A relatively well-known artist in Chicago in the early 20th century, Marie Blanke was a painter of landscapes and still life and a popular teacher of design classes at Lewis Institute. Her father was a Superior Court Judge. She graduated from Lake View High School and then attended the Art Institute of Chicago, having earned a scholarship from the Chicago Women's Club. She studied with artist and illustrator Frederick Richardson, whom she revered and cited as a major influence in her professional career, according to an in-depth profile written many years later by Ben Hecht for the Chicago Daily News. She also studied in London, England, Munich and Worpswede, Germany, and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
She established the art department at the Lewis Institute when the school was founded in 1896, and variously taught design, applied art, freehand drawing and painting until 1943, when she retired following the merger of the Lewis Institute with Armour Institute to form the Illinois Institute of Technology.
In 1915, Blanke was one of the founders of the Cordon Club, dedicated to promoting the arts in Chicago. As a teacher, she was the leader of a group of progressive female students from well-to-do families who shared mutual interest in the arts.
Marie Blanke’s work was featured in dozens of exhibits over the years, including one-person shows, and she won the Rosenwald Prize and Butler Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1920 and 1922. Locally, she exhibited at the Chicago Arts Club, Artists’ Guild of Chicago, Chicago Gallery Association, and the Women’s Salon, among many others. She had a studio at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago, served as Director of the Municipal Art League, and was the President of the Cordon Club in the 1950s. She was a member of the Artists Guild, Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, Secretary of the Chicago Society of Artists, and belonged to many art associations in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest.
Marie led a flamboyant personal life in the Chicago lesbian culture of the early 1900s, and was a lover of Jane Heap, whom she recruited to teach metalwork and design at the Lewis Institute from 1907 to 1910. The two remained lifelong friends, although their relationship cooled by the time Heap became co-editor of The Little Review in 1916.
Blanke's nickname at the Lewis Institute and in personal letters written by Heap was "Jim" or "James."
She painted until the end of her life, which occurerd suddenly in 1961 on a painting trip to Vermont.
Marianne Richter, Union League Club of Chicago Art Collection, Artists' Guild, 1917, Chicago, Illinois
Baggett, Holly A., Editor 2000, Dear Tiny Heart: The Letters of Jane Heap and Florence Reynolds, New York University Press, 195 pp.
Yearbooks, The Lewis Institute, 1898-1937
The Armour Institute
Illinois Institute of Technology
Additional information courtesy of Darcy Evon, Chicago