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Mary Tannahill

Mary Harvey Tannahill, The SIsters, 1920, Greenville County Museum of Art

The Sisters, 1920, Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina

Mary Harvey Tannahill (January 11, 1863 – June 21, 1951) was an American painter, printmaker, embroiderer and batik maker. A native of North Carolina, she spent much of her career in New York and New England.

Life and career

Tannahill was born on the family plantation, "Kinderhook", in Warren County, North Carolina, the daughter of Robert and Sallie Jones Sims Tannahill; her father had served in the Confederate Army, and was a businessman as well, with connections in Petersburg, Virginia.[1] The family moved to New York City in 1865. There, her father worked as a cotton factor, later serving for two years (1880–82) as president of the New York Cotton Exchange. He died in 1883, leaving behind eight children, of whom Mary was the eldest.[2] The family home was at 44 Est 65th Street; they also kept a house in Englewood, New Jersey, and a summer home on Lake Mahopac, and frequently visited both Petersburg, Virginia and Warrenton, North Carolina, where other family members lived.[1][2] The family was close-knit; few of the children married, and none had surviving offspring.[2]

Tannahill and her siblings were educated privately, and she early displayed an interest in art that was fostered and encouraged by her parents. She studied with various teachers, including Kenyon Cox, John Henry Twachtman, Henry Siddons Mowbray,[3] J. Alden Weir, and Arthur Wesley Dow.[1] Her first publicly displayed works were watercolors painted on ivory and shown at the Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters, which she later joined.[1]

Prior to World War I Tannahill went to Europe to continue her study of art. In Germany she was assumed to be English, and suffered indignities in public such as being pushed off of sidewalks; consequently she decided to return to the United States.[2] She later studied with Blanche Lazzell and was thereafter associated with the artist’s colony at Provincetown, Massachusetts; she was eventually to spend over thirty summers at Provincetown, wintering in New York.[1]

Tannahill, described as having been tall, blond, and striking in appearance in her youth,[2] never married. She was a Christian Scientist who favored suffrage for women.[4] She spent the last years of her life in Warrenton. She was buried in Petersburg, at Blandford Cemetery.[1][5]


Tannahill began her career painting watercolor-on-ivory miniatures, a medium in which she met with some success. Continuing in the same vein would have proved financially rewarding, but the artist was more interested in expanding her horizons, experimenting with tempera, oils, woodblock printing, watercolor, batik, and even embroidery.[1][2] Her long association with the Provincetown Art Association began in 1916, in which year she showed work in their second annual exhibition. She continued showing with them almost yearly until 1938, displaying woodblock prints at various exhibits. She soon became a close friend of William and Marguerite Zorach and Robert Henri as well, through them becoming introduced to the work of the Art Students League of New York.[2] 1917 also saw the first show of the Society of Independent Artists, in which two of her pieces were displayed; she went on to exhibit more of her work with the Society in following years.[2][6] Over a forty-year career, her work was displayed at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and at shows by the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors.[6] Pieces also appeared in exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Knoedler Galleries, the American Society of Miniature Painters, and the American and New York Water Color Clubs.[1] She was an early member of the National Association of Women Painters and sculptors, and was active in a variety of North Carolina artists' organizations as well, including the North Carolina Professional Artists' Club, of which she eventually served as vice-president.[2]

Stylistically, Tannahill's work derived some of its influence from folk art, which was combined with modernism. She evinced interest in continued artistic growth throughout her career, absorbing influences such as Cubism and Precisionism in some of her later works.[7] A Raleigh newspaper critic, writing in the News and Observer in 1937, called her an "unusual painter of familiar objects in the modern manner",[2] and she was sometimes described as an "artist's artist"; she herself said that "her work was considered modern but not overly so".[7]

Tannahill's paintings and fabrics can be found in:

Newark Museum of Art
Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, South Carolina
Peachtree Gallery
and in many private collections.[8]

A collection of her work is on display in Warrenton, at the Green-Polk-McAuslan House, which is today part of the Warrenton Historic District.[9] Since her death, Tannahill's work has continued to be included in exhibitions, such as Eight Southern Women at the Greeneville County Museum of Art in 1986[2] and Nine from North Carolina at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 1989.[7][10]


"Tannahill, Mary Harvey". ncpedia.org. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
Eight Southern Women: Blanche Lazzell, Josephine Marien Crawford, Nell Choate Jones, Clara Weaver Parrish, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Helen M. Turner, Mary Harvey Tannahill, Anne Goldthwaite. Greenville County Museum of Art. 1986.
Petteys, Chris, Dictionary of Women Artists: An international dictionary of women artists born before 1900, G.K. Hall & Co., Boston, 1985
John William Leonard (1914). Woman's Who's who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914–1915. American Commonwealth Company. pp. 801–.
Mary Tannahill at Find a Grave
Heller, Jules and Nancy G, Heller, ed., North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary, Garland Reference Library of the Humanities (Vol. 1219), Garland Publishing Company, New York & London, 1995
Nine from North Carolina: An Exhibition of Women Artists. The Committee. 1989.
"SIRIS: Smithsonian Institution Research Information System". si.edu. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
2012 Homes Tour
""Nine from North Carolina" makes Fayetteville visit". Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved 11 April 2015.


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