Biographical / Historical
Painter, illustrator, muralist, and stained glass designer Violet Oakley was born in New Jersey, June 10, 1874. She was the first American woman to receive a public mural commission. She is best known for the series of murals she completed for the Pennsylvania State Capitol and her Renaissance-revival style of art with influence from the Pre-Raphaelites. Other significant works include murals, panels, and stained glass commissions completed for the Vassar College Alumni House, Charlton Yarnall House (Philadelphia), and Cuyahoga County Courthouse.
Oakley's political beliefs were shaped by William Penn (1644-1718) whose ideals she represented in her murals at the Pennsylvania State Capitol and in her book “The Holy Experiment: A Message to the World from Pennsylvania” (1922). She was committed to the Quaker principles of pacifism, equality of the races and sexes, economic and social justice, and international government. When the United States refused to join the League of Nations after the World War I, Oakley traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, where she spent three years drawing portraits of the League's delegates, later published as "Law Triumphant: the Opening of the Book of the Law and the Miracle of Geneva” (Philadelphia, 1932). She was also an early advocate nuclear disarmament after World War II.
Oakley was the first woman elected to the National Society of Mural Painters, was a recipient of the Gold Medal of Honor of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and was the first woman to receive the Gold Medal of Honor from the Architectural League of New York.
Oakley died on February 25, 1961, in Philadelphia where she resided most of her lifetime. Her espousal of Victorian aesthetics resulted in the decline of interest in her work in the mid-twentieth century. However, in 1977, her studio in Philadelphia was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of her artistry.
Sources include: Violet Oakley Memorial Foundation and Wikipedia.