Through Her Lens: PAFA’s Commitment to Visibility for Women Artists

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) remains steadfast in its commitment to honoring women artists year-round, engaging in partnerships, curating collections, organizing exhibitions, and developing programming that celebrates women in the arts. We actively educate, collaborate with, and collect works by women artists worldwide, firmly believing that nurturing these relationships and recognizing women artists is vital for our continued connection with the broader world of art.

Countless renowned women artists were trained at PAFA: Cecelia Beaux, who in 1895 became the first appointed full-time female professor at the Academy, Mary Cassatt, May Howard Jackson, Violet Oakley, Laura Wheeler Waring, Athena Scott, Emily Sartain, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Ana Vizcarra Rankin, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and Patience Wright.

PAFA's dedication to supporting women artists extends beyond training to include leadership in collecting art by women. A 2019 study by In Other Words revealed that PAFA's acquisition of artwork by women outpaced the national average by fivefold, with 58% of its new acquisitions being works by women artists.

In 2010, PAFA acquired an unprecedented collection of art by women, generously gifted by Linda Lee Alter. Born in Philadelphia in 1939, Alter has remained dedicated to her craft as a professional fine artist over her illustrious five-decade career. In response to the historical imbalance in visibility faced by women artists, Alter embarked on a mission in the mid-1980s to rectify this disparity.

“...I actually built the collection, it turned out in a way where the collection also had a unity, kind of like a family, where each piece, each work of art is different, but somehow there's a family resemblance. And I think that family resemblance comes from the collector.” - 👂 Linda Lee Alter in her own words

The Linda Lee Alter Collection of Art by Women spans a myriad of mediums, from paintings to sculptures, featuring celebrated women artists like Louise Bourgeois, Joan Brown, and Ana Mendieta, among others. Her collection represents a diverse array of talents and profound insights from women creators across various themes, including self-portraiture, spirituality, politics, and landscapes.

As Lee envisioned, her collection has encouraged and informed  PAFA's efforts to celebrate the unique personal worldviews of women artists, artists of color, LGBTQ+ artists, and other underrepresented artists. Since 2011, the Collection has provided a broad perspective for students and visitors to more fully understand and appreciate the world around them, and serves an essential role in all aspects of PAFA’s educational and museum programs.

Listen to select artists discuss their work, offering profound insights into their creative process and the enduring impact of women in shaping the art world:

Oil on canvas painting looking out on a body of water between mountains.

Diane Burko
Diane Burko specializes in both painting and photography centered on themes of landscape, climate change, and environmental advocacy.

Diane Burko, "Morning Clouds - Villa Window," 1994. Oil on canvas, 24 x 72 in. (60.96 x 182.88 cm.). Art by Women Collection, Gift of Linda Lee Alter © Diane Burko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2011.1.70.


Oil on canvas painting of Campobello in greys and blues

Elizabeth Osborne
Elizabeth Osborne is renowned for her works in oil paint and watercolor, skillfully blending formalist principles, emphasizing luminosity, with explorations of natural landscapes, atmospheric elements, and expansive vistas.

Elizabeth Osborne, "Campobello," 2000. Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in. (30.48 x 40.64 cm.). Art by Women Collection, Gift of Linda Lee Alter © 2000 Elizabeth Osborne, 2011.1.114.


Fresco on panel that visually looks like a historic map but actually represents the trajectory of a romantic relationship with a womanly form and map points named for different emotions.

Joyce Kozloff
Joyce Kozloff is recognized for her paintings, murals, and installations in public spaces.

Joyce Kozloff, "Knowledge #51: The Map of Tenderness, 1678," 1999. Fresco on panel, 8 x 10 in. (20.32 x 25.4 cm.). Art by Women Collection, Gift of Linda Lee Alter © 1999 Joyce Kozloff, 2011.1.158.


Stained glass window depicting several vignettes of a figure in various scenes

Judith Schaechter
Judith Schaechter, a Philadelphia-based artist renowned for her stained glass creations, draws inspiration from the symbolism and Gothic traditions inherent in the medium.

Judith Schaechter, "Autobiography," 1999. Stained glass window, 28 x 24 3/4 x 6 in. (71.12 x 62.865 x 15.24 cm.). Art by Women Collection, Gift of Linda Lee Alter © 1999 Judith Schaechter, 2011.1.24.


