On a trip to Europe, Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay fell in love with some paintings by seventeenth-century Flemish artist Clara Peeters. When they returned home, they were disappointed to find they couldn’t find Peeters in any of the major art textbooks.
Around this same time, in the early 1960s, the Holladays decided to focus their art collecting on women in the arts. After a couple of decades their collection had grown large enough that Wilhelmina started thinking about displaying it. Her initial idea was to donate it to some museum, but Nancy Hanks, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, convinced her to start a museum of her own with the Holladay collection as its core.
By 1981, Wilhelmina’s energies had gotten enough people on board for the National Museum of Women in the Arts to open in temporary offices, with most of the 500 pieces of art remaining at the Holladays’ home (open for tours). By 1983, Wilhelmina had completed a tenacious capital campaign and raised enough money to purchase and renovate an 80,000-square-foot building near the White House. All in all, $17 million was raised, and the museum opened in its new home in 1987. The museum’s unusually active membership spans all 50 states, and the collection now includes approximately 3,000 works dating back to the Renaissance. Wilhelmina received the 2006 National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush.
- National Museum of Women in the Arts, History, nmwa.org/about/our-history
- Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, A Museum of Their Own (Abbeville Books, 2008)