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 Mary Monrad (Ufer) Frederiksen  (1869 - 1947)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico/New York/Illinois / Denmark      Known for: portrait, landscape and figure painting

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Mary Monrad Ufer is primarily known as Mary Monrad (Ufer) Frederiksen

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Mary Frederiksen Ufer became a painter, art teacher and lecturer who lived in Chicago, Taos and New York City.  Like so many women artists of her era, who married artists, she put her own talents on the 'back burner' to support her spouse, Walter Ufer, who apparently did not encourage her painting.  As a result, only a few of her paintings are extant, and apparently she never sold her work in a public venue.  She did exhibit occasionally at the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Academy of Design, Pen and Brush Club in New York and the Museum of New Mexico.  She was also active with the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors

She studied art in Paris, France at the Academie Julian where she was the pupil of Benjamin Constant, Jean Paul Laurens, Luc Merson, and James Whistler. 

In 1906, living in Chicago, she married Walter Ufer, who had just joined the advertising department of Armour & Co.  The couple had met the previous year at the J. Francis Smith Academy, a Chicago division of the Academy Julian, where he was a teacher.  Ufer later described the circumstance:  "Word went around the Smith School that a girl just recently returned from Paris after studying at the Academy de Julian and finally with Whistler in Paris was painting in the day classes using the model with instruction.  Some one told her that if she wanted to meet a crank she should join the Night Classes.  She joined them."  He went on to describe her as looking "charming, even delicately beautiful . . . She was well schooled and finely educated." (Porter 326)

However, their initial meeting seemed a portent of their future life together.  They had a big disagreement over her conservative politics;  he lost his temper, and they did not speak for nearly four months.   Subsequently reconciled and married, they lived in Chicago for several years.  Walter then went to Munich to study, and she joined him for two years.  In 1913, she went to Copenhagen to live with her mother for a year while her husband returned to Chicago to secure a home for them and establish himself professionally.  He had terrible frustrations, expressed much anger, and their relationship suffered as he seemed "angry at everybody."  However, she continued to support him with many suggestions for making money that did not involve a return to illustration, and through her encouragement that he paint portraits of prominent Chicagoans, he met Mayor Carter Harrison who, in turn, arranged for Walter Ufer to paint in Taos. 

Mary rejoined her husband in Chicago in 1914, and to bolster their finances, she gave lectures at the Art Institute on Taos Artists, something she continued to do for many years.  In the future, after they had settled in Taos, she traveled on the lecture circuit including to Plainfield, New Jersey; Springfield, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.  In these lectures, she mentioned other Taos artist wives who had forsaken their talents for their husbands including Mrs. Ernest (Mary) Blumenschein and Mrs. Eanger (Virginia) Couse.   Herbert Sorenson, representative from the State Department of Education, described the lecture he heard Mary Ufer give as "one of the finest that I have heard on the University campus." (Porter 328)

The Ufers settled in Taos where he became one of the founding artists of that colony and she also continued to paint.  There they suffered much financial and emotional strain due to Walter Ufer's alcoholism, increasingly poor health, unpaid debts, and low market demand for his painting.  More and more she spent time away, returning to Chicago and traveling to give lectures.  Her husband was placed in a sanitarium for alcoholism, and staying in Chicago to be away from him, she oversaw his care.

Her life after his death on May 31, 1936, was very difficult.  A few months after her husband died, Mary Frederiksen Ufer went to work as a WPA artist for $77.00 per month.  However, she lost that source of income because by January 1937, she had moved to New York City where she became a resident of the Hotel Albert.  This change meant she could not be on the WPA payroll for New Mexico, and according to a government official, Dorothy J. Ashton, she was also disqualified from any participation because of her age: "It is necessary to remove Mrs. Ufer from the project because she is over 65 years of age and there is a rule from Washington which states that any person over 65 is eligible for Old Age Assistance under the Social Security Act." (Porter, 243)

Angry, bitter and exhausted by nursing her husband through his last years and having inherited nothing from his estate, she was terribly upset by her treatment in New Mexico of being deprived of any financial relief.  To Taos artist Emil Bisttram, who had communicated that bad news to her, she wrote a note that she clarified as not being personal against him but directed to the bureaucracy that was using him as its voice: "I have for the 20 years I have lived in Taos served Taos, New Mexico and the country with all the leisure and money I had at my disposal, served without pay; and now when all I need is the slip granting me relief status to be allowed to continue my work wherever I happen to be, with no expense to Your state . . . you refuse me again.  You would have had a suicide on your hands, and the world should have known why, if it was not that the mess Walter has left has to be put into some kind of order, a debt to the world and the people in general which as to be paid.  The kind of living to which low level I have been forced down is not worth struggling for." (Porter 243)

Eventually Mary Frederiksen Ufer secured work through the New York WPA, and continued living at the Hotel Albert until her death in 1947.  She also got some money from Social Security.  In spite of the unhappiness of her relationship with her husband, she continued to promote his career including donations of work to the Speed Museum.


Sources:
Dean Porter; Teresa Hayes Ebie and Suzan Campbell, Taos Artists and Their Patrons, 1898-1950
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Written by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier


** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Mary Ufer is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Taos Pre 1940

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