Lycoming County Women's History Project

 

WILLIAMSPORT'S FEMALE ARTISTS

Top left: Frances Tipton Hunter (Findagrave.com); top right "Citche Manito Warns the Nations from Hiawatha" by Rena Frankeberger; bottom left: "Williamsport Train Station" by Martha LeVan Mussina; bottom right: Dewing Woodward.

In the mid-nineteenth and twentieth centuries Williamsport was home to many talented artists who gained local and even global prestige.  The public, however, largely focused their attention on male artists’ work and often disregarded women artists. Artist Martha Dewing Woodward even stopped using her first name, and instead  used her more androgynous middle name, Dewing, to avoid discrimination.  Although women artists were subject to gender biases, this did not restrain Dewing Woodward (1856-1950), Frances Tipton Hunter (1896-1957), Rena Frankeberger (1872-1946), and Martha LeVan Mussina (1910-1995) from devoting their lives to art and becoming successful artists. Interestingly, none of these artists ever married. Instead they led lives that violated traditional gender roles of the time, which assumed that women should be wives, mothers, and caretakers of the home. Rather than conform to society’s standards, these artists went on to attend prestigious art schools, travel abroad, teach art, and become recognized locally and some even internationally for their artwork.

Williamsport native, Dewing Woodward, was a prominent artist during her lifetime, and devoted her life to her art. Woodward’s obituary in the New York Times recognized her success, naming her  “one of the nation’s leading painters.” Although Woodward won awards in Europe, exhibited her work at the Paris Salon, and established schools of art in New York City, Provincetown, Massachusetts, Woodstock, New York, and Coral Gables, Florida, as an artist she was largely forgotten for many years. However, recent scholarship on Woodward has re-established her name and brought a new appreciation to her artwork.

Like Dewing Woodward, Frances Tipton Hunter developed a passion for art at a very early age. Hunter found her artistic style in high school and later attended advanced institutions before she became an illustrator for magazines, which had traditionally been a male-dominated field. Unlike other artists who hailed from Williamsport, Hunter retained her popularity as an artist throughout the years. A search of Hunter’s name online displays many of her wonderful illustrations and reveals that her artwork is still popular and sells today.

As the supervisor of art in the Williamsport schools, Rena Frankeberger was determined to bring arts education to the forefront of educators’ attention. During the Great Depression, Frankeberger painted murals for Curtin School that depicted scenes from the epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha.” As time passed Frankeberger was almost forgotten, but newfound interest in her art occurred when local artist Michelle Mapstone restored the murals at Curtin School.

Martha LeVan Mussina was a local artist who was a member of the Bald Eagle Art League and an active participant in the Ways Garden Art Show. During her life, LeVan Mussina aspired to become a well-known local artist and she realized this dream by participating in local art contests, like the Ways Garden Art Show.  Her paintings grace the homes of many local residents. Today, the Bald Eagle Art League and Ways Garden Art and Craft Show continue to serve as active venues for local artists.

By Alicia Skeath
Lycoming ‘18

Read the stories of these four women:
Dewing Woodward
Frances Tipton Hunter
Rena Frankeberger
Martha LeVan Mussina

 

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