July is World Watercolor Month, so let's talk about Fidelia Bridges (1834-1923). Why should we talk about someone who has been forgotten in the art world? Because she remains an example of a woman who lived according to her own wishes, particularly in a time when that was frowned upon.
When Fidelia was a child, both her parents died, and she and her siblings moved in with their eldest sister in Salem, Massachusetts. The shock of her circumstance cause her to be ill, and while recovering, Fidelia took up drawing.
She eventually began painting with oils as well, and when noted sculptor Anne Whitney opened an art school in Salem, Fidelia found a fast friend who encouraged her interest in art.
Fidelia continued painting while working as a mother's helper for the Brown family, a job that took her to New York. She met other artists there and turned her living space in the Brown home into a studio.
Fidelia traveled with Anne and other women to Rome, part of a group loosely formed by actress Charlotte Cushman. They were all unmarried artists, and they created a community Charlotte referred to as "jolly bachelors." Fidelia refined her style and focus, painting the details of nature—flora and fauna and birds in their natural settings.
Back in New York, Fidelia narrowed her focus to watercolors and developed a following of collectors. Among them was Mark Twain, and Fidelia took a brief hiatus from painting to be governess to his children while their regular governess was away.
Never marrying, choosing to paint for her collectors and for greeting cards and publications over creating for personal exhibits, and settling alone in a small cottage in Connecticut among friends, Fidelia was a trail blazer on many levels.
She was known for being fashionable and wore bloomers. She was well educated and well traveled for her own edification. And she was the only woman among the early members of the American Watercolor Society.
Her work is currently exhibited in several museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian.
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