Treasure: Watercolor artist a women's rights pioneer
'Throughout my lifetime, at least while living with my parents, I admired a watercolor that had hung at the landing of the stairway in their home," wrote Ellen White of Bloomfield Hills to the column recently. "I knew little about it, only that it had been a wedding gift from a 'family friend.' When both of my parents passed away, I was fortunate enough to acquire it. It has hung in my home since 1996. I continue to derive much pleasure from its soft, lovely tones.
"Only recently did I become curious about the artist. A Google search immediately brought up an abundance of information regarding the artist, Emily Helen Butterfield. She was a trailblazing Michigan female. Emily was the first female licensed architect in the state of Michigan and the founder of the first women's business association in the country. She had many other accomplishments as well. I don't believe she was known for her artwork, though her interest was acknowledged in the articles. It appears that she pursued art as a hobby and illustrated some children's books. I've never had the piece appraised, but now I'm curious."
Bob DuMouchelle took a closer look at the work of art during a recent appraisal session held at the downtown auction house and gallery. "I can't give you a lot more information about the artist than you have already found," he told her. "I can tell you that she is featured in the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in Lansing." More information about her is available on their website (hall.michiganwomen.org).
He shared more information about the artist with White and others gathered at the recent appraisal day. According to the site, Butterfield lived from 1884-1958 and is well known as a pioneer in the Michigan women's movement. She was not only the state's first female licensed architect, but also a founder of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority and a founding member of the Detroit Business Women's Club, the first professional women's club in the nation. She was born in Algonac and educated in Detroit schools. Along with her father, she established Butterfield and Butterfield in 1917, an architectural firm known for designing churches and other buildings, including Highland Park High School. Best known as an architect and activist, she was also an accomplished artist, mainly in pen and ink and watercolor and exhibited her mostly nature scenes at a variety of galleries, including J.L Hudson's. Even more information is available at adrianartblog.com/emily-helen-butterfield, which traces her heritage and additional work.
White says the work was a wedding gift to her parents in 1948. DuMouchelle said that he has sold many outstanding Michigan artists through the years. He dated White's watercolor to the 1920s or 1930s, saying it would probably bring somewhere around $500 at auction.
"It's beautifully done and by rights should bring more if it were only about the look and apparent talent," he told White, who said the architect also did work in the Corktown area.
For now, she thinks she'll keep it. "I don't get terribly attached to things," she told him. "If you said it was worth a million, I might have to think about it. I've always found it very soothing."
DuMouchelle said he could see why. He told her she could contact the Scarab Club and other local outlets if she was interested in learning more. "We need to celebrate our local artists and history," he said. "We have a lot to be proud of."
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About this object
Item: Emily Helen Butterfield watercolor
Owner: Ellen White, Bloomfield Hills
Appraised by: Bob DuMouchelle, DuMouchelle Art Gallery and Auction House, Detroit
Estimated value: Approximately $500