The 2017 Dallas Art Fair and one of its sponsors, Neiman Marcus, are honoring Mary Vernon as she celebrates 50 years of teaching at Southern Methodist University, Meadows School of the Arts. The downtown Dallas Neiman Marcus placed about 25 of Mary’s stunning paintings in its windows on March 23, 2017, that will remain on display for a month. Few artists teach well; even fewer studio artists and teachers are able to teach art history. Extraordinarily, Mary has excelled at both.
Mary Vernon has taught art history, painting, drawing and color theory at SMU Meadows for five decades. We’ve experienced her in this role, and her reputation is more than justified. She provided superb training in how to be an artist.
Prior to this, she was a wildly popular art history professor. For ten straight years, the students at SMU voted her their favorite professor at the university. This deserved acclaim was possible because among her courses were two semesters of art history with three sections of 100 students each semester. As the late playwright Jim McLure former student, said in the 1990s, , “Who, with any taste, was not in love with Mary Vernon?”
Mary was a fantastic lecturer, unfailingly entertaining and stimulating. Through the magic of her insightful lectures, she awakened an interest in art in thousands of undergraduates, most of whom had never taken an art history course before. A multiplier effect must be considered when evaluating her impact, because many of her art students became arts educators or artists, or—and this was important—collectors who would continue to enrich the visual arts scene for decades. Although she was extremely successful with art history, she decided to concentrate upon the studio art department and quickly thereafter became chair of that department.
Mary Vernon’s Impact as an Artist on the Art Scene in Dallas and Beyond
Her works are widely held in corporate and private collections. They are featured in The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, and her works held by the U.S. Department of State have been exhibited internationally. One of her large paintings, Botany, 2014, oil and graphite on Yupo, 60 x 96 inches, was just acquired for the Permanent Collection of the new U.S. Embassy, N’Djamena, Chad. She is a Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, and her national service to the arts has included membership on the Board of Directors of the National Council of Arts Administrators, the Wishbone™ Educational Advisory Board, Advisory Board of the Texas Biennial and membership on the Board of Trustees of the Dallas Museum of Art. She has served as the U.S. State Department Visiting Artist in Chile (2003), and has shown her work in France, Hungary and Kazakhstan. She is frequently asked to speak to cultural groups whose members enjoy reading, thinking, exploring, and discussing ideas about the arts. She is represented by Valley House Gallery of Dallas, Texas.
Annually, the SMU Meadows School of the Arts awards the Mary Vernon Painting Prize in her honor. Nicolas Gonzalez (B.A. Art and B.A. Art History ’17) was the first recipient of the Mary Vernon Painting Prize. The prize, established in 2015 by donors in honor of Vernon’s long, successful career as both an artist and SMU professor, provides money each spring for the best body of work by an undergraduate.
Here’s what Frederick Turner says in his essay for September’s upcoming Grace Museum exhibit of Ms. Vernon’s art:
“Her pawings or draintings are like the very pieces of the world they represent: not the way a photograph is like them, but the way our real amazing jelly eyes grab them and try to make sense of them. They look as if they’d been there forever, with their quirky textures and odd bits of brightness and splotches and drips and smears and all. These lives are not still, but dancing with light and color—she is one of the great colorists of the world, but it’s all done with such insouciant mastery that one doesn’t feel got at or advertised to. She can be as glum and drab sometimes as any odd dim afternoon with some impending revelation or sudden retrospective insight in it.
…the really good artists around now, of whom Vernon is one, take their virtuosity as a gift, and give it away as a gift to our powers of sight and our capacity for joy. They don’t take it entirely seriously—it’s like dancing with a god, or wrestling with an angel—but they respect it too. They’re on such good terms with it that they’ll josh it a bit so it doesn’t put on airs. Mary’s outrageous sense of humor is everywhere in her work, but it’s not lightweight—it’s as serious as a Shakespeare comedy. And what Mary means by “drawing” is, I think, also more generally the virtuosic power of revelation, the sweet shock of the wabi-sabi of the world, its messy amazingness, its cockeyed calm. She’s a nature artist, one could say, but for her the human, technology and all, is still nature naturing, inventing odd aspects by which it sees itself anew.”
In addition to the Neiman Marcus exhibit, Ms. Vernon has two upcoming solo art exhibits:
Co-author of this post – Lin Medlin: Lin Medlin (Frederick Linton Medlin) is an attorney and a painter who studied art history under Mary Vernon in the early 70s and studio art more recently. He has a B.F.A. with Highest Honors from SMU and a J.D. from Yale Law School. His most recent paintings can be seen on his website.
Meet another important female artist and philanthropist, Kaleta A. Doolin.