Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

Photo credits: Karen Watkins

The “Women on Record” exhibit, featured in Knauer Art Gallery, is a collaborative exhibition created by the students of Wells School of Music and the Department of Art & Design at West Chester University. This exhibit showcases music vanguards from Pennsylvania, including musicians like Taylor Swift, P!nk, Ethel Waters, Marian Anderson and Joan Jett.

The entrance to the exhibit reads, “From local to global music stages, women musicians have encountered persistent barriers to musical compositions, recording and performance opportunities. Bold and visionary musicians overcame pervasive gender and racial discrimination through their creativity, innovation and advocacy. Women on Record explores the achievements of women vanguards from Pennsylvania who challenged exclusionary practices of the music industry, from colonial America to today. Their stories are the sounds of inclusion and equality.” 

The exhibit contains a wall of album covers from the spotlighted artists, interactive QR codes that link to various songs and factoids about the tribulations and triumphs these artists experienced. There is a theme of exclusion to inclusion, shining a light on what it means to be a woman in the industry. As viewers walk into Knauer Art Gallery, the driving force of this exhibit is made clear by the quotation on the wall stating: “Nature never intended the fairer sex to become cornetists, trombonists, and players of wind instruments. in the first place they are not strong enough to play them as well as men, they lack the lip and lung power to hold notes which deficiency makes them always play out of tune… Another point against them is that women cannot possibly play brass instruments and look pretty, and why should they spoil their good looks?” (Gustave Kerner) “Women on Record” is open in the Swope Music Building from Jan. 30 to Feb. 23. I sat down with the faculty directors, Dr. Hayoung Heidi Lee and Professor Karen Watkins in the gallery to discuss how “Women on Record” came to fruition. 

Photo credits: Karen Watkins

A great deal of interdisciplinary work has gone into this vanguard exhibit, with students and faculty from a variety of disciplines contributing. The inception of this idea came from an informal conversation between staff members discussing the Women in Music course that Dr. Lee teaches annually in the fall. The ambition to create an exhibit reflecting the materials taught in Dr. Lee’s course inspired them to apply for a grant. Professor Watkins reflected back on their early conversations stating, “We started talking about ‘Women on Record’ as a possible title, and the whole idea of a Side A and Side B of a record… I mean it was interesting. Ultimately, that’s what we created, ‘exclusion to inclusion.’” 

Professor Watkins focused on the Art and Design side of the exhibit, citing her original inspiration from Marian Bantjes, a Canadian typographer whose design style helped students to create the family-tree-style influence charts for each artist. The design inspiration was also greatly influenced by the Ephrata Cloister, who are the first known female composers in America. The basis of the art and design showcased comes from the preserved artifacts from the Ephrata Cloister, everything from the magenta and blue color palette, to the uniquely blended bird/record design that represents the exhibit. The art on display is anything but stagnant with multimedia elements such the iPads assigned to each musician that play carefully cultivated animations. Even the chairs in the exhibit have a purpose, showcasing the 9:1 ratio of men to women executives at top major music companies. 

The “Women on Record” exhibit seems to have become a passion project for everyone involved. Both professors were very adamant in expressing the incredible collaboration that built this exhibit. The research and text were done by Dr. Lee’s students in MHL 312 this past fall 2022, along with graduate research assistants. The art and design was entirely volunteer-based, with students and faculty working together. Having students from all different majors working to create this exhibit, it showcases a variety of different creative processes. In addition to the Music and Arts department, the Department of Theatre and Dance, and Innovation Media Center at the Francis Harvey Green Library also helped to make the exhibit possible. 

“Women on Record: Music Vanguards of Pennsylvania” had its opening night on Feb. 2 and was met with great reception. Following the opening, there was a concert with Wells School of Music where students from Dr. Lee’s MHL course performed. West Chester University undergraduate students, Claudia Terry and Olivia Dushanko, performed “Souvenir” by BoyGenius and “Home Again” by Carole King. Dushanko stated, “I wanted to do something with a bit of variety, in terms of style, that still pays respect to women artists that inspire me.” In addition, Edna Phillip’s student Gloria Galante, who is a West Chester University professor, performed on the harp. Aside from planned performances, there were also spontaneous performances within the exhibit. Professor Watkins said, “The night of the opening, there were people picking up the guitar (in the exhibit)… It was a beautiful moment, very memorable for me.”

Photo credits: Karen Watkins

There will be another open event on Feb. 18. Families and students are invited to see the “Women on Record” exhibit and attend a small concert where The Philadelphia Girls Choir will be performing. Dr. Lee and Professor Watkins discussed how the student performances and interactions from the reception on Feb. 2 inspired them to create another event. Following the performances, there will be an coffee shop-esque open mic event where students are encouraged to perform.


Emily Hart is a fourth-year English major. EH943163@wcupa.edu

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