Artist Celebrates Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage with Drawings of the Forgotten

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Key Points

  • Christine Heller created an exhibit called “Truth is the Only Safe Ground to Stand Upon: Portraits of NY State Suffragists.”
  • The exhibit consisted of her drawings based on photographs of women suffragists in New York.
  • Many of the drawings were of women who were erased from our history.

The Background

“The reason that I started this was that Hilary Clinton was in her last month of campaigning, and I thought ‘Wow, there must be a lot of women in the past, that we don’t know about, that helped her get to this point’…and then I started drawing.” – Christine Heller

Ithaca native, Christine Heller, was inspired by the women who don’t get talked about. The few women who are included in our history books, and the many women (especially women of color), who are not.

After realizing it was the 100th anniversary of women being able to vote in New York, Heller focused her efforts on the women who fought in this state.


A portion of Heller’s exhibit.

The main space of the Tompkins County History Center is filled with Heller’s drawings, in an exhibit called “Truth is the Only Safe Ground to Stand Upon: Portraits of NY State Suffragists”.

The Process

Originally, Heller knew that she wanted to draw Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Anthony and Stanton were two of the most well-known women suffragists, but Heller was surprised at how many more there were.

“I just read, and studied, and drew and drew. There were women [suffragists]everywhere, in every tiny town…”, Heller said.

She would search for photographs of suffragists that stood out to her, and then sketch them with paper and pencil. After, she would trace them onto a material called Mylar.


Heller’s drawing of Gertrude Foster Brown.

Heller chose Mylar because of the shadows, and the contrast of dark and light she was able to create. She would make certain features dark as night, and others pure white. This makes the portrait look as though it is jumping off the page.

After finding a photograph that she wanted to draw, Heller would try to replicate the photo as best as she could. She said that some photos were particularly dark or shadowed, so trying to accurately portray them was difficult at times.

She actually began to draw one subject, but could not get the shape of her nose and lips perfect. After trying and re-trying, she decided she would not draw her if she could not do it justice.


Heller’s drawing of Harriet Tubman.

The one part of the picture that she does manipulate slightly, are the eyes. Heller commented that she likes when the eyes are drawn with an intensity to them, as if the women were staring directly at the viewer. As if the woman was telling you to take action, and use your ability to vote to make change.

Heller spoke a lot about how important it is for women to vote, and to get involved in office. No matter if it is at the local, or national level. It is vital for women to use their voices, and take advantage of a right they did not always have.

 Local Ties

Louisa Lord Riley, and Juanita Breckenridge Bates both found their way to Ithaca during their fight for women’s suffrage. Riley created a “Women’s Club”, that met at 444 N. Aurora Street. She could only speak about women’s rights every fourth meeting, because of the conservative nature of its members. Whereas, Juanita Breckenridge Bates was the chairwoman of the Ithaca Suffrage Party. She was also one of the founders of the City Federation of Women’s Organizations. The “Breckenridge Place” apartment complex downtown is named after her!


Louisa Lord Riley (left), Juanita Breckenridge Bates (right).










These drawings were on display at the History Center in Tompkins County from September 23rd-November 4th, 2017.


About Author

Allison Horvath

My name is Allison, and I'm from New Jersey. I enjoy writing feature/lifestyle-based articles, and love the beauty and fashion industry.

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