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 Edith Longstreth Wood  (1885 - 1967)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: abstract imagery, landscape

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Ad Code: 4
Edith Longstreth Wood
from Auction House Records.
Figure on Steps
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information, submitted November 2005, has been provided by Mona Molarsky, second-cousin twice removed, of the artist.

Edith Longstreth Wood: American Painter 1885-1967


The first and only time I met Edith Longstreth Wood, she slid down the banister.  This was in the early 1960s and I was a child in elementary school.  Edith, however was in her seventies.

She had come to visit our family, which had recently moved to Philadelphia.  My parents called her Cousin Edith, in the Quaker manner, although she was not our first cousin.  She was distantly related to my father, on the Quaker side of his family.  But art, which can be thicker than blood, tied several branches of our clan closely together.

Technically, Edith was a second cousin to my Quaker grandmother Sarah Shreve Molarsky.  Both started out as Philadelphia painters, although my grandmother married another Philadelphia artist, Abram Molarsky, and soon moved to Nutley, New Jersey.

In the early years of the 20th century, the Philadelphia art world was a place where the children of rich, WASP families could mingle with the children of poor immigrants.  Edith, born into the wealthy, Longstreth family, attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.   So did my great-uncle, Maurice Molarsky, the son of a poor tailor, from Philadelphia's Jewish ghetto.  Maurice would later establish himself as one of Philadelphia's leading portrait painters and set up an elegant studio near Rittenhouse Square.  So art helped some immigrants get a toehold in the world of Philadelphia's famously snooty upper class.  And it allowed some members of the elite to see a part of life they'd barely imagined before.

For Philadelphia artists, there was the obligatory apprenticeship in Europe.  As early as 1866, Mary Cassatt was in France, honing her Impressionist vision alongside Degas and his contemporaries.  Generations of Philadelphia  students would follow.  Around 1905, my great-uncle Maurice won a Pennsylvania Academy scholarship to study in Paris, where he adopted the palate of Rembrandt and the ambitions of Sargent.  His brother Abram tagged along and returned home to paint color-saturated American landscapes in a dreamy idiom all his own.  Edith didn't arrive in Paris until 1928, when she was in her early forties.   That was well after her husband Billy had died and she was launched as a painter.  But like everyone else, she finally got there and was influenced by what she saw.  More modernist than the other members of our Quaker-Jewish art clan, Edith did work that was muscular in design, thin on paint, and shaped by Cubism.

At home, she became a member of The Philadelphia Ten, a group of women painters and sculptors who banded together to promote their work and carve a niche for themselves in the man's world of art.   They were early feminists in both style and substance.  And they were largely successful in their project--to become independent and support themselves as artists.

But that evening in the early 1960s, when Edith Wood came to dinner, I knew nothing of the Philadelphia Ten and little about my distant relation.  I only knew she was a nice old lady, a painter and that I should call her "cousin."

As she stood that evening in the stairwell of our apartment building, where our family was gathered to wish her goodnight, she left an indelible impression in my childish memory.   A tiny, sprightly woman with sensibly-cropped gray hair, Edith's dark, no-nonsense skirt and blouse spoke of her puritanical heritage.  But she had a ready smile and a glint in her eye that later prompted my mother to compare her to Mary Poppins.

"That's a beautiful banister, you have there," she said admiringly, as she fingered the polished mahogany railing that ran from our third floor apartment down to the street level, curving neatly at each floor.  "Well, good night now, cousins!"  she beamed and waved.  And then, to everyone's astonishment, she swung her leg over the railing and slid right down.


Note:
Edith was born in 1885 to prosperous Quakers, Mary Cook and Samuel Noble Longstreth.  She had an older brother, Walter Cook Longstreth, who became a prominent lawyer, pacifist and conscientious objector.   Edith married William S. Wood, who died young.  Edith died in 1967, leaving no children behind, but a studio in Philadelphia filled with paintings.  A memorial exhibition of her work was held that year at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Sources:

1. The Philadelphia Ten: A Women's Artist Group 1917–1945, Kansas City: American Art Review Press & The Galleries at Moore, 1998. LCC: 98.88685. 175 pp; 93 color pls; 65 b&w, end notes, bibliographic essay, exhibition history of the Philadelphia Ten, index of artists. Soft back $34.95 [ISBN 1-58442-000-6]; hard back $49.95 [ISBN 1-58442-047-2]; $5 s/h
The book accompanied a traveling exhibition which originated at the Galleries at Moore and traveled to Pittsburgh, Fort Lauderdale, Albany (TX), Concord (MA),Doylestown (PA).

2. Academy Archives  (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts)
http://www.pafa.org/exhibitionListings3.jsp

3. The Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College:
http://www.swarthmore.edu/library/friends/rg5.htm
www.swarthmore.edu/library/friends/  
RG5: Records of Quaker Families and Individuals
Allen Family. Papers, 1700-1954.  (includes references to Longstreth family)

4. Biographical information about American painters Abram Molarsky and Maurice Molarsky and Sarah Shreve Molarsky, supplied to the AskArt website by myself and written by Osmond Molarsky, son of Abram and nephew of Maurice.


Mona Molarsky.  All Rights Reserved 2005"











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