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Margaret May Dashiell (American, 1869-1958), Street Opera [Richmond], 1920, watercolor with graphite and pen and ink on paper, 10 x 8 inches. Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center, University of Richmond Museums, Gift of the artist in 1953, H2003.37.90.03.
Feb 09, 2006
throughJul 29, 2006

Street Opera Reconsidering the Art and Writing of Margaret May Dashiell (1869-1958)

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Organized and presented simultaneously at three venues in Richmond, the exhibition Street Opera: Reconsidering the Art and Writing of Margaret May Dashiell (1869-1958) features the first in-depth look at this Southern artist's drawings, watercolors, and writings, as well as the world in which she lived and created.
About the exhibition
The exhibition also examines how contemporary audiences and scholars can interact with objects and writings that reflect biases and stereotypes of a particular period but can still act as documents and primary sources of the past, both in terms of content and intention. Regarding Dashiell's art and writing, African American history scholar and University of Richmond Associate Professor Kibibi Mack-Shelton said, "I am a firm believer in preserving as much from the social past as we can. Margaret May Dashiell has done just that through her artwork, capturing intriguing images of black everyday life in the Old South. Her drawings are simple, clean, and honest. She could have focused on flowers, trees, and vases, but she chose to preserve a unique history of simple events."

Born in New Orleans, Margaret May Dashiell spent most of her life in Richmond, becoming a prolific artist, illustrator, and writer. Her primary subjects included African American domestic workers and street vendors, as well as Confederate veterans, from Richmond and New Orleans.

Dashiell was an entrepreneur and well entrenched in the society of Richmond, operating the "Serendipity Shop" on Adams Street from 1915 to 1930, where she was an importer and seller of European prints, books, antiques, and a variety of other items. Local theatre companies consulted with her about period costumes, and women sought her advice on fashion design. She and her husband, John Parker Dashiell (who died in 1930) had one son (who died in 1942); her father-in-law was the rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Dashiell associated with other artists and writers in Richmond, and along with her friend and fellow dog-lover, author Ellen Glasgow, Dashiell was active in the early days of Richmond's SPCA.  

She published her poems with accompanying illustrations in Spanish Moss and English Myrtle in 1920, and the illustrated story, Richmond Reverie in 1942. She also illustrated the popular Ginter Park Women's Club cookbook, Recipes of Old Virginia (1935 and 1941), Roberta Triggs's novel about the Brontë sisters, Haworth Idyll (1946), and Christmas Night in the Quarters by Irving Russell (1948).

Along with Dashiell's biography, artwork, and publications, the exhibition Street Opera provides visitors the opportunity to consider complex issues regarding the representation of African Americans during the Jim Crow era. Each venue will present different themes through art and artifacts from their permanent collections:

The University of Richmond Museums will highlight the artist and writer Margaret May Dashiell and the broad range of her creative output by exhibiting works selected from the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center's collection of over 165 drawings and watercolors, along with related poetry and prose examples -- all of which are Dashiell's reflections of the people and locales of Richmond, New Orleans, and Charleston in the early part of the twentieth century.   This exhibition will also reflect the "voice" of Dashiell's subjects through writings by and photographs of African Americans of the era.

The Valentine Richmond History Center will focus on Dashiell's works as they are linked to Richmond's history by showing the artist's depictions of the city's street scenes from the 1900s through the 1940s. Artwork and artifacts will be drawn from the Valentine's permanent collection of hundreds of Dashiell items, reflecting her view of the Richmond landscape peopled by African American domestic workers, street and market vendors, and aging Confederate veterans.

The Boatwright Memorial Library, University of Richmond will focus on Dashiell's writings and that of her contemporaries in Richmond and of African American writers who worked during the same period.

Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, Boatwright Memorial Library at the University of Richmond, and the Valentine Richmond History Center, the exhibition was co-curated by Diana Thompson Vincelli, MLA'04, Director of Grant Support, Foundation, Corporate and Government Relations, University of Richmond, and Suzanne Savery, Director of Collections & Interpretation, Valentine Richmond History Center.

