Edith Emerson, The Calling of Elisha

Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Museum purchase, 1958
21 3/4 x 78 1/4 in.

In 1918, Violet Oakley invited her former student, Edith Emerson, to serve as her apprentice and live with her in Cogslea, her home and studio on Saint George’s Road. The women became life partners and lived there together the rest of their lives.

The Calling of Elisha is a design for a portion of Emerson’s Elijah Window, a stained glass window she was commissioned to create for Keneseth Israel as a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, when the synagogue, now in Elkins Park, was located on Broad Street and Columbia Avenue.

The full-scale “cartoon” for the large window is also part of Woodmere’s collection, a gift from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The scene is a “calling.” The elder prophet Elijah meets the younger Elisha, who is plowing his family’s fields with oxen. Elijah recognizes that their destinies are intertwined as master and protégé. Here Elijah raises his hand to command the gaze of the younger man at right; his red cloak billows, and in the next instant, he will use it to wrap the two of them together for eternity. The narrative is a thinly veiled allegory of the relationship between Emerson and Oakley.

Emerson, a gifted artist and lecturer, served as director of Woodmere from the early 1940s through her retirement in 1979. Much of the preservation of Woodmere’s holdings and of its ephemera of local artists is due to her diligence and commitment to the art and artists of the Philadelphia area.

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