Violet Oakley’s Capitol Murals Turn 100
In January 1919, trailblazing artist Violet Oakley completed work on a series of three murals for the Pennsylvania State House’s Senate Chamber and Supreme Court in Harrisburg—Unity and The Creation and Preservation of the Union, The Little Sanctuary in the Wilderness, and The Slave Ship Ransomed. One hundred years later and about 100 miles away in Philadelphia, a project to conserve Oakley’s original sketches and studies for the murals was completed at CCAHA. The treatment was done in preparation for the centennial exhibit Picturing a More Perfect Union: Violet Oakley’s Mural Studies for the Pennsylvania Senate Chamber, 1911-1919, which opened at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in November 2019 and runs through April, 26, 2020.*
Though the road to commercial success was uncertain for Oakley, the path to identifying her talents was a direct one. She was born in 1874 in Jersey City, New Jersey, into an extended family that included 23 artists. Her grandfathers on both sides of the family were painters and members of the prestigious National Academy of Design. When Oakley’s family moved to New York City, her natural gifts were further developed at the Art Students League of New York, where she studied painting with James Carroll Beckwith and Irving R. Wiles.