Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Mabel Dwight "Self-Portrait"  1932 Smithsonian American Art Museum

Mabel Dwight (1875-1955) led an unusual life, perhaps the most interesting aspect being that she did not really hit her artistic stride till she was well over fifty years old!  This deaf artist was born in Cincinnati and grew up in San Francisco where she studied art at the Hopkins School of Art. In 1903 she moved to New York City, settling in the Greenwich Village section of the city and apparently participating actively in that artistic and intellectual milieu. In 1906 she married artist Eugene Higgins, known for his paintings and etchings, and spent the next eleven years promoting her husband's career and becoming more and more  involved in political and social causes. The couple separated in 1917. The following year she became a secretary for Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's newly established Studio Club, an organization for promoting modern American art that has since evolved into the Whitney Museum of American Art She also participated in the club's life drawing sessions, exhibitions, and other community activities. In 1921 she took the name of Dwight, for reasons unknown. (Her birth name was Mabel Jacque Williamson.)

While visiting Paris in the mid-1920s Dwight was introduced to what became her medium of choice, lithography. It was through this form of printmaking that she was best able to express her artistic vision. She had almost immediate success with her lithographs depicting satirical scenes of everyday life. Her eye was compassionate, despite her keen sense of the comedic she had a deep understanding of the cause of underlying social pressures on human impulses and actions.

During the depression Dwight worked for the WPA, producing a series of twenty-five lithographs in the social realist vein. Her work attracted the attention of collectors and curators and she was able to support herself despite failing health which necessarily took its toll on her artistic output. In the last years of her life she lived in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Her work is found in major collections, both private and public, throughout the United States including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Smithsonian.


Dianne Morrow said...

Beautiful! You can just feel her love and mastery of lithography! Nothing quite so luscious as drawing on a stone. Love this one.

Mary Walsh said...

A beautiful painting and an inspiring story.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Thank you both! I had not known all these details of her life till writing up her blog post and am in awe myself!

Alexandra Tyng said...

Thank you for this story! It's interesting to read how an artist is drawn to a particular medium.