Fern Isabel Kuns Coppedge was born in July of 1888. She was raised on her family’s farm near Decatur, Illinois with five sisters and a brother. At thirteen, she moved to California with an older sister and had her first experiences with art. There she visited art galleries for the first time and became interested in painting when her sister began studying watercolor. From this early age, she was inspired by the glistening sunlight reflected on snow and sea, and by the marvelous creative possibilities.
After returning to the Midwest, Coppedge studied at McPherson College and then went on to the University of Kansas. From 1908-1910, she continued her studies by attending the Art Institute of Chicago. She also studied with Vincent DuMond and William Merritt Chase in New York at the Arts Student League. In 1917 after having moved to Pennsylvania, Coppedge was accepted to the annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. At PAFA, Coppedge studied with Daniel Garber and Henry Snell and became a member of the Philadelphia Ten. She was a member of this influential group from 1922-1935.
As a landscape artist, Fern Coppedge painted the villages and farms of Bucks County, PA often blanketed with snow, as well as harbor scenes from Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she spent her summers. Coppedge’s early work, influenced by American impressionism, was marked by shimmering colors and attention to the effects of changing light upon a landscape. Coppedge was known to brave the elements in her bearskin coat and paint with frozen fingers, creating some of her most admired Bucks County winter scenes. She worked directly from nature and would tie her canvas to a tree, during winter storms. She often sketched and painted from the back seat of her car. She was regarded as “something of a local character”, as noted in a description of a 1933 exhibition review by Elizabeth Arnold. She spent much of her life in Pennsylvania where she was associated with the New Hope School of American Impressionism, the Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and what became known as the Pennsylvania Impressionism movement.
During her artistic career she received numerous awards including the Shillard Medal in Philadelphia, a Gold Medal from the Exposition of Women’s Achievements, another Gold Medal from the Plastics Club of Philadelphia, and the Kansas City H.O. Dean Prize for Landscape. She was a member of several prominent art organizations including the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Art Students League of New York, and the Philadelphia Ten.
Fern Coppedge died at her home in New Hope on April 12, 1951. Her paintings hang in many private collections and museums, including the James A. Michener Art Museum.