Violet Oakley studied at the Art Students League in New York and after almost a year left for Paris to study with a noted portraitist of the day, Edmund Aman Jean. She also spent a summer studying in England. In 1896 she returned to Philadelphia and enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She did not remain there long, for in 1897 she began her study with Howard Pyle at Drexel Institute. Pyle’s recognition of her sense of color and ability in composition caused him to push her toward stained glass design and work in a larger scale than illustration allowed. The artist herself always felt that Pyle had been one of the two main influences on her work, the other being the Pre Raphaelites. By 1800 she had received her first commission for a stained glass window. From this earlv point on, she never returned full time to illustration but continued to work in large scale.
The first and most important commission of Violet Oakley’s career was to design and execute murals for the Governor’s Reception Room in the new Capitol Building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She was awarded the commission in 1902, and after six months of study in Europe she began work. Her theme was the founding of the colony of Pennsylvania. Through the study of the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, she found beliefs which formed the cornerstone of her life.
Violet Oakley was affiliated with the Christian Science Church, however, and always felt that faith to its tenets had helped her cure herself of se% ere and chronic asthma. She also felt that this belief aided her physically and s iritually in the completion of the large murals she continued to paint througEout her life.
After nearly four years’work, the Capitol murals were unveiled in 1906. The were immediately praised by leading art critics of the day, and Violet Oa Tley received several prestigious awards for them.
Violet Oakley had done some illustration during the Harrisburg commission but, after she became known for these murals, she was moved further into mural and stained glass commissions and away from illustration. In 1911, Edwin Austin Abbey, the artist responsible for the major portion of the Harrisburg murals, died. She was given the balance of the commission, which included the Senate Chamber and the Supreme Court Room. For the next nineteen years she struggled with the nine murals for the Senate Chamber and the sixteen murals for the Supreme Court Room. At the s,me time she completed six illuminated manuscripts, and a book summarizir, her research on the murals, and she undertook the decoration of the Alumnae House at Vassar.