Published: February 19, 2019
LANCASTER, OHIO – The Decorative Arts Center of Ohio is hosting its first exhibition of the season – “Lilly’s World: Decorative Arts and the Art of Lilly Martin Spencer, 1840-1900,” will be on view through April 28. In “Lilly’s World” the scenes depicted in Spencer’s paintings and prints come to life through recreations with decorative art pieces made mainly in the artist’s home state of Ohio. Visitors will feel as though they are part of Lilly’s world, and the exhibition provides extraordinary look into daily life in the Nineteenth Century.
“I’m really excited about this approach in which we will recreate Spencer’s artwork with decorative art objects from the period,” said exhibition curator Becky Odom, who is a history curator for Ohio History Connection. “It will give visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in her genre paintings to truly understand and appreciate the power of her works.”
Lilly Martin Spencer (born Angelique Marie Martin, 1822-1902), who was one of the most popular female genre painters in America and Europe during the Nineteenth Century, was born in England and immigrated with her family to New York City at the age of eight and then to Marietta, Ohio, three years later. She trained in Cincinnati, then a burgeoning art town, and eventually moved to New York City with her husband and had 13 children, 7 of whom lived to maturity.
Decorative Arts Center of Ohio executive director Elizabeth Brown said, “Lilly Martin Spencer was a unique voice in her time. Although we can certainly appreciate her work without it, the decorative art items of the time complement the artwork and create a truly immersive experience for our patrons that they won’t soon forget.”
A rarity in the Nineteenth Century, Spencer was the main breadwinner in her family. Her unique perspective helped her see the world through a different lens and that translated to her art work.
“Although Spencer’s portraits and still life paintings were popular, her humorous and poignant domestic scenes were truly unique,” said Odom. “Spencer captured intimate scenes between parents and their children, feelings of despondency and inadequacy by a recently married couple and the everyday chaos of households with children.”
According to Odom, this exhibit is the first time that Spencer’s paintings and prints and these decorative art pieces will be exhibited publicly together.
Various pieces that Spencer would have used as models for her works, including a kitchen table made in Zoar Village, Ohio-made pottery, blankets, storage chests and toys, as well as many other historic pieces are used to enhance the experience. Odom noted that Spencer’s work was made more accessible to the public through inexpensive engraving reproductions during the Nineteenth Century and hopes the decorative arts component does the same for people viewing her work today.
“This is the first time in decades – if ever – that all of the Spencer pieces owned by Ohio History Connection will be exhibited together in one place,” said Odom. “This exhibition not only celebrates Spencer’s artwork, but also uses her genre paintings to highlight the rich decorative arts history of Ohio. We feature interesting pieces, companies and histories related to the myriad of decorative arts items made or used in Ohio during Spencer’s career in the Nineteenth Century.”
In conjunction with “Lilly’s World,” the Ohio History Connection will open a series of “Spotlight” mini-installations in the Reese-Peters House parlors. This mini-installation will focus on Spencer and will come from the massive archives at Ohio History Connection. After six months, a new “Spotlight” will rotate in its place. The items in these mini-installations have been selected by curators and reflect the history of the Reese-Peters House and the families who have called the historic building home.
A series of programs and classes accompanies the exhibition. The Decorative Arts Center is housed in the Reese-Peters House, a Federal/Greek Revival masterpiece at 145 East Main Street in Lancaster’s Historic District. Admission is free. For information, 740-681-1423 or www.decartsohio.org.
All images of Lilly Martin Spencer’s artwork are courtesy of the Ohio History Connection. Installation photographs are by Martin Barker Design.
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