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 Selma L. Oppenheimer  (1898 - 1988)

About: Selma L. Oppenheimer


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Lived/Active: Maryland      Known for: mod figure

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Baltimore artist Selma L. Oppenheimer (1898-1988) graduated from Goucher College in 1919 and then studied costume design and portrait at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Among her teachers were Leon Kroll and Henry Roben. Later she worked in oils, watercolors, pen and ink, and sculpture in styles that ranged from realistic to abstract. She was known for her bold experimentation in all media and was referred to as "the dean of Maryland's women artists" by fellow artist, Bennard Perlman.

Throughout her career Ms. Oppenheimer exhibited in juried shows at the Corcoran and Phillips galleries in the District of Columbia, in Richmond, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Chicago Art Institute, Sarasota, San Francisco, the Midtown Gallery, Rockefeller Center, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, traveling shows of southern states, and in Scotland, England, and France, and the Peale Museum and Loyola College in Baltimore. She had one-woman exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Goucher College, Johns Hopkins Residence Hall, Notre Dame, the Jewish Community Center, City Hall, McDonough School, Har Sinai Temple, and other local institutions.

After her death, Oppenheimer's work was included in an art show entitled "Back From the Future: Maryland Artists 1950's - 1980's", curated by John Blair Mitchell at the Maryland Art Place. Her work is in private and public collections including the Johns Hopkins Medical Center and University, the University of Maryland University College, and the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland.

Awards included those from the Baltimore Water Color Club, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Washington Old Market exhibition, the National Association of Women Artists, and Loyola College. As an active member of the arts community, Oppenheimer was a founding member and president of the Maryland chapter of Artists' Equity Association, served on the board of trustees of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and chaired the art committee for the Jewish Community Center in Baltimore for eight years where she fashioned the exhibition program, art lectures and demonstrations making the Center a leader of the city's cultural institutions. She is listed in Who's Who in American Art, Who's Who in the East, and Who's Who of American Women.

Selma Oppenheimer kept a journal when she traveled abroad with her husband, Baltimore Judge Reuben Oppenheimer, and illustrated the journals with pen and ink sketches and watercolors, many of which she used as an inspiration for large oil paintings. In her figure drawings and paintings, she often focused on compositional design - the combination of form and color - to capture a glimpse of humankind in an everyday activity. She was a prolific artist whose works included portraits, landscapes, still lives, and drawings, working in many media including oil, pen and ink, watercolor, and collage.

Later in her career, Oppenheimer worked in alabaster, mahogany, and bronze for her sculptures and studied under Freda Sohn. Her style evolved from realism and muted colors to a style reminiscent of Milton Avery or Fairfield Porter, with an emphasis on the interaction of broad areas of subtle, atmospheric color. Consistent throughout her work is her tender regard for her subjects, who frequently included her children, family, friends, and models. She excelled in quickly rendered ink drawings, sometimes combined with a wash of watercolor.

An unassuming advocate for young, struggling artists, she played an important role in the Baltimore art scene, both as an artist and a supporter of the arts. Oppenheimer was one of the founding members and president (from 1953 to 1955) of the Maryland Chapter of the Artists' Equity Association. She was considered an inspiration and role model to many Baltimore artists and continued painting with well-known local artists, such as her teacher and critique, Gladys Goldstein, until she was in her eighties.

Some of her artwork can be seen currently at the Selma L. Oppenheimer Collection, established in 1989, at the University of Maryland University College.

Source: Joan Oppenheimer Weiss, daughter of artist

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