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 Mary Marguerite Dill Henry  (1913 - 2011)

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Lived/Active: California/Washington      Known for: geometric abstract, psychedelic painting

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Mary M. (Henry) Dill is primarily known as Mary Marguerite Dill Henry

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Ad Code: 3
Mary Marguerite Dill
from Auction House Records.
Still Life with Green Apples and Handled Vase
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Mary Henry, born Mary M. Dill, was an American artist whose work, most notably large oil paintings and acrylics but also prints, was characterized by geometric abstraction. Many of her pieces are diptychs and some are triptychs. Some of her work resembles, variously, op art, constructivism, or even psychedelic art.

Born in Sonoma, California, Mary Henry studied 1933–34 at the California College of the Arts (then called the California School of Arts and Crafts) in Oakland, California, where her teachers included modernists Ethel Abeel, Glen Wessels, and Marie Togni. She won a prize in a printmaking contest sponsored by Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa), and was invited there to teach applied art in their home economics department. Her "childhood sweetheart" Wilbur Henry "reluctantly" agreed to marry her and accompany her to Iowa, where he completed a master's degree in entomology while she taught.

During World War II, back in California while her husband served in the military, Henry studied lithography at San Francisco School of Fine Arts and worked drafting engineering drawings at Hewlett-Packard;[5] this drafting experience would later allow her to draw uncommonly straight lines freehand in executing her paintings.

In 1939 in Berkeley, California, Henry attended a lecture by Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy. This led to her studying with him at the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1945, leaving her daughter Suzanne in California with Henry's mother. She studied drawing, architectural drawing, photography, texture, and sculpture; her work was so good as to result in a job offer—the first that the institute had ever made to a woman—but she decided upon her husband's discharge from the military that she had to follow him to Arkansas where he had accepted a job with the U.S. Public Health Service, fighting malaria.

Henry traveled to Europe in 1962; she was divorced in 1964, which marks the beginning of her career as a mature artist. She lived in Mendocino, California, running a bed-and-breakfast and painting. Matthew Kangas writes, "It was as if, after 20 years of fulfilling conventional expectations as a wife, worker, and mother, she was released into a constant stream of creative production, capturing the exuberant hedonism of Northern California, while reined in by the consummate formal control she had assimilated as an American Constructivist in Chicago." Her 1968 show at Arleigh Gallery in San Francisco resulted in a write-up in Artforum.

In 1976, Henry traveled to Alaska before settling in Washington, where she has lived since 1981 on Whidbey Island.  Also in 1976, at Centrum in Port Townsend, Washington, she attended a master painter's class with Jack Tworkov, then in his seventies. Tworkov remarked the affinity between their work; according to Kangas, the "linear precision and complexity" of Tworkov's late work owes a great deal to Henry; he, in turn, greatly encouraged her in her work.

Henry still made art until about 2003, but she ceased painting in her early 90s when she could no longer stretch her own canvases.

Henry died after suffering a stroke.

Comments in The Seattle Times obituary from Curators at the time of her death, July 2009:
Bryan Ohno, art dealer, Seattle:
On my second Mary Henry solo exhibition at Bryan Ohno Gallery in 2003, I had my iMac computer playing music with the iTunes Visualizer turned on. Anyone who uses iTunes knows the wonderful psychedelic colors and patterns it plays to the musical notes. Mary saw it for the first time, and with a smile, said to me, "Bryan, this reminds me of the '60s back when I was living in the Bay Area. I may look like a nice old lady now, but back in those days, I enjoyed my fair share of you know what I mean." With happy eyes, I saw her travel instantly back to those days. It was good to see that glimpse of happiness from her as she was constantly burdened with bad, painful knees and cold hands during the winter.

Matthew Kangas, curator and critic:
Mary Henry is increasingly being recognized as the senior Modernist painter in the Pacific Northwest. Recent museum and gallery exhibitions have honored the accomplishments of this (then) 93-year-old artist, who, until recently, maintained an extraordinarily active studio life creating the hard-edge and geometric multi-panel paintings and drawings upon which her acclaim is based. Through her studies with Constructivist master László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) and by her own achievements, Henry is an important link to the European Modern movements. Her life has been a balancing act as a painter, printmaker, designer, teacher, wife and mother. (From Kangas' 2007 essay Mary Henry: Selected Paintings.)

Billy Howard, owner, Howard House, Seattle
Before our 2007 exhibition at Howard House, I visited Mary at her home and studio in Freeland to pick the works for the show. After lunch, talking about László Moholy-Nagy the Constructivist master she studied with, we went out to the studio to look through the paintings together. I was continually struck by the boldness of her geometries and color that were in such sharp contrast to the bucolic setting of her home and studio. Some paintings we were looking at were made in the '60s. Mary's eyes lit up when seeing the work — like seeing old friends. And like her paintings, Mary was very bold and determined and this was not diminished in her last years. I feel that we've lost a great connection to the Constructivist and the Bauhaus, but her legacy will live on in her magnificent paintings.

Courtney Gilbert, curator of visual arts, Sun Valley (Idaho) Center for the Arts
I first saw one of Mary's paintings at PDX Contemporary Art where it was perched high up on a shelf in a storage area. I kind of fell in love with her painting right then — I think her compositions are always so well structured and she used color in beautiful and unexpected ways. But I'm also interested in how her career is part of the larger story of modernism in America — from her early realist work for the WPA to her transition to Op Art and her embrace of hard-edged geometry. I think she always stayed true to the utopian beginnings of geometric abstraction, seeing it as the most fundamental artistic form — an art with universal meaning made for everyone.

Brian Wallace, curator, Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, State University of New York, New Paltz
When I asked Mary whether she'd consider designing a wall mural for the Bellevue Arts Museum, she looked me right in the eye and said that she'd do it if I promised her that the museum would paint the mural out when the show was over. Mary felt she could take on such a risky project only if she knew that she could throw herself into it fully, without concerning herself with the possibility that failure would blunt her own sense of daring or diminish her reputation. I somewhat reluctantly gave her my word; a scant three months, "No Limits" was completed; three months after that, I put the first roller of museum white onto those walls myself.

Obituary, The Seattle Times, July 5, 2009

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Mary Marguerite Dill was born in Sonoma, CA on March 19, 1913.  During the 1930s Dill lived in Berkeley while studying at the California College of Arts & Crafts, and was later a pupil of Laszio Moholy-Nagy.  She worked for the Federal Art Project in Oakland until her marriage to Wilbur Henry in 1940.  For three years she lived in Ames while teaching at Iowa State College.  She later worked in San Francisco before moving to Freeland, Washington in the 1970s and remained there until her death in Coupeville on May 20, 2011. 

Exhibited:  Oakland Art Gallery, 1936-39; Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939; San Francisco Art Ass’n, 1941, 1949; Tacoma Museum, 1994. 

Works held:  Portland (OR) Museum; Seattle Museum; Kaiser Hospital (Oakland).
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Interview with the artist or his/her family.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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