Emma Eilers was born in September 12, 1870 in New York, becoming the 5th of 6 siblings.
The daughter of Anton and Elizabeth Eilers, she was born in the Bronx. Her parents moved her and her siblings to Denver Colorado in 1876, landing in a house that her older brother Karl described as ‘poorly built’ and ‘with many rodents’. In 1877 the family moved to Salt Lake City, following their father’s growing career as a builder and operator of smelters. In 1879, the family moved back to Denver, as Anton and his partner, Gustav Billing, built a large smelter in the booming town of Leadville, Colorado.
Unlike her sister Else who graduated as the 1883 Valedictorian from Denver High School or her brother Karl who graduated from the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, Emma graduated from the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn June 12, 1889, following in the footsteps of her sisters Luise and Anna, both a few years older. The Packer school is argued to be, by the school itself, the pre-eminent school for girls during the latter half of the 19th century. Emma became a lifelong supporter of Packer and, upon her death, still had alumni supporter flyers she hadn’t had a chance to distribute.
In 1889, according to Ask Art, following her graduation from high school, she co-founded the Women’s Art Club of New York, which later became the National Association of Women Artists (NAWA). The name changed beginning in 1913, when it became the Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. From 1916 to 1941, it was the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, and from 1941 forward, the entity has had the name of National Association of Women Artists. However, the primary purposes remained the same, which are to encourage and promote the creativity of women in the visual arts and to promote public awareness of these artists.
Based on the limited landscapes she painted, one might believe that Emma never left Long Island. However, in 1889 she traveled to Europe. In 1892 she traveled to Germany to see her sister Anna get married. In 1924 she went back to Europe with her sister Else and her brother Karl’s family, and cousins.
At some point during the 1890s, perhaps multiple times, Emma studied with the Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art, which was the first important summer art school in America devoted to plein air painting. The school existed from 1892 to 1901. By 1900, her work was good enough that she was loaning one or more pieces for a permanent exhibit at the Musee Pedagogique.
Once a month, she would hold an open house at the 751 St. Marks house in Brooklyn to showcase her paintings. As far as we know, she never sold any, preferring to give them away. She appeared to like still life’s, portraits and landscape paintings, playing with both realism and impressionism. Most interestingly, there is a noticeable lack of men in her paintings, city life, or landscape images outside of Long Island. The lack of Western Landscapes is somewhat surprising because her father and brother spent extensive time in the west and her great uncle was Henry Farny, known for his sympathetic portrayals of the Indians in the West.
Emma was the last of her six siblings to die, passing away in 1951 at the Sea Cliff long island estate home.