Her career as an artist spanned every decade of the 20th century, and by some accounts, she lived to be nearly 112. 

She was as well known as her contemporaries, such as Edward Hopper, John Sloan and Stuart Davis, while she was alive. Yet today, few people know the name of one of the most prolific and talented female artists of her time, or possibly any time.

Her name is Theresa Bernstein.

At the Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin & Marshall College, the artist who drew on the real lives of women's suffrage, immigrants, World War I, jazz, theater, unemployment and racial discrimination gets the full spotlight on her impressive works.

"Theresa Bernstein was just the opposite of most other artists, who become more famous in death," says Maureen Lane, collections manager and acting curator at Phillips Museum of Art. "She was far better known in life."

Bernstein, who was part of the arts scene in New York City, was born in Krakow, Poland on March 1, 1890, by most accounts. She immigrated to the United States and grew up in Philadelphia. She studied art at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women — now Moore College of Art & Design — graduating in 1911. She then enrolled at the Art Students League in New York City, where she took life and portraiture classes with William Merritt Chase.

"In Philadelphia, then in New York, she was a very prominent artist," says Lane, adding that murals at the U.S. Post Office in Manheim and at the Iris Club in Lancaster were among her local works of art.

It's hard to say why the once-famed artist is now so little known. To see her vast contribution to the art world, that question is even more puzzling. Her works are mostly of figures and people, with a strong emphasis on color, light and shadow. Her subjects seem to come to life, as in jazz musicians performing in smoky nightclubs, opera singers on stage, immigrants arriving at Ellis Island and ladies trying on hats. There is a boundless spirit and sense of vibrancy in the people she paints.

Lane speculates that Bernstein painted in a realistic style, just as abstract artists like Jackson Pollack and Picasso, were creating a stir. She was a woman artist and she was Jewish. She married another well-known artist, William Meyerowitz, also a post-impressionist, and that may have overshadowed her own prominence as an artist.

The exhibit celebrating her century-plus career, “Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art,” aims to give the artist her due and acquaint art-lovers with her mastery of the human condition.

"She may not be a household name, but this exhibit will be a welcome introduction to those who do not know Theresa Bernstein's work," says Lane.

The exhibition was organized by Gail Levin, distinguished professor at Baruch College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. Levin has focused on the "forgotten fame" of Bernstein as an artist, and has made it her mission to shed light on that Bernstein's role as an artistic eyewitness to a century of history. In order to put the exhibit together, Levin spent considerable time tracking the many galleries, museums and private homes where her work has been displayed.

What other artist has painted during the first decade of the 1900s, the 1910s, the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s and beyond? One her her last known works of art was painted in the early 1990s. As she became older, she broke her right hand, and so painted with her left. One story relates that even in old age, she witnessed a touching scene in a department store window at Valentine's Day and asked for her sketchpad.

Her obituary in the New York Times noted that she was believed to be 111 when she died, but a close friend said that she may have been as much as five years older.

"Like a lot of women in that time, age was not willingly revealed," says Lane, adding that her husband once said that his wife was two years older than him.

The full scope of her art — hundreds of paintings — was not known until after Meyerowitz's death in 1981. When Bernstein visited the Museum of the City of New York to discuss a possible exhibition of her husband's work, curators decided to exhibit her work instead.

Painting under the name of T. Bernstein, some thought she was a man. Even Meyerowitz, who met her when he was seeking paintings for a charitable donation, was surprised that T. Bernstein was a woman. ''Oh, I thought you were an older man,'' Mr. Meyerowitz reportedly said to the then 29-year-old Bernstein.

Romance bloomed, they married and the two artists often painted side by side. They had a baby girl named Isadora, who died at two months from pneumonia, a great sorrow for Bernstein and her husband. They were married for 62 years. They were very close to their niece, singer-songwriter Laura Nyro.

Even though many thought Bernstein painted like a man, with her bold brush strokes and compelling composition, there was no denying that her subject matter was seen through the eyes of a woman.

She often painted groups of women: crowds marching for women's rights, immigrants arriving in their new country, ladies out shopping in downtown stores.

Other paintings show poignant images of mothers and children, no doubt a reflection of her own loss. As an artist, she was both powerful and tender, with a stylish palette of colors that blended deep salmon with golden bronze, vibrant orange-red with deep charcoal, emerald green with soft peach.

"Her fame should not be forgotten," says Lane.