The Bennett Collection of Women Realists in San Antonio, Texas, has been tightly established by Dr. Elaine Schmidt and Steven Bennett. To root their collecting activities, the pair are dedicated to propelling the career of women artists, ignited by the situation that women artists were underrepresented in museums and commercial art galleries– “We became convinced that by limiting ourselves to the work of women painters we could build an extraordinary collection while at the same aiding a group of working artists”.
The Bennett Collection is focused on figurative realism, specifically the realistic, painted depiction of women by women. This includes contemporary art and work by living artists, with the great bulk of the collection (probably 90%) by living women painters. The remainder are works by both modern, 20th century painters as well as historic painters. As a whole, the works amount to several hundred pieces and it is the collectors’ goal to get to know every woman whose work they collect. So, Elaine and Steven frequently have phone calls, email correspondence or studio visits with these artists.
While the settings are quite varied and the great majority of the works are not necessarily portraits per se, all of the works involve the realistic depiction of the human face or figure. As respects to “realism,” Elaine and Steven tend to be very broad minded. So, a very realistic portrait by an artist like Margaret Bowland or Katie O’Hagan can live happily right next to a more interpretative work by Alyssa Monks or Carrie Pearce. Whatever the case, they are of the opinion: if you are trying to move someone in spiritual or emotional terms, “realism” can take the viewer to a whole series of strange, mythical, and mystical places. That is what the best art does. Figurative realism—the realistic depiction of human beings—thus became the second thrust of our collecting efforts. When we combined our two interests—women painters and figurative realism—we found a whole generation of undiscovered artists with substantial things to say about human differences and commonalities such as race, gender, social status, and the plethora of issues, both global and personal, that confront humanity.
With a doctorate in Policy Studies and focus on Educational Policy, Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt shared with us, “My love of art emanates from what I believe was a fulsome liberal education. Frankly, everyone should receive a liberal education first and only then go on to specialise in professional or vocational subjects”.
In 2019 as a further engagement, Elaine and Steven founded The Bennett Prize for women figurative realist painters through The Pittsburgh Foundation in Pennsylvania. The prize is to sponsor the recipient over a two year period, thus far awarding Aneka Ingold.
With works installed domestically to enjoy, their future plans are for the collection to go to a public institution, preferably a museum that can display the work. In the meantime, Elaine and Steven will continue to make the works in the collection available online and through loans.