By Kristine Cannon | July 9, 2021
Since the opening of Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West (SMoW) in 2015, one of the comments most often heard by Dr. Tricia Loscher, assistant director for collections, exhibitions and research is, “Where are the women artists?”
Thanks to a recently acquired collection of more than 300 works by 25 women artists, SMoW can now more confidently answer that question.
SMoW acquired one of the largest donations of female artworks ever gifted to an American institution: “The Fran and Ed Elliott Southwest Women Art Collection.”
The Elliott Collection is the first to boast an all-female lineup of artists — all with some sort of connection to Arizona.
“Remarkably, all of the 25 artists whose works grace the collection have a connection to the state of Arizona, having either resided, studied or worked in our state,” says Mike Fox, SMoW director/CEO.
“Our institution is immensely grateful and appreciative of our responsibility to extend the legacy, not only of our friends Fran and Ed Elliott, but the legacy of all the women artists represented in this unparalleled historical collection.”
Loscher adds, “They open a new chapter for SMoW and create important dialogue.”
The Elliott Collection will provide SMoW with many rotating exhibitions, traveling shows, educational programming and, according to Loscher, an endless diversity of themes and stories.
“It is past time these artists reclaim their rightful place in Arizona’s cultural and artistic heritage and are recognized,” she says.
“This collection is about reclaiming a place in our museum for these early Arizona artists and making them visible, thus helping to make all women artists throughout the ages and the world visible,” Loscher adds.
One featured artist is Marjorie Thomas, Scottsdale’s first professional resident artist.
The exhibition features more than 150 of her drawings, paintings, sketches and photos.
“Thomas was a true Arizona art pioneer, having arrived before Arizona’s statehood,” says Dr. Betsy Fahlman, ASU professor and a SMoW trustee who helped make the acquisition happen.
Also featured is Jessie Benton Evans (1866-1954), who settled in Scottsdale, taught young artists and held regular salons in her Italianate villa. The Elliott Collection boasts 13 of Evans’ oils, one pastel and five etchings.
“This collection complements SMoW’s mission to share with others the beauty of our state’s diverse and rich cultural perspectives, backgrounds and heritage — which each of these artists brings to the Southwest,” Loscher says, adding:
“And what better place than SMoW, where we can address the public’s request to learn more about women artists, starting with the collection of Fran Elliott, who was one of the most highly respected collectors of one of the most well-represented collections of early Arizona women artists?”
Fran and Ed Elliott spent years unearthing and championing the stories of dozens of neglected female Arizona artists.
Loscher became aware of Fran Elliott’s collection in the 1990s while working on her master’s thesis on Arizona artist Kate T. Cory, whose work is well-represented in the collection.
Fran was so supportive of Loscher’s thesis that she attended her Cory exhibition opening at the State Capitol Museum.
In 2015, Ed Elliott became involved in SMoW in the absence of Fran, who had passed away one year prior, loaning several paintings to SMoW’s inaugural exhibition.
“Ed believed in our museum, and it is a great honor and privilege for us that his wish was to donate Fran’s collection,” Loscher says.
The collection will not only help advance and amplify the voices of female artists, but will also shed light on the women who are actively helping to create art in Arizona.
“Visitors will see for themselves the unique perspective of these artists and their magnificent talent, the diversity of mediums and techniques that they employed,” Loscher says.
“They were independent spirits with great creativity, perseverance and courage. The Elliotts’ name and these artists can now be celebrated by our visitors from Arizona, America and the world.”
Loscher calls the Elliott Collection a “watershed moment” for SMoW.
“This collection is unique in Arizona and indeed in the country,” she says. “This collection will undoubtedly serve to heighten our reputation among other leading cultural institutions, the public and artists alike.”
SMoW is planning a major exhibition of the Elliott Collection in 2023.
Ed passed away last year, and Loscher says he was “extremely supportive” of the exhibition and looked forward to seeing it.
“I’m sure Fran and Ed’s spirits will be there when we celebrate their lives and the generosity of their important gift when we open the exhibition,” Loscher says.
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
3830 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale