In 1921, New York newspapers declared artist Ethel Wallace (1886-1968) a pioneer a batik portraits, the “newest rage in art,” and Vogue Paris described her portraits as “personal and original” and “modern and unexpected” in its July issue. Wallace also created designs for fashion, and her adaptation of batik, a Javanese method of dyeing cloth, became a coveted trend among New York’s elite in the 1910s and ’20s. Her clothing designs and batik paintings aligned with the feminism of the New Woman and resonated with the Roaring Twenties obsession with wealth and opulence.
After the onset of the Great Depression, Wallace returned to her hometown of Lambertville, New Jersey, near the artistic community of New Hope, Pennsylvania, where she immersed herself in modernist art circles but struggled to maintain her career’s momentum amid economic upheaval. Since her death in 1968, Wallace’s body of work has remained behind the closed doors of private collections. Ethel Wallace: Modern Rebel marks the first comprehensive study of the artist’s career and is published in conjunction with the first exhibition of her work in decades, curated by Tara Kaufman and held at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. With essays by fashion historians Kaufman and Dr. Michael Mamp, this book investigates how Wallace’s work—from her writings to her paintings and clothing designs—traces the development of two centers of modernism in the United States, New Hope, and New York, and the progression and reception of feminism in the early twentieth century.
Contributors: Tara Kaufman, Michael E. Mamp, Jeniah Johnson.
Laura Turner Igoe
Remembering Ethel (acknowledgements)
A Modern Rebel (essay)
Ethel Wallace: Fashioning Batik (essay)
The exhibition Ethel Wallace: Modern Rebel takes place at the James A. Michener Art Museum from October 21, 2023 to March 20, 2024