|Place of Birth||Memphis, TN, USA|
|Place of Death||unknown|
|Birth Name||Gwendolyn Aouda Ferris|
Gwendolyn Aouda Ferris was born on January 8, 1906 in Memphis, Tennessee, but grew up largely in Atlanta, Georgia, where she attended the Atlanta Art Institute from September 1934 to March 1939.1 She moved to New York shortly afterwards, enrolling in life class with Vaclav Vytlacil at the Art Students League that fall.2 At some point, she also worked with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown and with Wallace Harrison, a modernist architect who helped develop Rockefeller Center among other projects. During the 1940s, she worked in an administrative capacity with numerous cultural institutions—reflecting her diverse creative interests—including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Near Eastern Department), Museum of Modern Art (Museum Design Project), Bertha Schaeffer Gallery (Art Director), and Muriel Francis Publicity and Public Relations, a firm specializing in managing careers of opera singers. By the late 1940s, Ferris exhibited her semi-abstract paintings, watercolors, and prints in several New York-based venues: the Creative Art Associates (1947-54, 1956-61), the biennial watercolor show at the Brooklyn Museum (1949-53), the American Abstract Artists (1949), and American Color Print Society (1953), among others. In February 1947, she held her first solo exhibition at the Norlyst Gallery—where she also worked as the assistant to the director—which featured paintings around the theme of modern dance and movement. At this time, Ferris was also performing in dance troupes at the Fraternal Clubhouse and Carnegie Recital Hall. She began working at Atelier 17 in the summer of 1949 and continued there until 1953.3 She participated in the workshop’s group show at Milwaukee-Downer College (1952) and also helped to coordinate a show at the University of Georgia at Atlanta.4 Nothing further is known of Ferris’s life.
“Both Old and New: Gwyn Ferris at Norlyst Gallery.” New York Times, February 8, 1947.
“College Round Up: Gwyn Ferris and Bennard B. Perlman at Morgan State College.” The Pittsburgh Courier, March 27, 1954.
Devree, Howard. “Chiefly Modern.” New York Times, May 8, 1949.
H., S. “Creative Art Unit in First Exhibition.” New York Times, November 19, 1948.
Preston, Stuart. “Show by Creative Art.” New York Times, December 7, 1051.
“The Week’s Events: Dark of the Moon Dancers.” New York Times, May 6, 1951.
“The Week’s Events: Gwyn Ferris and Company.” New York Times, January 29, 1950.
- Thank you to LaTasha Waters, assistant registrar at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), for finding a résumé for Ferris in the school’s student archives (acquired when SCAD merged with the Atlanta Art Institute). Unless otherwise notes, the information in this bio comes from the SCAD archival resource. ↩
- Student registration card, Art Students League of New York. ↩
- Ferris mentions working at Atelier 17 in a letter to Alfred Barr, July 19, 1949, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, I.A.167; mf 2173:127, The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. The end of her affiliation with Atelier 17 can be dated through the student ledger book, p. 19, Allentown Art Museum/Grippe Collection, Allentown, Penn. ↩
- Ferris’s résumé (SCAD registrar’s office), lists a group exhibition Ferris organized at the Atlanta Division of the University of Georgia. Unfortunately, no checklist or news coverage for this show exists. The University of Georgia eventually became Georgia State University, and there are few archives from this period of the university’s history. Laurel Bowen, University Archivist, to Christina Weyl, April 4, 2017. ↩