your life.