Melanie Ross Levin didn’t know how Theresa Walton would react when she asked her to take on an assignment to paint 160 portraits in seven months.
“I didn’t know if she was going to slam the door on me or what,” joked the director of the Delaware Office of Women’s Advancement and Advocacy.
Fortunately, the artist, who lives outside of Lewes, accepted the job and the exhibit, “Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame: 40 Years Later,” is now a reality at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington through March 20.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the prestigious award, the Office of Women’s Advancement and Advocacy commissioned Ms. Walton to create portraits of every woman inducted. The exhibition celebrates the achievements of women from across the state in a variety of professional fields.
Portraits of Hall of Fame inductees include former Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, Delaware U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt-Rochester, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, Dr. Reba Hollingsworth and community leader Maria Matos.
For Ms. Walton, the task was daunting at the outset.
“When I first got started, I was excited. And then when the first month was over, I thought, ‘Are you crazy? Why did you take this?’” she said.
“There was a fear that maybe what if I don’t finish it? That would be horrible. But we had broken it down into segments so that I could stay on task and (Ms. Levin) and I mutually worked out a way to break it down that I would give this much by this time, rather than have the chance of letting it slide and then hitting the wall near the end. So because we planned well ahead, I think that’s why it got done.”
Ms. Levin said the idea of doing an all-encompassing exhibit such as this sprang from a few sources.
“I was just thinking about the last couple of years with COVID and how many events were canceled and just wanting to do more for the members of the Hall of Fame. We were reaching the 40th year and right now we have a induction ceremony every year but other than that, there really wasn’t something beyond the induction ceremony that gave these women their due, frankly,” she said.
“We were looking into photography but that was very difficult because about half the women are no longer with us and half the women are living. And so photography was not really a possibility during COVID. We were going to do a smaller photo shoot of some of the ladies still with us. And once we realized that we couldn’t safely gather during COVID, we pivoted to doing portraits. That was exciting for me because I really liked the idea of having a portrait of all of the women and we were able to do that based off of gathering footage and photographs.”
Ms. Levin loved the idea of having this exhibit, which she hopes to display in all three counties, for other important reasons.
“We also wanted to make sure that Delawareans, especially kids going through public spaces, could see themselves through these women because a lot of public spaces, including public buildings with portraits, there’s not many women on the walls,” she said.
“And so it was important for me to kind of change that dynamic and make sure that my two girls, who are in grade school, as they’re going through public spaces in the state, that they could see themselves doing some of these very amazing things.”
In addition to the portraits hanging at the Delaware Art Museum, the state Office of Women’s Advancement and Advocacy also launched a website that features all 160 portraits and accompanying biographical information.
“We spent as much time on the portraits as we did on the website. So we actually researched 160 bios and rewrote many of them with citations because some of these women are well known. Some of these women are less well known but have also done amazing things. It was just at the time, they weren’t given credit,” Ms. Levin said.
“So we had a staff person spend almost all of her time on researching and rewriting biographies, which meant looking up and searching obituaries, reaching out to historical societies and just doing the work needed to thoroughly write biographies. That way, beyond the exhibit, not everyone can make it to North Wilmington for whatever reason and we want people to be able to learn about these women.”
The artist, Ms. Walton, was a public art teacher for over 25 years. She holds a master’s degree and is a nationally certified art educator. She also taught studio art and art history at the college level.
She has won various honors, including Brandywine High School Teacher of the Year and the NAEA State Art Educator of the Year, as well as an award for technology integration in the classroom.
She works in both watercolors and acrylics and has exhibited in various venues in the Lewes, Newark and Wilmington areas. As well as being a professional painter, she runs workshops on art techniques, art history, teaching strategies and computer art.
Ms. Levin said she was chosen after consulting with the Delaware Division of the Arts who told her of a past exhibit Ms. Walton had at The Mezzanine Gallery in Wilmington in 2020 called “The Pandemic Paintings.” It was an exhibition of watercolor portraits of health care workers and scenes that represent hope to them.
Ironically, Ms. Walton said that portraiture is not her specialty.
“I taught portraiture for years and I’m skilled at it. But it isn’t what draws me to paint per se. So the fact that I got involved even in the nurses and doctor masks was just by chance. And then, of course, as a result of that, I got asked to do this project,” she said.