The exhibition at the University is made possible in part with the generous support of the University's Cultural Affairs Committee. An exhibition catalogue, published by the University of Richmond Museums, will be available. 
Past programming
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
6:30 p.m., Lecture, Brown Alley Room, Weinstein Hall, University of Richmond
Perspectives on Race and Identity in Art and Writing of the American South
8 to 9 p.m., Reception and preview of the exhibition
Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature

The exhibition at the University Museums will open with an overview by the curator and a discussion by two noted scholars: Michael D. Harris , Associate Professor of African and African American Art History at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and author of Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation (2003), which won the 2004 Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association; and Lucinda MacKethan , Professor of English, North Carolina State University, who teaches courses in American and African American and Southern Literature and is the author of several books, including Daughters of Time: Creating Woman's Voice in Southern Story (1990) and A Guide to Scribbling Women: A Multi-Media Presentation of American Women's Short Stories (1997). The session will be introduced by co-curator Diana Thompson Vincelli, MLA'04, Director of Grant Support, Foundation, Corporate and Government Relations, University of Richmond.

Saturday, February 11, 2006
2-4 p.m., Lecture and discussion, Valentine Richmond History Center
Imaging an Old South in a New Century  

Suzanne Savery, Director of Collections & Interpretation, Valentine Richmond History Center, and co-curator will introduce the lecture. The featured speaker is Elizabeth O'Leary, Associate Curator of American Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, guest curator of the Maymont Foundation and author of From Morning to Night: Domestic Service in Maymont House and the Gilded Age South and At Beck and Call: The Representation of Domestic Servants in Nineteenth-Century American Painting (1996). Dr. O'Leary will examine the representations of African Americans from an art historical perspective. The lecture will be followed by a tour of the exhibition and a reception.

Friday, March 24, 2006
12:30-1:30 p.m., Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature
Center for Civic Engagement Brown Bag Series, Representing Richmond: The Dashiell Exhibition
Diana Thompson Vincelli , MLA'04, Director of Grant Support, Foundation, Corporate and Government Relations, University of Richmond, and co-curator of the exhibition.

Related Programs:

Tuesday, February 21, 2006
7:30 p.m., Lecture, Jepson Hall, Room 118, University of Richmond
The Edward C. and Mary S. Peple Lecture
Who Said You Could Say That? The Writer, Voice and Authority
8:30-9:00 pm, Reception, Jepson Hall

Hosted by The Edward C. and Mary S. Peple Lecture Series, Friends of Boatwright Memorial Library, the speaker for the annual Peple Lecture is Marita Golden, a professional novelist, essayist and teacher of writing. Her fiction includes the novels Long Distance Life (a best seller named "Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post ), A Woman's Place, And Do Remember Me, and The Edge of Heaven. In the realm of nonfiction, she has edited two anthologies, Wild Women Don't Wear No Blues: Black Women Writers on Love, Men and Sex and with writer Susan Shreve, Skin Deep: Black and White Women on Race. Her recent books include Don't Play in the Sun: One Woman's Journey Through the Color Complex, and a new 20th anniversary edition of . Ms. Golden holds a B.A. from American University, a master's degree from Columbia University and an honorary doctorate from the University of Richmond (H'98). Since 1990, she has headed the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, School of Continuing Studies, University of Richmond
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museums and Library are collaborating with the University of Richmond's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (for member-students over age 50) for a three-part class on Dashiell, her art, and Richmond history. The class will consist of the following activities:

1. Wednesday, March 29, 2-4 p.m., A discussion of social and cultural history during the period (post-Civil War through pre WWII Richmond) with Diana Vincelli and historian, Elisabeth Wray.

2. Wednesday, April 5, 2-4 p.m., A behind-the-scenes tour of the Dashiell collections at the Valentine Richmond HistoryCenter with Suzanne Savery.

3. Wednesday, April 12, 2-4 p.m., Watercolor and illustration demonstration and workshop with artist Anne Chenoweth