Emily Clayton Bishop’s ‘Conquest of the Northwest Through Agriculture’ celebrates female and Native American forms
By Audrey Scanlan-Teller, Ph.D., Independent Scholar
& Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator
In recognition of Women’s History Month, we hope that you enjoy this sculpture from the collection. If you visit the museum, this work is currently on view in the Smith Gallery. The museum also has other works by Emily Clayton Bishop in the collection, but we are focusing on this one since it is on display.
Emily Clayton Bishop (American, 1883–1912)
Conquest of the Northwest Through Agriculture, 1908
27.5″h x 18.25″w x 8″w
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Marvin L. and Suzanne M. Smith, A2265,83.0404
Created using gestural, broad forms that almost appear to merge with one another, Bishop’s allegorical sculpture represents an athletic female figure (a personification of Agriculture) dramatically mounted on a massive bison, symbolic of cultivated farmland extending from the Great Plains to the Pacific Northwest. Agriculture rests her left hand on a cornucopia, signifying plenty, and holds garlands of victory in her right. While this work is a triumphant allegory of American pride, westward expansion, and progress, the ideals and achievements to which it refers were unfortunately attained through the displacement and mistreatment of Native Americans.
Conquest of the Northwest Through Agriculture is likely a study or an initial maquette for a larger, unexecuted commission, possibly a monument or installation at a large exposition, judging by the grandly conceived base, adorned with masonry motifs and abstracted ionic columns. Interestingly, a bronze version of a very similar composition (cast ca. 1913) is in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia (see photo below), further suggesting that the artist might have had ambitious plans for the work. In 1983, Bishop’s great-niece, Suzanne Smith, donated the plaster work to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. In 2019, this sculpture was conserved for display in the installation American Narratives: 1700–1910 (on view in the Mason, Thieblot, and Smith Galleries).
The daughter of John Hoye Bishop (1842–1928), a prominent civil engineer in the community, Emily Clayton was born in Cavetown, Maryland, near Hagerstown. She attended the Maryland Institute School of Art in Baltimore from 1901–04 and won a scholarship to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She studied under William Merritt Chase (1849–1916, whose work is also represented in the collection), who thought Bishop’s drawings were “so full of force and originality” that he carried them with him to show others.
With the support of two Cresson Traveling Scholarships, Bishop went to England, The Netherlands, Italy, and Greece, and exhibited her work in the Pennsylvania Academy’s Annual Exhibitions from 1907–11. After graduating in 1911, she shared a studio in Philadelphia with her friend, sculptor Beatrice Fenton (1887–1983), and won many commissions for bas reliefs, friezes, and sculptures on public buildings, including the Academy of Music (Philadelphia). In 1969, Fenton and Marjorie D. Martinet (1886–1981), her life partner and a fellow artist (from Baltimore), donated Bishop’s bronze sculpture to the Pennsylvania Academy (pictured below).
Tragically, Bishop died prematurely from heart disease in 1912, aged twenty-nine. A group of twenty pieces by Bishop were shown in the Pennsylvania Academy’s 108th Annual Exhibition in 1913 (including Conquest of the Northwest Through Agriculture) and sixteen other works were displayed as a memorial to her at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, San Francisco. Like celebrated portraitist Cecilia Beaux (1855–1942), whom Chase also greatly admired and encouraged, Bishop defied Victorian-era conventions by pursuing a career as a professional artist. In so doing, she built upon the legacy and achievements of her predecessors and contemporaries, most notably Sarah Miriam Peale (1800–1885, featured in last week’s edition of WeekendArt), Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899), and Beaux.
Emily Clayton Bishop
Conquest of the Great Northwest Through Agriculture, 1908
Bronze with green patina, cast ca. 1913
25 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 18 in. (64.77 x 21.59 x 45.72 cm.)
Collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Gift of Marjorie D. Martinet and Beatrice Fenton, 19