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Master of Still Life: Mary Ann Currier

Episode #101 | First Aired: January 15, 2008

“Mary Ann is good in art.”

At age 5, as the note from her kindergarten report card attests, Mary Ann Currier was already showing talent as an artist. Three-quarters of a century later, she is widely acclaimed as an outstanding American realist painter. Though she didn’t have her first solo show until she was 50, today her breathtakingly realistic still lifes are coveted by top private and institutional collectors. Her work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, and the Jacksonville Art Museum as well as the collections of ExxonMobil, American Express, Cargill Inc., and Goldman Sachs.

Currier working

Born and raised in Louisville, Currier studied in Chicago and then returned to Louisville to teach at the Louisville School of Art. In the 1960s and ’70s, she experimented with a variety of styles, forms, and materials, but by the mid-1970s, she was focusing on still-life painting.

Her talent as a painter is one aspect of Currier’s story. Equally important is the influence she has had on numerous other Kentucky artists as an exceptional teacher of art. She taught at the Louisville School of Art from 1962 until 1982. Though now closed, the school was, at the time, a center of Louisville’s creative community, and Currier’s students included many young artists who went on to highly successful careers, among them sculptors Ed Hamilton and Dave Caudill and assemblage artist Jacque Parsley.

In a one-hour documentary airing as part of the Kentucky Muse series, several interviews at Currier’s home and studio in Louisville are included. She recalls her early interest in visual art, attending art school in Chicago, and returning to Louisville to work—first as a commercial artist for Stewart’s department store and eventually as a teacher at the Louisville School of Art. The program visits a gallery exhibit of her work in New York City and a 2005 retrospective at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum. Currier’s husband, Lionel; her daughters, Nancy and Anne Currier and Frances Lewis; and former students are also interviewed.

“Master of Still Life” is also a video exhibit of works spanning Currier’s career—from early illustrations and silkscreens to nudes and portraits to the large-scale oil pastel and charcoal compositions of fruit, onions, roses, glasses, and other ordinary objects that have made her a star among contemporary still life painters. Seeing a work in progress offers insight into her meticulous and contemplative process.

Selected Works by Mary Ann Currier

“Mary Ann Currier paints the world both around and within her, illuminating the majesty and mystery of the everyday with her concentrated, poetic vision,” wrote Alice Gray Stites, curator of the retrospective exhibit of Currier’s work at the Speed Art Museum in 2005.

Currier is regarded as an important contemporary American realist painter. As narrative from the Speed Museum notes, “While Currier’s fruits and vegetables, dishes, and textiles demonstrate the influence of the Old Master Dutch and Spanish still-life painters, they are clearly of this moment. They illustrate the continued vitality of realism in contemporary art, emphasizing the visual poetry in the artist’s large-scale still-life paintings.”

This online gallery reflects a progression of Currier’s works, including examples of stripe paintings and black-and-white florals from the 1970s; color pastels and her “postcard series” from the 1980s; and her more recent works depicting glass, fruit, and roses.