The Whatcom Museum is highlighting five female artists featured in our collection throughout the month of March (Women’s History Month). Follow us on social media and share our posts with your followers, or tell us your favorite women artists. Don’t forget to tag your posts #5WomenArtists.
After studying with the pioneering Bauhaus modernist Lazlo Maholy-Nagy (1895-1946) at Chicago’s Institute of Design in 1945, she was invited to join the faculty. She was the first women to be so recognized. Instead, she chose to follow her husband and relocate to Arkansas.
“I sometimes wonder about the kind of recognition the artist Mary Henry (1913-2009) might have received had she chosen a different path at a critical junction in her career,” says Museum Curator of Art Barbara Matilsky.
After her divorce in 1964, Henry returned to her native Northern California. There, she painted bold, hard-edge, geometrically constructed compositions inspired by her mentor. She was among a small group of women who contributed to the movement known as Op (Optical) Art.
For Henry, geometry was not purely aesthetic. It was pursued to invoke the spiritual in art. She excelled in graphically conjuring distinctive patterns in black and white, as in Linear Series #5, as well as brightly colored shapes that often evoke landscape elements.
In 1968, Henry’s paintings at San Francisco’s Arleigh Gallery were nationally noted in Artforum magazine. She moved to Washington State in 1976 to be near her daughter and lived on Whidbey Island from 1981-2009.
The Whatcom Museum organized the first solo museum exhibition of Mary Henry’s artworks. The exhibition was curated by John Olbrantz in 1988. By the time Henry died at 95, other Pacific Northwest museums had introduced her work to an appreciative public. Her outstanding contribution to abstraction has yet to be nationally acknowledged.