Meet ‘The Forgotten Nine,’ unsung women artists from Denton who trailblazed modernism in Texas art

“The Forgotten Nine” exhibition showcases the artworks of nine Texas women who were pioneers in art, but never got proper recognition.

By Galilee Abdullah, KERAOctober 18, 2022 10:15 am, , ,

From KERA:

All of the women known as the Forgotten Nine lived and taught in Denton from the 1920s to the 1960s. And they were all skilled artists.

Jack Davis brought the idea of the exhibition to the Greater Denton Arts Council. He was a professor of art at the University of North Texas for 40 years.

He said he was inspired by an exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art in the mid-’90s called the “Dallas Nine”, which centered nine men; “and I thought, these women were a heck of a lot better artists than these men were, but they never got any recognition,” Davis said. “Because y’know they taught at a women’s university, they were women, they lived up the road about 30 miles from Dallas.”

Maegan Kirschner did research for the exhibition. She said it was important for women to work on this project.

“What I brought into it was from the female perspective,” Kirschner said. “And if you know a lot about scholarship about American women in history, there’s very little written about them.”

And Kirschner said the women in the exhibit are no exception: “Some of these women there really is not a lot about them you have to really dig. And so what my job was to play detective and go back and find the important aspects of their careers and their personal lives and to make them very human for the exhibition.”

Kirschner said she even had to use to find out more about some of the artists.

That’s too bad, Jack Davis said, because these women collectively laid the foundation for a movement:

“They were really pioneers in bringing modernism to Texas art, because as early as the ’30s there are examples of their work that truly shows all of the characteristics of American modernism.”

Thanks to the research done by Davis and Kirschner, you can learn more about each of the “Forgotten Nine” artists below:

1. Carlotta Corpron

Carlotta Corpron had three facts that she wanted people to remember about her when she died: she wanted people to know about her background in India, her interest in photography, and her love of Siamese cats. She was very proud to own seven generations of Siamese cats. Corpron has many abstract photographic works, and most of her collection is held at the Amon Carter museum.

Amon Carter Museum Of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest Of The Artist

"A Walk in Fair Park" by Carlotta Corpron is part of the Carlotta Corpron Collection at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

She was very influential on other woman artists; Ida Lansky and Barbara Maples were two of her most famous students. Corpron once said, “I felt like a maverick among other photographers. My problem was that photographers didn’t know what I was trying to do, and artists didn’t accept photography as art.”

2. Mattie Lee Lacy

Mattie Lee Lacy was originally from Hutchins. She was a ceramicist and an art instructor for thirty years before retiring in 1945. Texas Woman’s University owns one of her only known artworks, a black glazed porcelain Boxer dog. All of Lacy’s other artwork has been lost, but the Denton Library does have photographs of her on camping trips with other artists.

Maegan Kirschner

Researcher Meagan Kirschner said she had to find a lot of information and images like this in public records via websites like

3. Mary Marshall

Mary Marshall was the head of the art department at Texas Woman’s University in the 1930s. She was one of the first leaders there to expand arts activities on campus by providing resources like a black light room and pottery equipment to the school.

Maegan Kirschner

Mary Marshall (center) photographed by Carlotta Corpron.

4. Dorothy Antoinette (Toni) LaSelle

Toni LaSelle may be considered the most famous of the nine artists. She lived the longest and continued making art the longest. LaSelle was the key person to the Little Chapel in the Woods at Texas Woman’s University. She also belonged to an artist colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she retired. “Painting and teaching are complementary, although they are opposite in what they require of me. Each has sparked the other,” she once said.

5. Thetis Lemmon

Thetis Lemmon grew up in Dallas and was most known for her printmaking, but her jewelry is what is collected and available to view at the Dallas Museum of Art. She made art-deco style jewelry. She retired and remained the rest of her life in Denton. Lemmon was interested in the organic aspect of stone in relation to metal. Her students helped with the metal portions of the Little Chapel in the Woods at Texas Woman’s University.

6. Marie Isly Delleney

Marie Isly Delleney explored painting on fabrics with watercolors. She was known to use oil paint, crushed glass and pieces of wood within the fiber works. “I am very interested in the use of texture and materials combined with paint,” she once said. Delleney received her first degree from Texas Woman’s University when it was Texas State College for Women, and was a public school teacher for many years. She traveled the world to study art, and when she died she gave a huge collection of Middle Eastern art to TWU. Delleney was also one of the first fashion designers for the modern dance group at the university.

7. Marjorie Baltzel

Marjorie Baltzel only has one piece of her art left in existence, but had a very rich history of being an artist. She started as a teacher when Texas Woman’s University was the College of Industrial Arts. Baltzel was only one of three art faculty at the time, teaching 300 students, and the only female pottery instructor.

8. Edith Brisac

Edith Brisac had her own commercial illustration studio in New York before being an art instructor in North Texas. She did textile printing and metalwork, and was also a painter. She had her students work with the Dallas Cook’s Modern Home Furniture store, and would create interior spaces for them to sell their furniture and present to housewives. Brisac was also key in the planning and designing of the current fine arts building at Texas Woman’s University.

9. Coreen Mary Spellman

Coreen Mary Spellman was a professor at Texas Woman’s University for 45 years. She and Thetis Lemmon were close friends and worked on projects together. Her art has been featured in many museums, and she was very active in female artist groups that protested against all-male groups, and started a printmaking guild that was meant to help women advance. Her family are considered pioneers of Forney, Texas and there is a museum with their namesake, the Spellman Museum of Forney History. The museum also features some of Coreen Spellman’s artwork.

The exhibition starts Friday and runs through Dec. 19 at the Patterson Appleton Arts Center in Denton at 400 E. Hickory St., in Denton.

Maegan Kirschner

Thetis Lemmon won first place for candlesticks and salad servers at the Texas Crafts Exhibition in 1949.

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