“I like nature more than portraits and I like illustration more than portraits. But I have been doing portraits most of my life.”
For this exhibit, she did them all in watercolors. Some are black and white, some sepia and others color.
She said some portraits took her about two-and-a-half hours and some took her all day.
“Sometimes the first stroke would be the correct stroke and it went well. Of course, black and whites were easier than color. And then sometimes I’m just trying to get the right look. And I thought, ‘Well, it’s not quite right,’” she said.
“It’s funny when you do a portrait. The first time you do it, it has a likeness to them. And the second time you do that, I can nail their personality better. It’s like you learn the face as you do it. ‘Remember that mouth moves a little bit to the right?’ So for example, facial features are not perfect. When you learn how to draw a face, you’re told that the nose is in the center and that’s how far the distance of the eyes are. But eyes are not always the same size. And noses can be shortened.”
There were two women whose photos could not be found, said Ms. Walton.
“There was one from the 1700s (Elizabeth Batell) that they had no image of. And there was a woman from the 1920s, who worked for the right to vote. They had an old film of women’s right to voters and she was in it and they made a capture of her to use as the image for my portrait. They had people really doing some really good research to find some of these older portraits,” Ms. Walton said.
For Ms. Batell, the only thing that could be found was an artist’s rendering.
“They said, ‘We found a picture of her.’ And I said, ‘No, you didn’t find a picture of her. You found an artist’s painting of her.’ ... I looked him up. He was born in 1972, not 1772. He did not know her. And, like sometimes if you go back to the 1700s, people have painted pictures of people. Like we have pictures of George Washington. And I can tell you for sure, that George Washington picture looks like George Washington,” she said.
“Some artists were famous for really getting a likeness of people. But she wasn’t that famous so we don’t have a painting like that. So I would not copy another artist’s painting. Instead, I just created my own.”
Accompanying the exhibit is a children’s activity where they can draw a picture of a woman they would like to see put in the Hall of Fame and adults are asked to nominate a person they would like to be inducted as well.
Ms. Levin said they already have suggestions such as actress Aubrey Plaza and longtime Tower Hill School teacher and coach Betty Richardson.
“It’s been interesting to see who they’re coming up with. A lot of people want to nominate their mom or their grandma and so that’s been neat as well,” she said.
Applications for the 2022 class of the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame are available here.
The exhibit can be viewed in Delaware Art Museum’s Orientation Hall during museum hours Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The exhibit is free with museum admission.
The Delaware Art Museum is at 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington. For more information, call 866-232-3714 or visit here.
June Jam tickets on sale
The 44th annual June Jam music festival will be held June 11 at the G&R Campground, 4075 Gun & Rod Club Road, in Houston. Tickets go on sale Monday and can be purchased online at www.junejam.com.
Taking the stage at June Jam this year will be Triple Rail Turn along with JJ Rupp, Joey Fulkerson, Storm Over Seattle, 440 and more to come.
For more information, visit here or call 302-284-JUNE.
Film, theatre camps
The Rehoboth Summer Children’s Theatre announced this week the schedule of its popular film and theatre camps for 2022. Movie makers and theatre artists ages 8-14 are invited to join in these weeklong sessions.
Participants in Film Camp 1 (July 18-22) and Film Camp 2 (July 25-29) gain experience in front of and behind the camera. The campers create their own original films, learning skills, terminology and the importance of collaboration in video production. There is also a unit on the business of film, introducing budgets and staffing. Each week ends with a mini-film festival, screening the campers’ work.
Young actors in Theatre Camp A (Aug. 1-5) and Theatre Camp B (Aug. 15-19) join in a week of theatre games and improvisations designed to improve their acting and communication skills. Campers audition for roles and rehearse a scripted play which is performed for family and friends on Friday afternoon. The participants also receive individual coaching as each prepares a monologue for the grand finale.
The camps run Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The weekly fee for film camp is $395. The weekly fee for theatre camp is $350. An early registration discount is available before Feb. 25.
Camps are conducted in the Fellowship Hall of the Lutheran Church of Our Savior, 20276 Bay Vista Road, Rehoboth Beach.
Registration is available at the RSCT website. Information is also available at 302-227-6766.