Erika Gaffney, the founder of Art Herstory, has undertaken a very noble and essential responsibility on her shoulders. With her company, the Art Herstory, she recognizes and celebrates the contributions of women artists throughout history. It helps her to make the art historical record more complete and provides women artists a lineage.
Growing up in a middle-class American family with 4 siblings, Erika found her interest in liberal arts and pursued a Bachelor’s degree in it from St. John’s College. She then went on to work as the publishing manager for Ashgate Publishing Company for more than two decades. Erika then worked for decades as an acquisitions editor in Anglophone scholarly publishing.
It was through a moment born out of necessity and realization three years ago that Erika founded Art Herstory to support the movement to recognize the contributions of women artists who were famous in their time, but who have somehow been nearly erased from the art historical record.
The moment that changed her life and her career was born out of sheer realization and a zeal to take charge. Erika shares, “I wanted to send a birthday card to a friend who is a feminist art historian”. “I thought I’d buy a card that reproduced an image by an early modern woman artist, put a ‘happy birthday’ sticker in it, and mail it off. But it was not straightforward to find a card that carried the work of an early modern woman artist! For months, it bothered me that this kind of stationery product is not readily available in museum shops.” “Finally I decided that I needed to make, promote and sell these kinds of cards,” she adds.
Today, Art Herstory recognizes and celebrates the contributions of women artists throughout history. It helps to make the art historical record more complete; it gives women artists a lineage (which male artists have always had) that goes back at least to the Renaissance; and it offers stationery products to be purchased online by individuals, or by retail outlets (museum shops and bookstores) who then sell to individuals.
The Art Herstory blog provides illustrated guest posts written by art history professors, curators, and others who are knowledgeable about women artists from history. In this way, it also provides a platform for stakeholders who have something to contribute to the study of women artists, who don’t have a lot of options for publishing their knowledge (because there aren’t that many platforms dedicated to this topic).
Even though, Erika has wisely fought against all odds that came her way, she’s still continuing to overcome the challenges in retail business. She shares, “I never worked in retail, so learning about how store buyers work was, and continues to be, a challenge!” “It is still very early days for this enterprise; it is challenging to know what products will appeal to individual and retail customers, and how best to reach those customers.”
Despite the challenges Erika and her team is receiving a great response from the community built around the theme of women artists. She shares that in about 3 years she has gained 3500+ twitter followers, as well as followers on Facebook, Instagram & LinkedIn. “So many customers and followers are excited to learn about women who were famous and successful artists during centuries that the activity of so many women was restricted by cultural norms and expectations,” she says.
Erika proudly shares, “It has been exciting to talk about Art Herstory on a couple of podcasts; it was also great to have Art Herstory featured in a local news weekly and my college paper, and to have the Art Herstory website recognized with a Digital Scholarship award from a scholarly society devoted to the study of early modern women.”
She encourages young women to celebrate and rediscover the contributions of women and others who accomplished great things in their time, but whose names and stories haven’t been passed down continuously in the historical record.