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Mary Bonner: Impressions of a Printmaker

Mary Bonner: Impressions of a Printmaker

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Mary Bonner: Impressions of a Printmaker

168 pages
1 heure
Jan 31, 2018


Mary Bonner: Impressions of a Printmaker is the definitive account of the life of an iconic Texas artist known for her delicate etchings and prints of the places and people that make South Texas unique. Mary Bonner begins with the artist’s early years in San Antonio and continues through her awakening as an artist at the Woodstock colony in upstate New York in summer 1922 to her years in France under the instruction of master printmaker Édouard Henri Léon. In Paris, Bonner began entering her work in juried exhibitions, and these early Paris prints were met with some acclaim. She came into her own when she began experimenting with a more innovative and modern style, exemplified by Les cowboys, a three-part frieze inspired by memories of her family’s ranch in Texas.

After several years of dedicated study in Paris, Bonner began splitting her time between San Antonio and Paris. By 1928 she had begun to take on the causes of art and conservation in San Antonio, devoting less time to her own work. She spent the last years of her life at the family residence in San Antonio and died in 1935 at age forty-eight. Bonner’s legacy, both as an accomplished artist and as a steadfast advocate for the arts, lives on, especially in San Antonio.

Mary Bonner is copublished with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Villa Finale. The book will accompany a retrospective of Bonner’s work at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio. This edition includes a new preface, an introduction by McNay curator Lyle Williams, and an afterword by Jane Lewis, director of Villa Finale.
Jan 31, 2018

À propos de l'auteur

Mary Carolyn Hollers George, a native-born San Antonian, is a cultural historian whose work has largely focused on the architectural history of Texas and Mexico. She is the author of The Architectural Legacy of Alfred Giles and Mary Bonner: Impressions of a Printmaker, both published by Trinity University Press, and Alfred Giles: An English Architect in Texas and Mexico and O’Neil Ford, Architect. Her late husband, architect W. Eugene George, was her collaborator on many projects as photographer, designer, and wise counsel.

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Mary Bonner - Mary Carolyn Hollers George

In appreciation of my mentor

Marian B. Davis, Ph.D.


Trinity University Press gratefully acknowledges the following for their support of the original edition of the book:

Mrs. Donald Alexander

Mr. and Mrs. Reagan Houston

Mrs. Belton Kleberg Johnson

Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Kincaid Jr.

Walter Nold Mathis

Trinity University Press, Villa Finale, and the author thank the following for making the new edition possible:

Charles C. Butt

Howard and Betty Halff Fund

Laura and Don B. McDonald Jr.

Patricia G. Steves

The Summerlee Foundation

Villa Finale: Museum and Gardens


Preface to the New Edition

Introduction: Mary Bonner in Context, by Lyle W. Williams

The Early Years

The House on East Agarita

Life and Times in the Bonner Household

Woodstock and Beyond

Paris in the Twenties

An Artist among Artists

Bonner at Forty

Always a Texan


List of Plates

Institutional Collections

Sources Consulted

Afterword, by Jane Lewis



Walter Nold Mathis was the generating force in the publication of Mary Bonner: Impressions of a Printmaker, having long been a devotee of Bonner’s art. To launch the book in 1982, Mathis hosted a lawn party at Villa Finale, his home in King William. Mary Bonner’s niece, Evelyn Gladney Witherspoon of New Orleans, the ageless belle of every ball, was the honored guest and link with the past. Beginning in October 1926 she had spent a year in Europe, often as her aunt’s guest in Paris. She witnessed the arrival of Charles Lindbergh after his first solo nonstop transatlantic flight on May 21, 1927, and, as a young artist, recorded her views of the contemporary art world.

By what stroke of luck did Mathis select the author for the book? Affinity—our shared concern for the preservation of historic structures. Because of his role in the revitalization of San Antonio’s King William neighborhood, Mathis was regarded as a one-man revolving fund. He refurbished structures to the point where their possibilities were at least revealed, and he usually found appreciative buyers. At one time or another he owned fifteen houses in the area, including Villa Finale.

Many of those houses are included in my first book, a survey of the life and work of Texas architect Alfred Giles that had grown out of my thesis for a graduate degree in history. Thanks to the persistence of Patricia Galt Steves, Alfred Giles: An English Architect in Texas and Mexico appeared in 1972, published by Trinity University Press.

The impact of my second book, Mary Bonner: Impressions of a Printmaker, on the appreciation of Bonner’s oeuvre is incalculable. The expressive power of her work commands the attention of collectors in Texas and beyond. During her Paris years in the 1920s, Bonner experimented with a variety of media, but today she is primarily remembered for her prints, especially her romanticized accounts of summers spent on the family ranch in Uvalde County. Confirmation of her store of images of ranch life emerged years later in etchings done in her Paris studio, including sympathetic depictions of the cowboy as a working hand in functional attire, with proper animals to discipline. One journalist announced that the border of rattlesnakes and bats, game roosters, and horned frogs was one of the absolutely new motifs in design since the Italian Renaissance. Bonner’s works were selected for the avant-garde Salon d’Automne from 1924 through 1930.

Prior to the year Bonner’s niece Evelyn Gladney spent in Europe, she visited the Bonners in San Antonio when Mary returned home for a visit in spring 1926. The family residence, a hilltop property at 145 East Agarita Avenue on the northwest corner of McCullough Avenue, is a blending of traditional and modern. Reminiscent of a Florentine villa set apart from the world, it is a pioneering work in the development of reinforced concrete and an early work by Atlee B. Ayres. Mary and Evelyn’s favorite spot was the roof deck where, cuddled under blankets, they viewed the stars and the skyline in all directions.

From 1989 to 2002 the Bonner house was operated as the Bonner Garden bed-and-breakfast by Noel and Jan Stenoin. When my husband, Eugene George, became the inaugural holder of an endowed professorship in historic preservation at the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1997, the Bonner Garden was a home away from home for us both. And the roof deck was our favorite spot. In the past 100 years and counting, what tales those walls could tell.

In February 2016 Villa Finale organized the exhibition Texas Meets Paris: Mary Bonner’s French Works to generate support for the 2018 republication of Mary Bonner: Impressions of a Printmaker and the companion show at the McNay Art Museum—a double cause for celebration by the benevolent spirits of Marion Koogler McNay and Mary Bonner, who became great friends following the artist’s return to San Antonio in 1928. Bonner captured the expressiveness of her friend’s pets in several etchings and in evocations of the newly completed McNay/Atkinson landmark residence, Sunset Hills, designed by Atlee B. and Robert Ayres.

How delighted Mathis would be by Trinity University Press’s republication of the book and the McNay’s exhibition of Bonner’s work. A reprise of the garden party at Villa Finale—now the first National Trust Historic Site in Texas—is planned, and Mathis’s benevolent spirit will surely reign supreme.


Lyle W. Williams

Texas’s printmaking tradition dates back to the days of the Republic. Most of the prints made in this era were of a commercial nature—mastheads for newspapers, topographic views, currency, and images used primarily to illustrate advertisements. Perhaps the best known and most sophisticated prints by a nineteenth-century artist working in Texas were those of German immigrant Hermann Lungkwitz, who sent his drawings of the growing towns of Fredericksburg and San Antonio home to Dresden to be made into lithographs. So, although printmaking technology was available in Texas in the 1840s and 1850s, no artists—and no presses—were producing what could be called original fine art prints. It was not until the summer of 1926, when Mary Bonner installed an etching press in the basement of her family home on East Agarita Avenue, that San Antonio could claim to have its first fine art printmaker.

Some interesting insights into Bonner’s development as one of Texas’s important early printmakers arise from a comparison of her life and career with that of Mary Cassatt (1844–1926), arguably the most famous of all women printmakers.¹ Both artists were born into privilege, and both must have had independent natures. Despite being women in the highly paternalistic nineteenth century, they overcame significant hurdles to become artists. For Cassatt, that meant leaving the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts because the faculty didn’t allow women to draw from nude models and, after her move to Paris, overcoming French chauvinism about both her nationality and her gender. One is reminded of Edgar Degas’s comment as he admired one of her drawings: I don’t admit that a woman draws that well!

Bonner faced similar hurdles. In the summer of 1922, when she visited the Woodstock art colony in upstate New York, she asked the man in charge of the lithography shop about learning the process.² He said she was not strong enough to handle the material and implements required and encouraged her to try something light and easy, like etching.³ Bonner took the advice in good humor, but it is easy to see the sexism inherent in the comment.⁴ Like Cassatt, Bonner felt that the opportunities afforded her as a woman—particularly a woman in Texas, where the state university would not have an art program until 1938—were slim. She followed in the footsteps of Cassatt to study art in France.

Paris was a beacon for many struggling American artists who felt they could not get the training they yearned for in the states, where they faced career-stopping obstacles because of their gender or, in the case of African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937), their skin color. In Paris, gender and race simply mattered less, especially in artistic circles. Fluent in French, Bonner found a home in the city and a teacher, Edouard-Henri Léon, an etcher popular with American expatriates.

Léon was an academically trained printmaker whose work is part of the Etching Revival tradition that began in France around 1850. As the name suggests, the movement sought to make etching a popular printmaking medium after the dominance of lithography through most of the nineteenth century. Stylistically, the artists of the Etching Revival, whose great hero was Rembrandt van Rijn, were realists. Their prints of Parisian cityscapes, recognizable monuments like Notre Dame, pastoral landscapes, and portraits were popular with collectors in Europe and the United States well into the 1920s. By the time Bonner began studying with Léon, however, the movement had fallen out of

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