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Violet Oakley Studio
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


[Photo]
Violet Oakley
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

The Violet Oakley Studio located on St. George’s Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is noted for being the studio and living quarters of artist Violet Oakley (1874-1961), as well as fellow female artist Edith Emerson, who was also a painter and muralist. Born in New Jersey to an artistic family, Violet Oakley had early success selling illustrations to magazines, including Harper’s & Colliers and the Century. Influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites (an English school of painting with broader artistic influences that included John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt and later influenced the author and craftsman William Morris), Violet took her work seriously, and believed she could express her convictions of pacifism and women’s rights through her work. The Pre-Raphaelite influence is notable because the 19th century English movement was influenced by the spiritualism found in Medieval Art, which the founders of the movement felt were lost in succeeding epochs. Something of this spiritual idealism found its way into Violet Oakley’s art, as she painted biblical scenes during her career. In 1905, Violet Oakley was offered a commission to paint a frieze in the Governor’s reception Room in the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg. Before this commission was completed, Violet Oakley set up her studio at Cogs (later called Cogslea, which she shared with three other female artists in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Pennsylvania.) In 1911, Ms. Oakley was commissioned to fresco the Senate Chamber and the Supreme Court Room, also in the Capitol Building in Harrisburg. Overall, she painted 43 murals, including 14 in the Reception Room depicting William Penn’s creation of the colony of Pennsylvania. Violet Oakley continued painting throughout her life, concentrating mainly on historical subjects, such as her painting of the Constitutional Convention which is in Cleveland, Ohio.

[Photo] Violet Oakley Studio
Photo from the National Register of Historic Places Collection, courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

The Violet Oakley Studio was originally part of a farmstead on Creshiem Creek. The barn building itself was built around 1815. In 1905, Ms. Oakley and three other woman artists were urged by Dr. George Woodward, developer of Chestnut Hill, to come to Chestnut Hill to live and work. The barn (also with the house and the carriage house) was entirely rebuilt by the architects, Frank Miles day and Charles Z. Klauder. The studio was called “COGS” for the women, Heniretta Cozens, Violet Oakley, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Jessie Wilcox Smith. The studio building, a stone barn, maintains its basic barn shed shape with extensions and modifications added in 1905. The building is a double gabled rectangular structure of stucco over stone with a third section having a gable roof perpendicular to the main axis. The main focus of the renovation in 1905 was an enormous studio room 50 feet by 50 feet and 24 feet high at the second story. To accomplish this needed size of the studio, the second floor of the barn was extended and carried on three massive columns. The lower story of the barn was used mainly for storage from 1905-1930. During the 1930’s, Violet Oakley and Edith Emerson adapted the lower story for permanent living quarters. Two small bedrooms occupy the short sides of the lower story. A large room, a dining parlor and a kitchen make up the rest of the lower portion. The exterior of the studio was stucco over stone, which created an ivy covered building. The Violet Oakley Studio was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 13, 1977.

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