The Distinguished Women Artists

The Council of 100 presents the Distinguished Woman Artist Award annually to a woman artist who has spent thirty or more years in the studio and has created a unique and prestigious body of work.

History of the Distinguished Women Artists and the Council of 100

The Fresno Art Museum was the first museum in the United States to devote a full year of their exhibition schedule, 1986/87, exclusively for women artists. Fresno was a fitting place to do this, since, in the early 1970s, Judy Chicago brought attention to women artists when she taught the first feminist art class in the country at California State University, Fresno.

In order to finance the cost of this year of exhibitions, it was necessary to match a grant for $25,000. Robert Barrett, executive director of the museum, suggested the means to raise the funds; to enlist 100 women from the community, each of whom would donate $250 to the museum for this project. Weekly meetings were scheduled to inform the invited women about the project and their involvement with it. The group would be called the Council of 100. Over one hundred women participated and many of those women continue to support this program today.

The year of exhibitions drew national attention and interest and culminated in a three-day symposium in May 1987. The symposium brought together an important group of artists, art scholars, critics and museum directors from across the country. This national interest and recognition of the Fresno Art Museum and its program for women artists continues today through the efforts of the Council of 100.

The energy created by that year of women artists' exhibitions, as well as the symposium, was so stimulating for the Fresno Art Museum audience that the Council of 100, headed by Virginia Farquhar, decided to keep its role alive at the Museum by expanding its mission to include the following objectives: (1) in collaboration with the Fresno Art Museum, select an outstanding woman artist annually to present an exhibition of her work at the Museum, (2) publish a catalog/brochure documenting that exhibition, and (3) set up a series of lectures throughout the year featuring outstanding women artists from the Fresno region and beyond. The woman chosen each year must be a working artist, and must have been working as an artist for 30 years or more.

For 29 years, the Fresno Art Museum's Council of 100, remains a unique organization devoted to recognizing outstanding women in the arts. The Council, working in collaboration with the Museum, has garnered recognition for its valuable contribution of honoring contemporary women artists.

Since the spring of 1988, this program has honored the following internationally recognized artists with the annual Distinguished Woman Artist Award and Exhibition:

1988 - June Wayne  
1989 - Helen Lundeberg                       
1990 - Ruth Weisberg    
1991 - Viola Frey
1992 - Inez Johnston
1993 - Betye Saar   
1994 - Rachel Rosenthal 
1995 - Ruth Bernhard
1996 - Bella Feldman 
1997 - Claire Falkenstein
1998 - Jo Hanson
1999 - Inez Storer  
2000 - Angie Bray  
2001 - Ruth Asawa 
2002 - Ruth Rippon
2003 - Nancy Genn 
2004 - Olga Seem
2005 - Junko Chodos  
2006 - 20th Anniversary: Eighteen Profiles
2007 - Gwynn Murrill  
2008 - June Schwarcz
2009 - Joan Tanner  
2010 - Kathryn Jacobi
2011 - Amalia Mesa-Bains
2012 - Arline Fisch
2013 - Ann Page
2014 - Mildred Howard
2015 - Margaret Lazzari
2016 - Hung Liu 
2017 - Joan Schulze
2018 - Kay Sekimachi
2019 - Heather Wilcoxon

The caliber of these honorees has elevated the status of the Council of 100's Distinguished Woman Artist Award, and has brought the Fresno Art Museum well-deserved national recognition from many organizations including the National Women's Museum in Washington, D.C.

To learn more about or join the Council of 100, please click here.

Images above, L to R: Heather Wilcoxon, Spill, 2016, 48” x 60” and Artist with Flagship, 2008, 60" x 60"