The Wikipedia entry begins thus: “Fidelia Bridges…was one of the small number of successful female artists in the 19th and early 20th centuries.” Yes, there number was small, but their accomplishments were great. I’ve been reading about several of these women lately and gazing with wonder and admiration at their works. I shall be writing about them from time to time, in this space.
I’m starting with Fidelia Bridges, who was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1834. By the time she was fifteen, she had lost both her parents; she and her three siblings – two sisters and a brother – were left to shift for themselves. Fidelia became a live-in mother’s helper in the household of a prosperous merchant. The family moved to Brooklyn, and Fidelia moved with them. Her sister Eliza proceeded to open a school there.
As soon as she was able, Bridges struck out on her own, determined to achieve success as an artist. She felt she had a vocation, and she was right. Beginning with her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, she honed her technique to a fine point. She was able to study abroad for a year, returning to the U.S. in 1868.
Having begun by working in oils, she switched almost exclusively to water colors.In 1874, she became the sole female member of The American Society of Painters in Watercolors. (Originally founded in 1866, this organization is now known as The American Watercolor Society.) Her paintings were shown in a variety of venues; she had achieved considerable success.
In 1892, she moved to a cottage in Canaan, Connecticut. It was blessed with a beautiful garden, providing the subject for many of her paintings.
I like this depiction of Bridges’s life in Canaan:
She soon became a familiar village figure, tall, elegant, beautiful even in her sixties, her hair swept back, her attire always formal, even when sketching in the fields or rider her bicycle through town. Her life was quiet and un-ostentatious, her friends unmarried ladies of refinement and of literary and artistic task who she joined for woodland picnics and afternoon teas.
From Notable American Women, 1607-1950, by Edward T James and Janice Wilson James, quoted in the Wikipedia entry
Yet an article in the Salem Patch paints a decidedly more melancholy picture:
Throughout her life, Fidelia was a frequent letter writer, especially to her Salem friend, Rebecca Northey. Her letters provide insights into her life, and often spoke of her loneliness. This sadness at being alone without someone to share her experiences with was constant in her life.
Fidelia Bridges had never married. She died in Canaan in 1923, just shy of her 89th birthday. I like the biographical essay entitled “The Voice of Nature” on the Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center site. Still, I would like to know more about this somewhat enigmatic figure.
Paintings by Fidelia Bridges: