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Our Rich History: Dixie Selden, an accomplished Covington artist, left a legacy of beautiful works

By David E. Schroeder
Special to NKyTribune

Recently I was giving a tour of the art collection at the Kenton County Public Library in Covington and came across Dixie Selden’s Woman Hanging Laundry. The piece is very familiar to me since it was on display in my office for many years.

Woman Hanging Laundry by Dixie Seldes (Kenton County Library photo)

Woman Hanging Laundry by Dixie Selden (Kenton County Library photo)

Dixie Selden is often overlooked in Greater Cincinnati art circles. She is also frequently overshadowed by her mentor and teacher, Frank Duveneck. Selden, however, left behind a legacy of very desirable and beautiful works.

A Covington resident and noted artist, Dixie Selden was born on February 28, 1868 in Ohio to John Roger Selden and Martha Peyton McMillen Selden. In about 1870, the Selden family moved to Covington. They lived on West 4th Street. Her education was received at Miss Virginia Simpson’s Private School in Covington, Miss Clara E. Nourse’s Select School for Girls in Cincinnati, and the Bartholomew English and Classical School for Girls in Cincinnati. These schools provided Selden with a great deal of exposure to fine art.

Selden’s love for art led her to attend the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati in 1885, which later evolved into the Cincinnati Art Academy.

This was a bold choice for a woman at this time in history. Among her teachers at the Academy were Frank Duveneck and Henry Farny, both of Covington. Duveneck grew very fond of her and called her “the little one,” due to her diminutive stature. Trained by two of Covington’s best artists, Selden’s first exhibit was fittingly held at the Covington Art Club in 1890.

 Balloon Ascent by Dixie Selden, Courtesy of the Kenton County Public Library

Balloon Ascent by Dixie Selden, Courtesy of the Kenton County Public Library

Like many of the artists during her era, Selden traveled extensively throughout Europe. Her trips took her to Italy, France, England, Germany and other European nations. Selden also traveled to Mexico, Japan, the Middle East and China. From these travels, she drew great inspiration and always returned with piles of sketches and paintings.
Selden quickly gained a reputation for her fine portraits and lively landscapes. Her works were displayed at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Chicago Art Museum, the New York Art Academy, the Pennsylvania Art Academy and many others.

Among her most celebrated works included: Portrait of Mary M. Emery, Portrait of Dr. Frederick Hicks, The Dana Boys (portrait), Spanish Gypsy, Portrait of Eleanor Simpson Orr, Portrait of Frank Duveneck, Little Parker Girl, Arab Bride, Aunt Patsy, Fishermens’ Wives, Wife of Martinez, A Calm Sea …Red Sails, and many more.

Selden was a member of the Covington Art Club, the Women’s Art Club of Cincinnati, the Southern States Artists Association, the McDowell Society, the National Association of Women Artists and Sculptors, and the National Art Club (New York City). She gained a reputation throughout the United States at a time when women artists were often unnoticed.

Dixie Selden

Dixie Selden

Dixie Selden continued to live in the family home on West 4th Street following her parents’ deaths. In about 1906 she moved to an apartment on Garrard Street in Covington. A few years later, she was living in the Woodford Flats in Covington.

In about 1910, she moved to the Walnut Hills neighborhood of Cincinnati. It was in this home that she died of a heart attack on November 14, 1935. Funeral services were conducted in her home by Reverend Frank Nelson, Rector of Christ Cathedral. She was laid to rest near her parents at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell.

The Cincinnati Art Museum held a Memorial Exhibit of her work from March 5-April 8, 1936.

You can view two of Selden’s work, Woman Hanging Laundry and Balloon Ascent at the Kenton County Public Library in Covington. Her work can also be found at the Cincinnati Art Museum and in many private and public collections throughout Greater Cincinnati and the United States.

David E. Schroeder is Director of the Kenton County Public Library, the author of Life Along the Ohio: A Sesquicentennial History of Ludlow, Kentucky (2014), and coeditor of Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015 (2015).

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