Women Rule at New York’s 122-Year-Old Pen and Brush

The organization began 26 years before women in the US could even vote.

Maria Stabio, If You Give Up Now Then What Were You Even Fighting For.
Image: Courtesy of Pen and Brush.

When painter and legendary book binder Janet C. Lewis started Pen and Brush with her sister Mary in 1893, she sent a letter to female artists and writers, asking them to form a new association in New York. The group’s first official meeting took place in March of that year, at the Fifth Avenue Hotel.

Since then, the nonprofit organization has continued to offer female writers and artists a space to create and show their work, despite the obstacles of occupying a historic building. Pen and Brush moved to its new Flatiron digs last year in order to host more expansive exhibitions, as their previous space was cramped and in need of renovation. “We always worried about sculpture going through the old wood floors,” says executive director Janice Sands, in a phone interview with artnet News.

Where before there was 1,500 square-feet of exhibition space, there is now 5,000. “We needed to be able to accommodate all media, including much more installation and audio visual pieces. We want to show spectrum and diversity of what female artists can do,” says Sands.

Donna Festa , Man with Blue Shirt.Image: Courtesy Pen and Brush.

Donna Festa, Man with Blue Shirt.
Image: Courtesy Pen and Brush.

The nonprofit adheres to an open submission process, where artists upload their work to Pen and Brush’s website, and curators are tasked with logging on and sifting through submissions. If they like what they see, then they contact the artist and start to create a group show. “The whole point is to move these women up the ladder,” says Sands.

The challenge, however, is to keep these artists in the spotlight once they’ve gained a certain amount of attention. “We see the work of women who have great resumes, and who have had work in juried shows, and I refuse to believe that’s the end of the line, Sands says. “We’ve created a platform to show their work, but we’d be delighted if a gallery or art adviser came in and said they want to build a collection.”

Inside Pen and Brush.Photo: Courtesy of Manny Fernandez.

Inside Pen and Brush’s exhibition space.
Photo: Courtesy of Manny Fernandez.

Pen and Brush’s upcoming show, “Broad Strokes,” opens April 1. It centers on, as curator Raquelle Azran writes in an email to artnet News, “the boldness and feistiness of ‘broads’ in their creativity and self-expression,” and features 42 works by 15 female artists including Donna Festa, Maria Stabio, and Josephine Barreiro, among others.

“Broad Strokes” is on view from April 1–June 5, 2016. Artist Josephine Barreiro will perform from 6-8 p.m. during the opening.

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