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 Margaret May Dashiell  (1869 - 1958)

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Lived/Active: Virginia/Louisiana      Known for: Afro-American genre painting, illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A New Orleans native, Margaret May Dashiell lived and worked in Richmond, Virginia, eventually becoming a prolific artist, illustrator and writer.  She is best known for her drawings and watercolors of African-American domestic workers and street vendors, as well as Confederate veterans, from the end of the nineteenth century through the 1940s.

Dashiell was a prominent Richmond upper-class lady, a friend to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ellen Glasgow, a suffragist, and an importer and seller of European art prints, engravings, books and antiques in a shop on Adams Street, Richmond.  She was familiar with the African-American domestic workers, market vendors, and the tattered Confederate veterans who peopled the streets of that city in the early 1900s.  Dashiell was known to slip away from social gatherings to talk to a family's cook or maid, collecting impressions later to be translated into a drawing, a poem, or a story to portray her affectionate image of the Old South.

She moved to Richmond at an early age and studied there under Edward Valentine.  Many of her subjects were Blacks, and she once said in an interview: " ?my sketches are not cartoons, but life studies?if you will examine their faces, you will see the brooding sadness that is there?This certain portion of Southern history should be made immortal, and I hope that my sketches will help make the record that is so necessary if this history is to be made immortal."  

Regarding Dashiell's art and writing, African-American history scholar and University of Richmond Associate Professor Kibibi Mack-Shelton said, "I am a firm believer in preserving as much from the social past as we can.  Margaret May Dashiell has done just that through her artwork, capturing intriguing images of black everyday life in the Old South. Her drawings are simple, clean, and honest. She could have focused on flowers, trees, and vases, but she chose to preserve a unique history of simple events."

Dashiell was an entrepreneur well entrenched in the society of Richmond, operating her Serendipity Shop from 1915 to 1930, importing and selling European prints, books, antiques, and a variety of other items. Local theatre companies consulted with her about period costumes, and women sought her advice on fashion design.

She was married to John Parker Dashiell, who died in 1930, and together they had one son. who died in 1942.

Dashiell's published writings include Spanish Moss and English Myrtle (1920), and Richmond Reveries (1942).  During her lifetime her artwork was exhibited widely, in venues including the Anderson Gallery and the Valentine Museum in Richmond, the museum of Charleston, South Carolina, the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans.

Today her work is found in the permanent collections of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, the Valentine Museum, the Museum of the Confederacy, and the Virginia Historical Society, all in Richmond, Virginia, and in the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts in Farmville, Virginia.  A collection of her watercolors and a selection of her correspondence and manuscripts are in the Southern Historical Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The University of Richmond Museums also holds a large collection of work by Margaret Dashiell.

Sources include:

University of Richmond Museums, "Street Opera:  Reconsidering the Art and Writing of Margaret May Dashiell (1869-1958)," Diana Thompson Vincelli, Curator. The exhibition took place from Feb 9 to July 29, 2006.
The website is:

website of Fletcher Copenhaver Fine Art

Who Was Who in American Art
by Peter Falk

Biography from Carolina Galleries - Southern Art:
Born in New Orleans, Margaret Dashiell moved to Richmond as a young woman. There she studied with the Richmond artist Edward V. Valentine. She specialized in portraits and genre scenes of African Americans and at one point created a series of sketches related to their customs and beliefs in the cities of New Orleans, Charleston, and Richmond.

She drew vignettes of life in the South - houses, streets, laundresses, plantation workers, mammies, and flower vendors.

She exhibited at the Women''s Club of Richmond, the Anderson Gallery in Richmond, in Hampton, VA, the Women''s Club of Cleveland, OH, the Charleston Museum, and the Arts & Crafts Club of New Orleans.

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