Acrylic on dried rose petals on wood panel in yellow

Barbara Takenaga
Barbara Takenaga is an acclaimed American artist recognized for her mesmerizing abstract paintings characterized by swirling motifs, psychedelic and cosmic landscapes that also exhibit a scientific quality attributed to their meticulously detailed and intricately patterned compositions. 

Barbara Takenaga, "Yellow Roses #2," 2005. Acrylic on dried rose petals on wood panel, 12 x 10 in. (30.48 x 25.4 cm.). Art by Women Collection, Gift of Linda Lee Alter © 2005 Barbara Takenaga, 2011.1.148.


Embroidery on linen of several different variations on Elaine Reichek's name.

Elaine Reichek
Visual artist based in New York, Elaine Reichek delves deeply into the historical significance of embroidered samplers in much of her work exploring themes encompassing the intersection of craft and art, the dichotomy between tradition and innovation, and the role of women's labor.

Elaine Reichek, "Sampler E.R.," 1999. Embroidery on linen, 19 x 10 1/2 in. (48.26 x 26.67 cm.); framed: 20 x 12 x 1 in. (50.8 x 30.48 x 2.54 cm.). Art by Women Collection, Gift of Linda Lee Alter © 1999 Elaine Reichek, 2011.1.50.

Join us in celebrating the wide network of women artists connected to PAFA:

(re)FOCUS 2024: Commemorating and Celebrating Women in the Visual Arts 
Presented as art of (re)FOCUS 2024, “Cultivator: The Curatorial and Artistic Practice of Ruth Fine in Context” within Artists as Cultivators at PAFA spotlights the artistic and curatorial practice of Ruth Fine. Ruth Fine, whose work was included in the original festival, is recognized here not only for her printmaking practice, but for the care and community she has cultivated through decades of curatorial work. PAFA’s permanent collection includes 172 prints and proofs made by Ruth Fine. This section includes a selection of those prints relating to, or inspired by, nature installed with works by artists she has curated, also from PAFA’s permanent collection. February 8, 2024–July 7, 2024

As (re)FOCUS takes center stage, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Philadelphia Focuses on Women in the Visual Arts/1974, PAFA's role in this citywide festival is instrumental. This collaborative effort with diverse visual arts institutions showcases over 150 exhibitions, panels, lectures, workshops, and demonstrations. PAFA's dedication to (re)FOCUS 2024 underscores its commitment to amplifying the voices and impact of women-identified and BIPOC artists, recognizing their evolution from the periphery to the heart of the art world. 

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The Women of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Past to Present
March 14, 2024 - April 14, 2024
A new exhibition opening March 14 at Avery Galleries in Bryn Mawr entitled The Women of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Past to Present, will feature the work of women artists who studied at PAFA from the 19th century to the present, including Joan Becker, Emily Brown, Mariel Capanna, Deborah Fine, Aubrey Levinthal, Sarah McRae Morton, Elizabeth Osborne, Madeline Peckenpaugh, Mia Rosenthal, and Christina Weaver, among others. This exhibition is also part of (re)FOCUS.

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Reilluminating the Age of Enlightenment
PAFA's participation in AWARE : Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions research program, "Reilluminating the Age of Enlightenment,” alongside esteemed institutions like Rijksmuseum, signals a collective commitment to inscribing women back into the annals of art history and celebrating women artists internationally. PAFA’s contribution helps highlight the importance of women artists during the United States’ colonial and revolutionary eras with an essay on Patience Lovell Wright by Dr. Anna O. Marley, Chief of Curatorial Affairs and Kenneth R. Woodcock Curator of Historical American Art at PAFA.

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Featured image: This print is part of a reconstruction of "The Kaohsuing Series," which originally comprised ten distinct images. The series was reproduced for inclusion in Brandywine Workshop and Archive's 40 Years portfolio in 2012. Billops, the artist, has showcased her work in Taiwan, and this particular print reflects her experiences and connection to Kaohsiung, a city located in southern Taiwan. Camille Billops, Kaohsiung Series #9, (Brandywine Portfolio: Forty Square Portfolio), 2012. Print, ed. 9/40, 22 x 14 1/2 in. (55.88 x 36.83 cm.). Art by Women Collection, Gift of Linda Lee Alter © artist or artist’s estate, 2013.13.3.1.

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is the United States’ first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers a world-class collection of American art, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and educational opportunities in the fine arts. The PAFA Museum aims to tell America's diverse story through art, expanding who has been included in the canon of art history through its collections, exhibitions, and public programs, while classes educate artists and appreciators with a deep understanding of traditions and the ability to challenge conventions. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.