Susanna Wright and Deborah Logan

        This painting is an imaginative representation of two remarkable women, Susanna Wright (1697-1784) and Deborah Norris Logan (1761-1839). Deborah Norris Logan knew and admired Susanna Wright, but they were not close in age. However, they had much in common. Both were born into influential Quaker families, an “elite” who had wealth, political power, education and culture. Humphry Marshall as businessman, botanist and scientist was also an outstanding member of that elite. Susanna, by sheer force of her genius and leadership skills, became the unquestioned head of a brilliant family enterprise creating, on the very edge of the frontier, a prosperous business and community. Deborah Norris married the grandson of James Logan, a union of two of the leading Quaker families in Pennsylvania. She was known for her journal writing, poetry and for single-handedly preserving, organizing, copying, and eventually publishing four volumes of correspondence between James Logan and William Penn. She was the first woman accepted for membership into the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 

        On the left, Susanna is weighing a skein of blue silk of her own manufacture while holding a magnifying lens. Deborah, for the moment Susanna’s amanuensis (scribe), is taking down technical information or perhaps writing in her well-known journal. This type of grand manner painting is known as a “conversation piece.” Susanna Wright and Debora Logan are surrounded by objects of art, literature and science. The elaborate stage set functions as both portraiture and symbolism – implying that these women are also idealized personifications of the muses.  Since the Renaissance, artists have been challenged to depict their subjects in such a way that the objects around them reinforce their family prestige while making it clear that their superior intellectual and cultural accomplishments justify their privileged station in society. 

        The elite standing of these women is reinforced by the composition. Despite the implied movement of their gestures, they are actually static figures. Susanna Wright firmly anchors the left side of the painting with a severe verticality that makes clear her forceful and commanding personality. Deborah Norris Logan sits with pen poised, frozen in a moment of intense concentration while listening to her charismatic companion. The blue dress that lavishly cascades over her feet creates a stable pyramid which supports the visual tension and accents the reserve of the elegant writer. At the exact center of the painting, an early 1700s table top serves as a visual hub for objects radiating out in all directions, thus the explosion of iconic signs and symbols is kept in balance between these two remarkable people.