The collection contains three paintings and thirteen sketchbooks created by Mari Lyons, Bard ’57; it was donated by her husband Nick Lyons after her death in 2016. Mari Sharon Blumenau Lyons (1935-2016) graduated in 1957 from Bard College, where Louis Schanker and Stefan Hirsch were her main art professors. Throughout her long career she painted hundreds of canvases in a wide variety of genres: still lifes, abstractions, figures, self portraits, landscapes, studio interiors, and cityscapes. The majority of her work was oil paintings, but she did occasionally do watercolors or acrylics. Her sketchbooks were done in a wide variety of mediums, and reflected her life. The sketches were of Paris; New York City; Woodstock, New York; the street views outside her Upper West Side City studio; and Montana, where her husband went to fly fish.
1 document box, 1 oversized box, and 3 paintings
Scope and Content:
Series 1 consists of three framed paintings, each oil on canvas. The two landscapes and one flower painting now hang in the Hoffman fourth floor study room of Stevenson Library at Bard. According to her husband Nick, Mari took drawing to be the essential core of all painting and drew constantly. She left nearly a hundred sketchbooks. The 13 sketchbooks that make up Series 2 of this collection are representative; the sketches include landscapes, nude studies, fishing scenes, and urban street scenes. The sketches are primarily from New York City; Woodstock, New York; and Montana. Mari’s husband published two books about fly fishing that were illustrated by Mari. The only two identified landscapes in the sketchbooks are Corella Lake and the Restigouche River in Canada, both fishing sites that Nick and Mari visited. There is at least one sketch of Nick. Two sketchbooks include drawings after works in museums and anatomical studies. The drawings are done in pen and ink, wash, watercolor, felt-tip pen, and pencil.
Biographical / Historical:
The art critic Jed Perl said, “To have known Mari and to know Mari’s paintings is to know that life can be lived to the full.” Mari Lyons (1935-2016) graduated in 1957 from Bard College, where Louis Schanker and Stefan Hirsch were her main art professors. She painted for most of her life, starting at an early age. By age 13 she was taking Saturday drawing classes at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. At 15, Lyons took a summer painting class at Mills College taught by Max Beckmann. He remained an influential force in her work. The following summer Lyons studied with Fletcher Martin, a representational artist who had been an artist/correspondent for Life Magazine, who was very encouraging. Lyons also spent six or seven months in Paris where she studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere, at L'Atelier Fernand Leger, and at the Atelier 17 of painter/printmaker Stanley William Hayter. She received an MFA in painting from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan where she studied with the abstract landscape artist Fred Mitchell (1923-2013).
Mari met her husband Nick at Bard in 1956, when she was a senior. He was a freshman at Bard, although he had a degree from the Wharton School. They married in September 1957. In 1958, Mari and Nick moved to Ann Arbor, where Nick was finishing a PhD. Although the couple had four children in four and a half years, Mari managed to have a one woman show. After moving to New York City in 1961, Nick taught at Hunter College and started a small publishing firm. Mari first kept a studio in the corner of her bedroom, then for forty years in a third floor studio opposite Zabar’s, on the corner of 80th Street and Broadway. Her last studio was adjacent to her home in Woodstock.
Mari always said that she was an “everyday painter.” She painted every day and she painted her everyday life. She made a hundred or so cityscapes, large and small, from her third floor studio facing Broadway. She would accompany Nick and his friend, Herb Wellington, when they went fly fishing in Montana. The watercolors and drawings created by Mari during these outings were used to illustrate the angling books written by her husband, including Spring Creek, A Flyfisher’s World, Full Creel: A Nick Lyons Reader, and My Secret Fishing Life. After she moved to Woodstock, she painted the landscapes outside her window and the flowers from her garden.
Her first one-person exhibition was at the Polaris Gallery in Woodstock, when she was a senior at Bard, and thereafter she had one-person shows at the Forsythe Gallery in Ann Arbor, the First Street Gallery in New York, the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, and Rider University. She exhibited widely in group exhibitions. Her work is in the permanent collections of several museums, among them The Museum of the City of New York, The Climate Central Foundation, The New York State Museum, Mills College, Montana State University Library, Montana Museum of Art and Culture, Rider University, Reynolds College, and The DeGolyer Library. She is represented in more than 130 private collections.
In 2019 the Stevenson Library at Bard College held an exhibit of her works titled “Intimate Visions: The Life in Art of Mari Lyons (l935-2016).” While working with Betsy Cawley, Helene Tieger and Debra Klein to select works for the exhibit, Mari’s husband Nick donated this collection to the Bard College Archives.
This collection is available for viewing in the Special Collections Reading Room of the Stevenson Library, Bard College. The paintings may be viewed on the walls of the Hoffman fourth floor study room of Stevenson Library during normal open hours.