Life is an Artful Sketch

By: Daniel Knoedler, multimedia specialist/graphic designer on May 3rd, 2023

A new season means new exhibitions at the Museum. The recent opening of Fidelia Bridges: The Artful Sketch (on view through August 27) presented one of my first opportunities to collaborate closely with curator of collections Amalia Wojciechowski, as she interpreted the life and work of this important American artist. I was excited to design a timeline of events in Bridges’ life for this exhibition – which features over 100 works created across her lifetime (1834-1923).

Fidelia Bridges, Birds by the Shore (detail), 1873, watercolor and gouache on paper on illustration board

It struck me that Fidelia seemed to dodge the barriers that life and society put in her path. After losing both of her parents at a young age, she became a successful artist at a time when women were struggling to rise in American society. Her influence was felt among her mostly male peers in a climate that wasn’t set up for her to succeed. The sheer volume of work attributed to her is enough to conclude that this lady was a prolific force of nature. The Artful Sketch not only describes her body of work, but also describes her life as a whole.

As I began to design the look of the timeline, Amalia provided a wide and thorough view of Bridges’ life. This gave me an opportunity to reflect upon my own life as I celebrate a birthday this week. Although I certainly had more luck and security early in my life, I hope to let Bridges’ pure ambition breathe some added strength into my new career here at the Museum and the art I create outside of work.

Coinciding with this opportunity to gain a new perspective about myself as an artist was a panel discussion between my colleagues and I and D.C. Everest Junior High students interested in art careers. One of the answers I gave to their questions reminded me of something that I love about the specific type of art I make outside of work. As a scenic design artist for theater, nothing I create lasts very long. Weeks of hard work is enjoyed by theater goers for a weekend or two and then gets torn down in a matter of hours. The end result is not what makes the art enjoyable, it’s about the process.

The nature of my theatrical experience supported the advice I gave to one of the students that they shouldn’t worry too much about the end product. I suggested that they shouldn’t be afraid to fail and throw a piece away if they weren’t happy with it. Worrying about the results could stop them from learning something along the way. They will get better in the process. My answer, in short, was to be more prolific – like Fidelia Bridges. It’s clear to me that Bridges probably worked with a similar underlying motto. In fact, she once noted how she felt like a “paint-machine.” My new hope is to stay motivated enough to pick up a pencil and a sketchbook or wipe the dust off my watercolors and just start making more often – something I was reminded of by Fidelia and the D.C. Everest students. No one will notice, but for me it will be about the process.



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