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AWA founders Dr. Jane Fortune and Dr. Robert Hesse

Dr. Jane Fortune

AWA's Founder and Chair tells the story that started AWA.

"Fourteen years ago, I chanced upon a book about Florence's first woman painter, a nun, Plautilla Nelli and when I asked Florentines about her, I found that no one was familiar with her, her work or her name. She fascinated me and I made a personal commitment that I would become her voice, 430 years later – a voice she never had. I wanted to uncover the hidden side of Florence's forgotten heritage and make Nelli and other invisible works by women visible. In 2006, Nelli's "Lamentation With Saints" in the San Marco Museum's large refectory became the first piece AWA restored. When we discovered Nelli, only three of her works had been authenticated, one being the "Lamentation with Saints", even though, according to Vasari, she painted prodigiously. Over the last ten years, AWA have restored nine other paintings by Nelli, as well as nine of her drawings!
The total works, since 2006, AWA has restored, by women artists, are over 40!

Nelli has captured the heart and soul of anyone involved in the restoration of her works and has become our guiding force. The raw emotional power she depicts on canvas and her eye for the smallest of details are gifts to the viewer. Her painterly hand tugs at my heart strings! The decision to support the restoration of "Lamentation with Saints" was the first step in my growing quest to protect and preserve lost works by women. In order to do this, Bob Hesse (1931–2016) and I created the Advancing Women Artists with the mission to rediscover a vital part of Florence's forgotten cultural and creative heritage, to identify, restore and exhibit art by women, hidden, languishing in Florence's museum storages. Two thousand works have since been identified in Florence's museum storehouses. So many have been overlooked for centuries and are in need of restoration, and AWA is the vehicle through which these 'invisible' works can become 'visible'.

In November 2016, I was awarded the highest honor the city of Florence gives to an individual for their contributions to the city, the Golden Florin, and was made an honorary citizen of the city. That award is dedicated to all the women artists we discovered, who never had a voice, for now, centuries later, finally they have a voice... mine and that of all the dedicated women (and men) of AWA.