Iowa Women Artists Oral History Project

The Iowa Women Artists Oral History Project records and preserves the voices of women visual artists in Iowa reflecting on their lives and their artwork. In 1998, creator and director Jane Robinette began interviewing Iowa women artists about their experiences and art practices. The interviews cover family and personal history, education, development as an artist, artwork, creative process, influences, and more. The Daily Palette is pleased to present excerpts of the Iowa Women Artists Oral History Project's 2008 updates that Robinette collected from the Project artists who were interviewed nine or ten years ago. Visit the Iowa Women Artists Oral History Project's website.

Lizzie, oil, 24'' x 20'', 2007

Mary Andrews Muller was born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1934. She is the second of four children. Her family moved a lot, living in Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York. From sixth grade through high school, she grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She received her B.A. in art from Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, in 1956. After getting married and having five children, she returned to art and studied with Dimitar Krustev and Robert Brackman. She taught at the Art Center for twenty years, and still teaches painting and drawing in her 

home studio, and continues her own work. She has painted many portraits, including one of former Governor Terry Branstad.

She is currently teaching at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, and is selling note cards printed with her students' artwork. They are available at $10 per package of 5, and all of the profit goes toward their art supplies.

What has changed in the last ten years?
"My artwork has not changed dramatically in the past ten years, with the exception of there being a steady list of portrait commissions. I have to work very hard to find time to paint my landscapes and florals. My teaching takes up a great deal of time. Teaching art lessons at the Iowa Correctional Facility for Women in Mitchellville, which I started in 2004, has turned out to be a huge investment of time. We frequently have exhibits of their work.

The biggest change in my life has been the hiring of an assistant. I have one who does anything I ask her to, including emptying the dishwasher, keeping my financial records, running errands, etc. She, however, is filling a large portion of her employment photographing and matting prison art work, and I am now looking for an answer to freeing her up to do my work. In exchange for their art lessons, I have a student who does my photo filing, one who schedules our models for portrait classes, one who stretches my canvases, builds partitions to block out light, shovels snow—whatever—and students may model for classes to help pay for their tuition.

My Artist's Statement includes changes in approach to my painting, especially the use of red backgrounds for my landscapes and florals. The portraits continue to be an adventure, because each subject is different from all others I have painted.
Attendance at the Art of the Portrait Conference for the Portrait Society of America has been an annual addition to my calendar because of the opportunities and information regarding portraiture presented there, both painting techniques and the business of portraiture.

In addition to many family and business portraits, I have also been privileged to paint portraits for Iowa State University's Agricultural Dept., the Law School at Drake University, Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson for the Governor's office at the end of her administration, and several for Planned Parenthood.

The computer and digital camera have completely changed my approach to my business and my organization of it. They have also facilitated the use of teaching aids for my classes.

Five or six years ago I began having gardens built in my yard for plants and flowers to paint and have available for my students to paint. I added a four-season porch for a new studio. My classes had taken over my space, and I needed to have my own."

What motivates you to paint?
"I have always painted because I enjoy it, but I at one time thought I could have set it all aside for playing bridge, tennis and bowling. But not anymore. I have reached a place where I just have to paint, and I find as much pleasure in watching students grow as in creating my own images."

Mary Muller's website

This page was first displayed
on September 19, 2008

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