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 Mary Ray Gehr  (1910 - 1997)

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Lived/Active: Illinois      Known for: children's book illustration, printmaking

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Biography from Selker Fine Art:
Chicago artist and illustrator Mary Gehr was locally and nationally renowned for her positive influence on her community, on the art world, and in the sphere of children’s illustrating.

Gehr was born in Chicago around 1910.  She attended Highland Park High School and Smith College before leaving school to pursue a love of dancing.  She toured as an ingénue with the Chicago Opera Ballet for four years, spent a summer with the Schubert Light Opera Company, and worked with the Page-Stone Ballet Company for three years.  Upon the death of her father, Gehr quit dance and theater and returned to Chicago to work in advertising.  To aid her in her job, she began attending school at the Art Institute of Chicago.  She realized immediately that she wanted to pursue art and children’s illustration as a full-time career.  Painting studies with Paul Weighardt and lithography studies with Max Kahn were extremely important to her development as an artist.

Over her long and fruitful career, Gehr had more than fifty one-woman shows, most in the Midwest, San Francisco area, and Greece.  She traveled for years at a time, gathering materials and techniques that deeply influenced her art.  During the time between the late forties and early seventies, she illustrated more than two dozen books, most published in Chicago.

Gehr passed away in November 1997.  She was 87 years old.  She left behind extensive private and public collections of her art and children’s illustrations.  She also left many of her personal papers, sketches, and artwork to the Newberry Library in Chicago.

For Gehr, much of her public and private life were one and the same.  She was well known for many of the activities that she engaged in when she was not painting, drawing, or illustrating.  The most important of these was probably the gardens that she designed and maintained at her home.

Gehr won several awards and much recognition for her garden at her home in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago, including Chicago’s Citywide Garden Contest for two years.  For a number of years, her home and garden were on many area gardening association tours.  She was featured in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times on multiple occasions, often sharing her opinions on good gardening books and practice, design, garden shows, and her own garden, which she thought of as a work in progress.

A lively social life also straddled her public and private worlds.  Gehr and her husband, studio owner Bert Ray, entertained a great deal and were friends with many well known Chicagoans.  The two were often pictured in the society pages, with popular studio owners, politicians, and even the former Chicago mayor, Richard M. Daley.  Dozens of letters in the Newberry collection illustrate how popular and sought after invitations to parties thrown by the Ray’s were.

The Dominican University website

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