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 Jessie Hull Mayer  (1910 - 2009)

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Lived/Active: Indiana/Connecticut      Known for: landscape and floral still-life, muralist-genre

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Ad Code: 4
Jessie Hull Mayer
from Auction House Records.
Rocky shore with sailboat
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known for her murals as a WPA artist during the Depression era, Jessie Mayer was also a fine-art painter, active both in Indiana and her birth state of Connecticut.  She was married to Henrik Mayer (1908-1972), whom she had met when she was a student at the Yale School of Fine Arts.  Both were much influenced by Eugene Savage, who was on the Yale faculty and was a highly regarded muralist.

The couple married in 1932 shortly after Jessie received her Yale Fine Arts Degree, having attended the school on a Weir Scholarship.  They began their married life in New York City where Henrik got a commission of designing and decorating the Cosmopolitan Club.  Jessie assisted him, and according to the artist, they spent a happy honeymoon with Jessie helping her husband "mix the paints and match the colors for his work in tempera that covered the walls of an octagonal room." (105)

In 1934, he took a position as Assistant Director at the John Herron Institute, and the couple moved to Indianapolis.  In the next several years, she, working from a home studio, completed federal commissions for four murals including a large one for Culver Military Academy.  Titled The Arrival of the Mail in Culver, it depicted cadets reading letters while mailmen sorted through their bags.  Side panels showed lake activities near the town.  Another mural, Indiana Farming Scene in late Autumn, was installed in the post office in Jasper in 1939, and Winter Landscape was painted for the post office in Canton, Missouri.  The fourth mural was The Corn School, which showed county-fair activity in the Amish town of Lagrange and was installed in 1941.  Because of the beginning of World War II, funding for the Federal Art Project of the WPA was withdrawn, which made The Corn School one of the last murals of that program in Indiana.  During this period, she won many awards for her WPA work, something she discovered was resented by some of her male-artist counterparts.

During the war years, Jessie Mayer worked at the John Herron Art Museum as Curator, which meant research and lecture activities as well as arranging exhibitions.  In her studio, she did painting, and searching for work that differed from her husband in subject and medium, she did many floral still lifes and marine scenes.  She liked to do works that showed beauty and not emotional complexity.

In 1946, the Mayers moved from Indianapolis to Essex, Connecticut where Henrik became Director of the Hartford Art School of the Wadsworth Atheaneum.  It was a move that both appreciated because it brought them back to the culture of the East Coast and closer to their families.  She had been born in New Haven and he in Nashua, New Hampshire. 

She took jobs as a commercial artist, freelancing for department stores and drawing fashion designs for shoes and men's clothing.  In 1952, they had a daughter, when Jessie was forty-two, and this responsibility took away from time she could devote to her art career.  When the child was young, Jessie was criticized for finding baby sitters for her, but she later explained that it was a necessity because she needed to work those first years to help family finances.

Living into her nineties and still exhibiting her work, Jessie Hull Mayer reflected on her life including her marriage to Henrik Mayer.  She said: "Art was a great bond between us.  I couldn't have married a man who couldn't talk to me about art." (110)

During her career, Mayer had extensive exhibition activity including the Indianapolis Junior League, the John Herron Art Museum and the L.S. Galleries in Indianapolis, and on the East Coast at Monhegan, Maine; Old Lyme and Essex, Connecticut and Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City.

Jessie Hull Mayer passed on, July 1, 2009.

Judith Vale Newton and Carole Ann Weiss, Skirting the Issue, pp. 102-110
Information about her death date courtesy of her daughter, Julie Hull Mayer-Tschanz.

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