Speak With Lilly Martin Spencer in Lancaster March 3< < Back to
On Sunday, March 3, visitors to the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio will have the opportunity to “speak” to artist Lilly Martin Spencer, who is the subject of the museum’s latest exhibition, “Lilly’s World.” Spencer herself passed away in 1902, but Robin Schuricht, an Education Specialist at the Ohio History Connection, will act as Lilly, allowing for attendees to have a conversation with the artist as they make their way through the exhibition.
WOUB had the opportunity to interview Schuricht about preparing herself to depict one of the most important female painters of the 19th century.
WOUB: How did you first learn of Lilly Martin Spencer? And how did you decide that you wanted to depict her in this way?
Robin Schuricht: Well, I am an artist myself, and I am in the education department at the Ohio History Connection. It’s been a few years, but we had an exhibition of her work here, and that was where I first became interested in her.
WOUB: I don’t have an art history degree or anything, but I feel like it’s safe to say that while Lilly Martin Spencer was enormously popular in the late 19th century, for whatever reason, she’s not so well known now. Would you say that is a safe assessment?
RS: You’re absolutely right. And that’s for a couple of reasons. For one, she’s a woman. So it’s just like of a fact of life that women kind of fall out of – I don’t want to say ‘favor,’ – but once they are gone and not producing art anymore they are kind of written out of history or just forgotten. That is part of the reason that I was very much in favor of portraying Lilly. So, add that to the fact that her husband stayed home with the children and supported his wife that way – she was actually the breadwinner, that was very much not the norm. That was very unusual for that particular time in history, and that is another reason they are so fascinating.
WOUB: So, what kind of research did you have to do to prepare to present Lilly Martin Spencer in an accurate way? Is there any documentation of things like her mannerisms?
RS: There aren’t! So what I have to go off of are letters, and developing a character like this is an ongoing process. I do portray several historical characters this way, and you just never stop researching and developing characters. For Lilly, I have read her letters and looked at her paintings and studied what is known about her at the time – from newspaper articles and that kind of thing. There is nobody alive right now that knew her while she was alive, so I have to make some inferences about her. When you’re portraying someone who has been gone that long you kind of have to look at the writing and and figure, well, I think she would have been this way or that way. When I do a more contemporary character, like Ruth Lyons from Cincinnati in the ‘50s, I have videos and a lot more documentation of her in general, her radio shows and that kind of thing to hear her and see how she moved. There are very few photographs of Lilly Martin Spencer, so I have to make an educated guess at it.
WOUB: What other historical characters do you portray?
RS: Alice Schille, who was from central Ohio. She was a painter who very early on in her life might have known Lilly Martin Spencer, or at least would have known about her work. She died in the ‘60s at the age of 70 or 80. Victoria Woodhull, who was the first woman to run for president – I bet you thought it was Hillary Clinton!
WOUB: Wow, I did!
RS: Nope, it was Victoria Woodhull and she ran in 1872 against Ulysses S. Grant. I also do the character of Ruth Lyons, who was from Cincinnati. She was a radio host and one of the first women television show hosts and a very interesting person. I have also done two of my relatives: one from the 1930s, my great aunt, and my grandmother in 1957. Not that they were famous people, they lived in interesting times in history. I do these for a program called Echoes in Tim Theater here at the museum, and it’s run on Saturdays – I think it’s the first and third Saturdays of the month. Every month we have a different topic and a different person who does the presentation. I have done a number of characters over time – much like what I am going to do at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio. I am not going to get up and spout a bunch of dates and things about Lilly Martin Spencer – she would not be talking like that, and that would not be like talking to her. Instead, I am going to be interacting with guests as though I am Lilly Martin Spencer, and as though I am 70 years old and I am talking about my life and my paintings. It’s a way to bring a personal edge to the presentation, so that the guests don’t just feel like they went to a lecture about her.
Schuricht’s presentation will begin at 2 p.m. at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio on Sunday, March 3, and prepaid registration attendance is $8 for non-members of the Decorative Arts Center and $5 for members. Prepaid registration is available at this link. Attendance will be $10 at the door.