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 Florence Miller Pierce  (1918 - 2007)

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Lived/Active: District Of Columbia/New Mexico/California / Mexico      Known for: non ob imagery painting, resin relief sculpture

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Florence M. Miller is primarily known as Florence Miller Pierce

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Florence Miller Pierce
An example of work by Florence M. Miller
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Florence Miller Pierce was known for thought provoking abstract, non-objective, monochromatic painting rooted in her dedication to Zen Buddhism and meditation. Many of her works give the appearance of floating off the wall, something she achieved with richly colored and textured geometric shapes---polygons, triangles, and rectangles---encased in divided layers of transparent resin over colors that had been softened through mixing with with milled fiberglass. 

Working with resin to create textures occurred for her in 1969 when she 51 years old and was in her New Mexico studio making foam sculpture.  A chance spill of resin landed on a piece of aluminum foil, and when it hardened, it 'shimmered', and she was fascinated.  Learning that she could create an interesting effect with resin adhering to mirrored tiles, "she would continue with the new body of work for nearly 35 years." (Regan)

In 2005, the Tucson Museum of Art held a solo exhibition of work by Florence Miller Pierce, then age 87, and featured were 33 pieces of resin-on-mirror paintings described as "jeweled bits of minimalism, delicately colored and sensuously textured.  Sometimes, the thick layers of resin are as pearly and smooth as flesh.  Elsewhere, where Pierce has manipulated the resin while it's drying; the layers are dimpled, folded like cloth, or even crumpled like paper.  And their forms echo the sculptures that Pierce abandoned when she had her eureka moment.  Shaped into squares, arches and triangles, they veer into 3-D, hanging out slightly from the walls and casting shadows in the light." (Regan)

She was born with the name Florence Miller in Washington DC, and by age 18, had a serious dedication to art and spiritualism.  Her parents ran a private boarding school.   From childhood, she was interested in art, and nurtured by an art teacher, May Ashton, she visited museums.  Miller studied in DC at the Phillips Gallery and the Corcoran School of Art. 

Having become aware that Taos, New Mexico was an art center from visiting her grandparents, who lived there, she persuaded her parents to allow her to go alone to Taos in 1936 for a summer to study at the Studio School with Emil Bisttram, who not only was a highly accredited teacher but who also had a dedication to meditation and spiritualism.  She returned to Taos in the winter of 1937, and the next year, she returned, at Bisttram's invitation, to take part in the forming of the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG).  These founders were nine artists dedicated to abstract art expression, grounded in creative art imagination and the transporting of painting beyond objective recognition.  In 1938, they banded together to share ideas and organized mutual exhibition venues that made the public aware of fnon-objective and abstract art.  She was the youngest member and outlived all the other members of the organization, which held together for several years until World War II sidetracked their ability to remain a cohesive entity. 

Four decades later, it was written that her austere, abstract works of art reflecting color, beauty and natural forms, were indeed a synthesis of the teachings of Emil Bisttram who inspired his students with the words "Idea, Shape, Color and Form."  Of her work, Pierce reflected that she had been "trying to do the purest work I knokw how.  What comes to mind is the Zen word that means original mind, about emptying mind and space." (Regan)

Through Bisttram, Florence Miller met Horace Towner Pierce, an art student and one of the founders of TPG, and they married in 1938.  He was described as looking like the pipe-smoking movie star, Fred MacMurray.  The couple lived in New York and California, where in 1939, she and her husband, along with other members of the Transcendental Painting Group, exhibited at the Golden Gate International Exposition.  By 1950, they had settled in Albuquerque.  They had two children, one whom died several months after birth. 

Horace Pierce, age 41, died suddenly in 1958, when Florence was 39.  She  remained in Albuquerque, continuing her commitment to geometric abstract and non-objective painting and relief sculpture of layered dried pigmented resin.  Some viewers regard her artwork as "distillations of the New Mexico landscape" with their "stark geometry and earthy color palette" (Regan) that suggests adobe.

However, she was not an artist who did a lot of interacting with other artists as she worked pretty much in isolation and viewed herself as a 'silent artist'.  She became a strong admirer of Agnes Martin, the reclusive painter from Taos who was her peer and whose minimalist paintings brought record-breaking prices in New York auction houses.  In 2004, Pierce, Martin and the potter, Maria Martinez, were honored in a group show, In Pursuit of Perfection, in Santa Fe at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Florence Pierce died at age 90 at her home in Albuquerque on October 25, 2007


Written by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

Sources:

Margaret Regan, "Reflective, Like Jewels", Tucson Weekly, October 13, 2005,
http://www.tucsonweekly.com/gbase/Arts/Content?oid=74136

Jennifer Riley, "Florence Pierce", The Brooklyn Rail, May 2006, http://www.brooklynrail.org/2006/05/artseen/florence-pierce

Obituary, Art in America, December 2007

Albuquerque Tribune Online: Interview with the artist
http://web.abqtrib.com/archives/diversions01/071301_diversions_pierce.shtml

Peter Hastings Falk (editor), Who Was Who in American Art

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Larry W. Greenly, November 2001:

Florence Pierce (1918- ) was born in Washington, D.C.  In 1935, she began studies at the Duncan Phillips Collection Studio, Washington, D.C., but moved to Taos, New Mexico in 1936 to study at Emil Bisttram's School of Art.

There she met her husband, Horace Towner Pierce, who was one of the founders of the New Mexico Transcendentalist Painting Group, a group committed to abstract art.  She was their youngest member (1938-1941).

Pierce was influenced by the atmosphere and space of New Mexico, and developed a style featuring non-objective floating planes of color.  Her luminous wall sculptures called "monochromes" by the artist are constructed of Plexiglas foundations that support multiple layers of poured and manipulated resins.

Currently living in Albuquerque, Pierce has regularly exhibited throughout New Mexico, including a 1990-91 show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe.  Her work was also included in the Worcester Museums 1991 exhibition, "American Abstract Art of the 30s and 40s, the Second Wave."

Two of her monochromes, Untitled 541 (8 Jul 01) and Untitled 542 (9 Jul 01), were purchased by the City of Albuquerque and are displayed in the Highland Senior Center, Albuquerque.

Sources include:

1. Jules, Nancy G., ed. North American Women Artists of the 20th Century. Garland Publishing, Inc., NY: 1995.

2. City of Albuquerque Public Art Program.

3. Personal interview with the artist


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Florence Miller is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Taos Pre 1940

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