Mary Motz Wills (1875-1961)
Mary Motz Wills, wildflower artist, was born on June 6, 1875, in Wyetheville, Virginia daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Motz. The Motz’s soon moved to Waco, Texas, where Mary and her younger sister, Elsie, grew up. Mary influenced Elsie’s artistic development, as Elsie herself became a well-known miniaturist. Mary acquired her art education at the Art Students League in New York, where she studied with William Merritt Chase, Frank Vincent DuMond, and John Henry Twachtmann, and may have also attended the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Arts and art schools in Boston and Philadelphia.
Following her formal art education she married Col. Will Dunbar Wills of the United States Army. While with him on his tours of South and Central America, Wills first began to paint watercolors of exotic wildflowers. Several years later, following her husband’s early death in Maryland, Wills moved to Georgia and then to Abilene, Texas, where she lived for the remainder of her life. There she began painting detailed depictions of Texas wildflowers.
An accredited botanist, Ellen Dorothy Schulz Quillin, was the first to acknowledge the significance of Wills’ work. In 1935 Quillin arranged an exhibition of Wills’ paintings at the Witte Museum with the annual flower show. The Witte Museum again displayed Wills’ floral portraits in 1943 in the Big Bend area. In 1955 the Witte Museum showed another collection of her paintings. In addition to these exhibitions, Wills’ floral portraits were shown at the Montgomery Museum in Georgia; the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas, Texas; the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina; and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
On November 14, 1961, Mary Motz Wills died. She is best remembered for her 257 paintings published in Roadside Flowers of Texas in 1961 shortly before her death. The wildflower paintings are especially significant because many were endangered species, and some of them have now completely disappeared from the Texas landscape.
Bibliography: Cecilia Steinfeldt, Art for History’s Sake: The Texas Collection of the Witte Museum (Austin: Texas State Historical Association for the Witte Museum of the San Antonio Museum Association, 1993).
Written and submitted by Edward P. Bentley, researcher from Lansing, Michigan