Gift of Joan Cunningham Williams, Peter Cunningham, and Michael McEnery Cunningham
Research Curator Marjorie Searl speaks about this object.
Woman in an Ermine Collar by Kathleen McEnery Cunningham discussed by Marjorie Searl
Nearly one hundred years ago, an unknown Parisian model posed in elegant attire for the aspiring artist Kathleen McEnery. A modern woman on her own at the turn of the 20th century, Kathleen McEnery left her home in western Massachusetts to study art in New York City. She travelled to Madrid, lived in Paris, and returned to New York to develop her career as a painter. Success appeared to be within reach, for we see in 1910, for example, that she was mentioned in a New York Times review of a Paris exhibition of the American Woman’s Art Association. Two of her paintings, as well, were included in the high-profile 1913 Armory Show. But, as it often does, life intervened, this time in the form of fellow painters whom she met during her European travels, who introduced her to their cousin, Frank Cunningham. He surely must have been quite a compelling gentleman, for in 1914, McEnery left her lively New York life and married him - one of the heirs to the Cunningham Carriage Factory in Rochester, New York.
Moving to Rochester did not mean abandoning her artistic aspirations. Her home, around the corner from MAG on South Goodman Street and now on the campus of the Rochester Museum and Science Center, included a large and light-filled studio where she continued to paint, shifting to a modernist composition and palette. McEnery, now Cunningham, contributed her professional skills in Rochester by serving on the board of the Memorial Art Gallery from 1927 through 1971 and chairing the art committee for many years. As well, she taught at the Gallery’s studio school, the Creative Workshop. In the 1920s, Cunningham was the head of the board of trustees at the then-new Harley School, where she also had responsibility for art instruction.
Her dual role in Rochester society – a leader in educational and cultural institutions, and a painter of friends and fellow artists and musicians – has been well-known locally, but recognition of her exceptional abilities as a painter has heightened within the past decade, thanks to exhibitions and publications. The Gallery is fortunate to have in its collection fine examples of work from all phases of her quiet but distinguished career.
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