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"Man and his activities seem pleasantly remote but not absent in her landscapes. She fills them with houses and churches, lanes, bridges, and canals. They have therefore, that suggestion of human life, colored with brightness, exuberant, which best answers the needs of most of us."
-Arthur Edwin Bye
Born Fern Isabel Kuns in Illinois, Coppedge dreamed of being an artist since the age of thirteen, after being inspired by the dazzle of sunlight reflected on snow and sea, and by the marvelous creative possibilities she discovered while visiting her older sister's watercolor class. Her husband, Robert W. Coppedge, himself an amateur painter, encouraged her to pursue this ambition. A landscape artist, Fern Coppedge painted the villages and farms of Bucks County, often blanketed with snow, as well as harbor scenes from Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she spent her summers. Coppedge worked directly from nature; like her colleague, Edward Redfield, she tied her canvas to a tree, during winter storms. Coppedge's early work, influenced by American Impressionism, was marked by shimmering colors and attention to the effects of changing light upon a landscape. Later in her career, Coppedge moved towards Post-Impressionism, favoring a more fanciful use of color and two-dimensional, abstract style.
Fern Coppedge, n.d. Image courtesy of the James A. Michener Art Museum archives.
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 1908-1910
Art Students League, New York, New York
Art Students League, Summerschool, Woodstock, New York
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1917 -1919
Edward Redfield and Daniel Garber; Henry B. Snell; M. Elizabeth Price, another of the Philadelphia Ten; Bernard and Faye Swengel Badura
Connection to Bucks County:
Coppedge made her first visit to Bucks County in 1917 and almost immediately was captivated by the beauty of the area. In 1920 she bought a house and studio in Lumberville near Garber's "Cuttalossa". In Lumberville, she lived in a small 1773 two-story house with three large fireplaces, a structure built originally as a Quaker meeting house. For her studio, she used a barn which had previously stabled mules that towed the barges on the Delaware Canal. For the next nine years Coppedge divided her time between Lumberville, Gloucester, and her studio in Philadelphia, before purchasing a home and a studio, modeled upon an old carriage shed, in the center of New Hope on North Main Street. Coppedge immersed herself in Bucks County's artistic community, drawing influence from Daniel Garber, who had been her neighbor in Lumberville, as well as from M. Elizabeth Price and Faye Swengel Badura. Coppedge resided in New Hope until her death in 1951.
Studio of Fern I. Coppedge, n.d. Image courtesy of the James A. Michener Art Museum archives.
Major Group Exhibitions:
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1917,1918, 1924, 1926, 1930-1931, 1933, 1934,1936
Public Ledger Exhibition, Plastic Club, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1929
41st Annual Exhibition, National Association of Women Artists, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1932
50th Anniversary Retrospective Art Exhibition, Phillips Mill, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1979
The Philadelphia Ten: A Women's Group of Artists, 1917-1945, Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1998
Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, 1998
The Old Jail Museum, Albany, Texas, 1999
Concord Art Association, Concord, Massachusetts, 1999
James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1999
Earth, River and Light: Masterworks of Pennsylvania Impressionism, James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2002
Artists of the Commonwealth: Realism and Its Response in Pennsylvania Painting 1900-1950, James A. Michener Art Museum, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 2007
An Evolving Legacy: Twenty Years of Collecting at the James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2009-2010
Major Solo Exhibitions:
Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, 1938
Boxwood Studio, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1938
Argent Gallery, New York, New York, 1939
Arcadia Gallery, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1946
Harcum Junior College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1949
International House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1949
A Forgotten Woman: Fern I. Coppedge Retrospective, James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1990
H.O. Dean Prize for Landscape Artists of Kansas City, Kansas, 1917
E. Shields Prize, 1918
Honorable Mention, National Association of Women Artists, 1922
Gold Medal, Plastic Club, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1924
Silver Medal, Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas, 1924
Gold Medal, Exposition of Women's Achievements, 1932
Georgine Shillard-Smith Medal, Plastic Club, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1942
First Honor, New Jersey Federation of Women's Clubs, New Jersey, 1947
Memberships and Affiliations:
The Art Students' League, Life Member, 1913
The Philadelphia Ten, 1922-1935
Fern Coppedge (1883-1951), Boxwood Studio, Winter, n.d. Oil on canvas. 16 x 16 inches.
"While a certain coterie of men artists are striving for "atmosphere" and find in harshness of subject and technique what purports to be the strength and power of masculine intelligence, the traditions of the decorative and beautiful are being perpetuated quietly, conscientiously, by the sisters of the brush."
-Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 1922
The author James A. Michener once remarked, "I can't see Garber and Lathrop and Redfield bothering much with women on a serious note." Fleeing the condescension of male artists, Fern I. Coppedge sought camaraderie, support, and a forum for her art in the company of her fellow female artists. Between 1922 and 1935 she showed with the Ten Philadelphia Painters, a group of women artists who joined in 1917 to promote their work in a male-dominated field. The Philadelphia Ten exhibited together once a year, usually at the Art Club, and sent exhibitions to women's clubs across Pennsylvania. As one writer put it, "The Ten painters and sculptors have successfully exhibited together for several years, but they have consistently maintained their individual personalities in their work, and their canvases and sculpture are as varied and different as the seasons and the places they choose to paint."
"People used to think me queer when I was a little girl because I saw deep purples and reds and violets in a field of snow. I used to be hurt over it until I gave up trying to understand people and concentrated on my love and understanding of landscapes. Then it didn't make any difference."
-Fern I. Coppedge
The residents of Bucks County often saw Fern Coppedge traipsing through the snow, draped in her bearskin coat with her sketching materials slung over her shoulder, seeking the perfect scene to paint. One critic quipped, "born a man, she undoubtedly would have manned a trawler and sailed the Arctic Ocean."
Snow scenes are Coppedge's most common subject. In this respect she resembled Edward Redfield, who likewise painted many Bucks County snow scenes en plein air. Coppedge's early work, like Redfield's, is impressionistic, focusing upon the changing effects of light on a snowy landscape. Coppedge differed from Impressionist painters, however, in that she always carefully composed and drew her paintings. The winter landscapes of her middle and late career reveal the influence of Post-Impressionism, in their flattening and simplification of detail and in their boldly imaginative use of color. The blues of streams and sky, shot through with the pink and orange hues of sunset, the reds of buildings and the browns of bare trees all emblazon Coppedge's winter landscapes. Even the snow itself is streaked with prismatic colors. These paintings convey Coppedge's joy in the aesthetic as well as the physical pleasures of winter.
Covering the artist’s career from 1916 until her death in 1951, the Fern Coppedge Scrapbooks contain important information about the artist’s exhibition history, evolving style, and critical reception. They were likely compiled by the artist herself, with additional newspaper clippings and obituaries added after her death. Two of the scrapbooks were donated to the James A. Michener Art Museum by the children of architect and artist Henry T. MacNeill (1890-1970) and his wife, Chester County historian Aimée Junker MacNeill (1891-1976), friends of Coppedge who also inherited many examples of her artwork. Nationally celebrated for her landscape paintings, Fern Coppedge challenged pictorial conventions with her bold, colorful compositions and overcame challenges women artists faced in her lifetime. In order to expand their artistic networks and gain greater exposure for their work, Coppedge and other artists joined women’s organizations like The Plastic Club and The Philadelphia Ten. These Philadelphia-based collectives of painters and sculptors exhibited together locally and nationally at a time when women were excluded from exhibitions and membership to art organizations because of their gender. The scrapbooks document Coppedge’s involvement with these important groups that sought greater opportunities and recognition for women artists.