Surrounded by portraits of notable figures in Colby’s history one day, Maggie Libby ’81 came to a troubling realization.
They were all men.
That moment was the start of Libby’s Hidden Histories, an exhibit at the Colby Museum of Art that uses mixed media, from oil portraits to altered-source texts, to explore the experiences of Colby women. The exhibit was celebrated Oct. 25 with a reception and panel discussion about the history and status of women at Colby, featuring Mayor of Waterville Karen Heck ’74, Gibson Professor of History Elizabeth Leonard, and other influential women from the Colby community.
Some of the women who serve as subjects for Libby and her art are familiar, like Mary Low 1875 and Ninetta Runnals. But others, such as Julia Ella Winslow 1886 and Hattie Emily Britton 1879, are here introduced to viewers for perhaps the first time.
Lucy Devlin ’16 said she recognized Low and Runnals from the campus buildings that bear their names, but she had not previously known about those women’s accomplishments. Devlin said she hasn’t encountered the same struggles Colby’s earliest women likely did, and she appreciates the trail they blazed. “So far, being here, things seems pretty equal, but you can definitely see all the work they put in to make it this way,” she said.
Several of the panel speakers recounted times in their own memories when, in fact, things at Colby did not seem all that equal. Heck talked about a lack of contraception available on campus into the early 1970s, and former Dean of Students Janice Kassman said an alumnus had once insisted she must have been the dean of women. Kassman lauded Libby’s art for honoring a population of the Colby community that had stood in the shadows for too long.
“At every turn since 1871, these women were challenging, pushing, and changing Colby for the better,” said Kassman. “Before too long we’re going to see a female chair of the board and a female president.”
Panelists included Associate Professor of American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Lisa Arellano; Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy Jill P Gordon; John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History Elizabeth D. Leonard; artist Maggie Libby ’81; Heck and Kassman.
At Colby Libby studied with the late Jim Carpenter, professor of art. After graduating, she attended the New York Studio School, Skowhegan School, and Vermont Studio School. She is the visual resources curator for Colby’s libraries and teaches Jan Plan courses in art.
Hidden Histories runs through Nov. 25 at the Colby College Museum of Art. Professor of Art Véronique Plesch will discuss Libby’s work at the Noontime Art Talk Nov. 14. The exhibit and art talk are open to the public and admission to both is free. Find the Colby College Museum of Art on Facebook and on Twitter.