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Winslow Homer, "Shepherdess and Sheep."

If you go

What: “Imagining American Girlhood”

Where: Hunter Museum of American Art, 10 Bluff View

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays; noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays through Oct. 18

Admission: $15 adults, $7.50 ages 3-17, free for active-duty military personnel and families through Labor Day

For more information: www.huntermuseum.org

As a new hire at the Hunter Museum of American Art last fall, Miranda Hofelt was familiarizing herself with the museum's collection when she noticed a theme running through some of its artwork.

"I was struck by how dramatically images of girls in the 19th century differed from those of girls in the 20th century. The more I investigated the history of girlhood in America, the more fascinating the topic became, which convinced me it warranted an exhibition," says Hofelt, the Hunter's associate curator.

Hofelt has pulled 10 pieces from the museum's collection that illustrate the theme "Imagining American Girlhood." The exhibit, on view through Oct. 18, is located at the entrance to the permanent collection galleries, according to Hannah Legg, Hunter director of communications.

The artwork includes paintings and photographs by American artists that focus on girlhood. Together, they illustrate how artists helped shape perceptions about girlhood and growing up. As Hofelt points out, while girlhood may seem a natural part of growing up, the concept has changed over time.

"It's not so much a progression of changes as the various ways in which girlhood has been perceived at different times in American history," she explains, "and the role artists have played in reinforcing or transforming those perceptions of what it meant to be young, female and American."

The exhibit highlights three time periods:

Special museum admission today

As part of Community Day at the Hunter, admission is free today to view the permanent collection, which includes “Imagining American Girlhood.” Admission to see the temporary exhibit on Monet and American Impressionism is discounted to $10 adults and $5 children.

' From the colonial period through 18th century: Americans held an outlook diametrically opposed to how society thinks about youth today. They considered children to be miniature adults who, because they were born with original sin, were inherently corrupt and needed to be trained to become "good" adults.

' The emergence of the middle class in the 19th cen tury: Ideas changed dramatically. People of means, who lived primarily in cities, began to see childhood and girlhood specifically as an idyllic phase of the life distinct from adulthood. This new concept drew on the ideas of the European Enlightenment and American Transcendentalists. Girls were viewed as pure, uncorrupted souls whose closeness to nature rendered them near to heaven. Artists of the 19th century created sentimental images of girls that offered adults a haven from the effects of modern life while catering to their nostalgia for a time perceived as carefree.

' Late 20th century: Artists were moving away from using girlhood solely as a means for adults to project their anxieties, hopes and yearnings. Artists often challenged notions of girlhood as an Edenic state, choosing to explore the complexities of an individual's experience as a girl.

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

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Winslow Homer's 1879 work, "Girl on a Swing."
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