Final Week to Experience Ethel Wallace: Modern Rebel Exhibit

Reported on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Updated Wednesday, March 6, 2024.

Pictured Above: Artist and designer, J. Ethel Wallace (1886-1968) modeling a batik robe. Photo Credit: Contributed.


This unique collection by local artist Ethel Wallace is the first time to be shared with the public and will close on March 10th.

Doylestown, PA – In the final days of the exhibit of “Ethel Wallace: Modern Rebel” and just in time to celebrate National Women’s Month, guests will find the opportunity to “meet” and connect with Wallace, (1886-1968) a local self-taught, female designer and artist.  Patrons will experience how her creations transcended the era’s popular flapper dresses as she embraced a bold departure from the norm.  Wallace’s designs boasted a unique silhouette, favoring loose and straight lines that allowed for unprecedented freedom of movement. Breaking boundaries further, Wallace daringly adorned her creations with painted faces of men, a departure from tradition in the fashion world. In a move that encapsulated her unapologetic spirit, she famously wore a coat embellished with the faces of her lovers, a bold statement echoing her defiance against conformity. Wallace’s legacy persists as a testament to the transformative power of creativity and individuality in the world of fashion.

Above: A velvet gown design by Ethel Wallace.  Photo Credit: Contributed.

Wallace’s story spans decades of culturally transformative eras in United States history, including first-wave feminism, the Roaring Twenties, the World Wars, and the Great Depression. Since her death in 1968, her body of work has remained behind the closed doors of private collections. This exhibition will be the first public display of her work in decades and the artist’s first solo exhibition at a museum. 

Tara Kaufman, Associate Curator of Clothing and Textiles at History Colorado and curator of the exhibition says, “Ethel Wallace is a legend in Bucks County, but more people should know her story. She was witty and passionate and unique, and any one today can relate to her.” 

Pictured Above: J. Ethel Wallace (1886-1968), Portrait of Joseph Stella, ca. 1920. Oil on canvas, 69 x 44 inches. Collection of the late Kristina Barbara Johnson, courtesy of Jeniah Johnson. Photo Credit: Mark Condren.

Ethel Wallace (1886-1968), Portrait of Eva Gauthier, 1919. Batik on silk, 7 feet x 35 inches. Collection of the late Kristina Barbara Johnson, courtesy of Jeniah Johnson

Michener’s Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator Laura Igoe adds, “We are thrilled to present Ethel Wallace: Modern Rebel during the Michener’s 35th anniversary year, demonstrating our ongoing commitment to highlighting the achievements of women artists from the greater Delaware Valley.” 

Born in Recklesstown, New Jersey (now Chesterfield Township), in 1886, Wallace grew up in the artistic community of New Hope, Pennsylvania, before moving to New York City and building a sensational reputation and successful business as a textile and fashion designer. However, with the onset of the Great Depression, Wallace returned to New Hope, where she struggled to maintain her career’s momentum amid economic upheaval. She remained in New Hope for the rest of her life, where she happily painted flowers from her garden and portraits of her darling cats. 

Ethel Wallace (1886-1968), Untitled (Delaware Canal Scene), ca. 1910. Oil on canvas, 36 x 40 inches. Private collection 

The James A. Michener Art Museum’sEthel Wallace: Modern Rebel, exhibit closes – March 10, 2024 and is the first comprehensive study of the artist’s career, focusing on Wallace’s unique adaptation of batik, garments, and oil paintings, popular among New York’s elite in the 1910s and ‘20s. 

The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue, with essays by Kaufman and fashion historian Dr. Michael E. Mamp, aim to investigate how Wallace’s work—from her writings to her paintings and clothing designs—traces the development of two centers of modernism in America: New Hope and New York. 

Ethel Wallace (1886-1968), Portrait of Eva Gauthier, 1919. Batik on silk, 7 feet x 35 inches. Collection of the late Kristina Barbara Johnson, courtesy of Jeniah Johnson

Ethel Wallace: Modern Rebel has been generously supported by the Richard C. von Hess Foundation, Jeniah Johnson and Tom Sheeran, the Coby Foundation, Ltd., and the Michener Art Museum’s 35th Anniversary Initiative.    


For exhibit hours and more information on Ethel Wallace: Modern Rebel, visit:

Above: Curator Conversation: A Deeper Dive into Ethel Wallace with Tara Kaufman

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