Six Paintings from Avid Art Collector and Beloved Professor Naomi Schwartz will be on view in Upcoming 2020 SMCMoA Exhibition

MORAGA, CALIFORNIA—DECEMBER 16, 2019—During her lifetime, Naomi Schwartz’s passion for art radiated through her avid collecting practices.

From scouting out rare watercolors to delighting in impressionistic landscapes, her interest in California paintings and artists created a bond between her and Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA). Working closely with the Museum staff, Schwartz could often be found leading students through visual inquiry and discussion in the Museum galleries. Before her passing, Schwartz arranged a promised gift of her art collection to the Museum of Art. With this gift, the Museum is honored to announce that six of Schwartz’s paintings will be showcased in the upcoming 2020 exhibition Feminizing Permanence. Feminizing Permanence, on view February 12 through December 13, will feature forty artworks from forty women artists spanning from the 19th century to the modern era.  “The exhibition surveys over one hundred and fifty years of artwork made by women artists and expands a canon of that historically underrepresented women artists,” shares curator April Bojorquez.

Schwartz’s Collection contributes six paintings by six San Francisco trained and established artists: Alice Brown Chittenden (1859-1944), Mary DeNeale Morgan (1868-1948), Helen Forbes (1891-1945), Mary Herrick Paxton Ross (1856-1935), Mary Elizabeth Parsons (1859-1947) and Isabelle Percy West (1882-1976). As a woman art collector, Schwartz recognized and collected artwork by these women as they exemplified skills, vision, and aesthetics embodying California history. Schwartz’s contribution to SMCMoA’s permanent collection, as well as to the exhibition Feminizing Permanence, adds a core body of work that speaks to art as a vehicle for late nineteenth-century feminism. 


Art as a Vehicle for Independence­­: The “New Woman”

Spanning from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, the framework and careers built by Brown Chittenden, DeNeale Morgan, Forbes, Parson, Paxton Ross, and Percy West, exemplify the shift of women from the private sphere of the home into public spaces and organizations. Art as their vehicle, these women came to embody independence and education—the feminist persona of the “new woman.” Challenging traditional conventions of Victorian womanhood, the persona of the “new woman” drew attention to the arising opportunities for certain women during the fin de siècle. From the Schwartz’s Collection, the six women artists (born between 1856 and 1891) came from upper- and business-class families, enabling them opportunities that other women before and contemporary to them did not receive. However, unlike their East Coast counterparts, they, as women in San Francisco, did have access to a specific opportunity—a formal education in the arts.

As newly founded art colleges such as the California School of Design (later the Mark Hopkins Art Institution and then the San Francisco Art Institute) began accepting students, the students enrolling were largely female. As a child of one of the school’s founding members, Paxton Ross was indeed the first student enrolled. Brown Chittenden and Parson enrolled shortly after and would become sketch partners during their studies. Later, DeNeale Morgan, Percy West, and Forbes followed similar paths of formal education. Percy West continued her education, earning an M.A. at Columbia University in 1907. Forbes continued her studies with established masters in Munich and Paris before moving back to California. With the early avenues of education, these “new women” were prepared to forge independent lives—financially, socially, and organizationally away from the male-dominated sphere. 

With the rise of public reform and education, these “new women” founded and nurtured Northern California as an art hub. Organizations such as sketch clubs became the social incubators for women to receive peer review, develop internal support, and organize for social causes. Many of the artists from Schwartz’s Collection were not only members and founders of such organizations, but supported them through their lifework. DeNeale Morgan founded the Sketch Club in Carmel and later served as director of the Carmel Art Association in 1927. Brown Chittenden, as a charter member, organized the Women’s Sketch Club in the Bay Area. Percy West co-founded the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland (CCAC), teaching there until her retirement in 1941. Brown Chittenden became the first woman juror for the San Francisco Art Association, breaking the all-male barrier at the Bohemian Club's annual art exhibition in 1898. Forbes co-founded SF Women Artists. Paxton Ross worked closely with DeNeale Morgan as an artist and art advocate in Carmel. By forging leadership positions, building spaces in higher-education, and demanding exhibition and gallery access, much of the framework for California’s art culture was first cultivated by the voices behind these organizations.

Despite the progressive steps taken by these “new women,” the subjects—genre, still-life, and landscape indicate class and gender restrictions of the time and culture. Once these gender restraints and limitations are acknowledged, we can further appreciate how these six women forged their careers within the subjects they had access to paint.  Brown Chittenden and Parsons, both avid adventurists and botanists, went on several excursions into the high Sierras during which they recorded and preserved California flora through their artwork.  As a leading still-life painter of her time, Brown Chittenden was appointed faculty at the California School of Design and mastered her genre to top professional standards. Parson’s book, The Wild Flowers of California: Their Names, Haunts, and Habits (1897), includes over 100 illustrations engraved from pen-and-ink drawings of California flora still used today to identify wild flowers. DeNeale Morgan and Paxton Ross immortalized Carmel through the light in their landscapes.  Percy West contributed to the cultivated aesthetic of Arts & Crafts in the East Bay. Forbes, one of the few to break the gender barrier of public art commissioned projects, created and painted WPA murals, envisioning public space. Together, the voices behind the six artworks in Schwartz’s Collection speak not only to the history of California painting but draw attention to the built infrastructures in education that nurtured the Arts in California to be what it is today. 

Naomi Schwartz with students in the SMCMoA, Fall 2018.



Saint Mary's College Museum of Art (SMCMoA)

Media Contact: Britt Royer


Images Above: I. Mary DeNeale Morgan, California Desert, (c) Schwartz Collection at Saint Mary's College Museum of Art. II. Naomi Schwartz with students in SMCMoA, Fall 2018. 



Daughters of decadence: the New Woman in the Victorian fin de sièle”. The British Library. Retrieved 10 December 2019.

Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki Kovinick, "An Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West"

Edan Milton Hughes. "Artists in California, 1786-1940"

Patricia Trenton (ed), Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945.

Alice Brown Chittenden”. California Pioneers. Retrieved 10 December 2019.