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Midland Center for the Arts Features Prominent Local and National Women in Two Sister Exhibits, Seeing HERstory

Remember back to reading your history book as a student, witnessing the portraits of prominent leaders, honored and depicted through the art form of portraiture? Do you remember more portraits of women or men? The Midland Center for the Arts is taking a look at prominent women on a local and national scale who have had achievements in civil rights, public policy, philanthropy, art and science. Seeing HERstory, the role women have played in history.


According to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum’s Art Inventories Catalog, as of 2011 only 394, or less than eight percent of the 5,193 public outdoor sculptures of individuals in the United States, were of women, compared with 4,799 of men. And now more than ever, we are a visual society. If we set higher value on what we see and experience in the world, what does it mean when women aren’t part of our public art, history textbooks, and media?


Portraiture, traditionally a male art form, has been used in history to depict powerful individuals who have affected society. The upcoming sister exhibits and events, Seeing HERstory, features an array of activities that address this root question: how do we actively tell the stories of women who have affected society throughout history and are the influencers of tomorrow? Whether they have made a footprint in their own corner of a community, or taken initiative on the national stage, the stories of these women are meant to be heard.


These exhibitions of portraits and a number of historical artifacts have transformed multiple spaces at the Center in both the Museum of Science & Art and Doan History Center at Heritage Park. “We brought these exhibits to the Center because the images and artifacts are complicated - each one holds the complex history of America, of what women have overcome and what women will achieve in the future,” said Katie Miller, Manager of Community Engagement. “The idea of the art form of portraiture is complex, we have expectations of what a portrait is, so what happens when we undermine those expectations?”


In the Museum of Science & Art, guests can explore portraits within two sister exhibits, featuring women who have been leaders in their field over the last 100 years, as well as women nationally who are currently setting public policy as members of the 116th Congress.


Internationally-renowned photographers, Elizabeth Herman and Celeste Sloman, use the art of portraiture to evoke the imagery we are used to seeing in the halls of power, but place people not previously seen as powerful starkly in the frames. This portion of the exhibit, Redefining Representation: The Women of the 116th Congress, will only be the third time these photographs of the 131 women now serving in the House and Senate have ever been exhibited since the series was first published in January 2019 with its own 16-page section in the New York Times. The striking collection of photographs showcases each congresswoman with pride for their culture and personal story.


“When I discovered this portrait series, I was speechless,” said Miller. “I didn’t see their names or states in the caption for each portrait, what I saw was piercing eyes, the stately postures of the poses and the bejeweled hat of Frederica Wilson stating I am here to move mountains!” It has taken 100 years to go from one woman representative in Congress to 131, or one-quarter of the House and Senate. Guests looking to hear about the process of developing this series of portraits can join the artist for a free lecture and panel discussion on the inspiration behind the work, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. in the Little Theater.


Also in the Museum of Science & Art, guests can take an in-depth view of women’s contributions to the nation and our local community which shaped history in the United States with the 20/20 Vision exhibit. The portraits featured in this exhibit celebrate women making a difference today, and change makers of the future. In a free complimentary exhibit at the Doan History Center, the 20/20 Vision exhibition continues with the timeline and influence of Title IX.


“The 20/20 Vision exhibit shows how women’s contributions have been central to the past 100 years of national and local history,” said Exhibit Curator Jennifer Vannette, Ph.D. “When guests visit the museum, they will find familiar faces from our community alongside national leaders that have molded and shaped the world we live in today.”


In addition to the self-guided experience through the museum, the Center is hosting a series of events to open dialogue around this topic. Starting with the annual (Be)Causes and Effects symposium, guests will hear from Women Visionary Leaders, the League of Women Voters and Great Lakes Bay Region Historical Society Curators followed by award-winning author Daisy Hernandez discussing current disparities in today’s culture on Feb. 1 in the Center Lecture Room below the Museum of Science & Art. To continue the series of shared stories, the Center has partnered with Here:Say Storytelling to feature empowering stories from women in our community about the change they have made in their corner of the world on March 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the Saints & Sinners Lounge.


The exhibition is included in admission to the Museum of Science & Art, located at the Center for the Arts. The Redefining Representation exhibit is open Jan. 25 through March 29 with the 20/20 Vision exhibition continuing until April 26. Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $7 for kids and free for kids three and under, Museum Members and ASTC Members. Museum hours for the winter can be found at

About the author

Josh Holliday

Josh Holliday

Josh Holliday is the former Director of Communications at Midland Center for the Arts. Telling the stories of artists, innovators and modern day explorers!

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