A native of Canton, Ohio, Mary Elizabeth Fife earned her B.A. from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1923 and did postgraduate work at Cooper Union in New York from 1925-27. She studied at the prestigious Academie Russe in Paris (1928) and later with Kenneth Hayes Miller at the Art Students League in New York (1930-35), where she met and married (in 1933) the artist Edward Laning (1906-1981), several years her junior. Laning, along with Miller, Raphael Soyer, Reginald Marsh and Isabel Bishop, are the best known members of the so-called “Fourteenth Street School,” a talented group of realist painters whose studios were situated in the Union Square-Fourteenth Street area of New York City and whose subject matter was the people and places of that neighborhood. Although Fife, like Bishop, often portrayed the women of New York, Fife's women are more sensual, approaching the more overt sexuality favored by Reginald Marsh (with whom she worked on mural commissions in New York City).
Few works by Fife have been located, although she was widely exhibited (Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Art Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, to name a few), well-connected within the New York City art world (she served as a board member of the National Association of Women Artists and Pen & Brush Inc.), active in teaching (Kansas City Art Institute, 1940-45; Birch-Wathem School in New York City, 1961-70) and the winner of several significant art awards (National Academy of Design figure prize, 1967; Pen & Brush Prize, 1969; National Association of Women Artists Lillian Cotton award, 1966).
Although Fife is listed in some references as having been born in 1904, she claimed in certain government documents to have been born in 1900. She is listed, however, as 32 years of age in the 1930 U.S. Census, making 1898 her most likely birth year. She died in 1990.
Falk, Peter Hastings, ed., Who Was Who in American Art (Sound View Press, 1999);
Falk, Peter Hastings, ed., The Annual & Biennial Exhibition Record of the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1918-1989 (Sound View Press, 1991);
census and other government records available online.
Submitted by Arthur D. Hittner
Apple Ridge Fine Arts