“The art schools and studios of Paris are doubtless the most desirable of any land. There is such an inexhaustible field of study in the historic art around them, the picturesque Italian models are so interesting, and there is such a host of kindred spirits on the same highway that the very atmosphere is thoroughly saturated with artistic inspiration,” —Irene Detwiler
Looking back at the countless fine portraits, picturesque landscapes, and decorative china sets, the artistic talent of Emma Detwiler and her daughters Irene, Margaret, and Frances is unmistakable. The Detwiler women have left behind works in a variety of media, all ornately crafted in the Victorian style. The masterpieces of these talented ladies provide a window into the past and serve as beautiful reminders of the Hillsboro “Painting Ladies”.
Emma Sayler Detwiler was born in Hillsboro in 1848. After her primary education, she graduated from Hillsboro’s only college for women, the Hillsborough Female College, then set out for the Cincinnati Art Institution. Upon graduating, Emma married Leander Detwiler, the owner of a bookstore in town, where Emma and Leander enjoyed teaching others to write Spencerian script, a formal type of calligraphy. Emma’s knack for oil painting earned her a name among the town’s residents, who would sit for portraits.
Leander and Emma had three daughters, each displaying the artistic talent of their mother. Irene, Margaret and Frances, whom the family called Fannie, were all interested in painting.
Irene, the eldest daughter, took a special interest in watercolors. She went on to study in Cincinnati, Chicago, and Paris, adventures she would later recount in detailed letters to friends. She later taught at the Hillsborough Female College, the same school her mother Emma attended as a young artist.
Of the sisters, only Margaret married, moving to Missouri with her husband Charles Stafford. Irene and Fannie never married, preferring instead to devote themselves to their art. Their family home was often filled with the sisters’ latest masterpieces.
All of the Detwiler ladies lived into their 80s, creating beautiful art for years. Their countless works have been preserved through time and are a true testament of their legacy in Highland County.