Mary Tuthill Lindheim:
 Art and Inspiration

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Born in New Jersey and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Mary Tuthill arrived in California in 1928. She studied at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute) with Ralph Stackpole, and then on scholarship at Chouinard Art Institute, where her mentor was Ukrainian Cubist pioneer Alexander Archipenko. Further studies in New York with Isamu Noguchi and José de Creeft followed.

Her promising trajectory as a sculptor (she was invited to show a piece in the 1939 World's Fair in New York and won acclaim for a terra cotta sculpture at the Oakland Art Gallery in 1941) was interrupted when her third husband, Donald Lindheim, died in World War II just before the German armistice. She turned to ceramics to make a living with her art, entering the California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC, now California College of the Arts) in 1946 to study with Antonio Prieto.

In 1946, Lindheim was already a fully formed sculptor who brought to CCAC her conviction that the medium used didn't determine worth and that hierarchical divisions, especially the primacy that painting and sculpture enjoyed, were artificial and could be a deterrent to creativity. Throughout her career she worked to break down these distinctions.

Just a year into her studies with Prieto, Lindheim was exhibiting with some of the finest studio potters in America. Over the next two and a half decades, she was a vibrant participant and leader in three influential artists' organizations—Association of San Francisco Potters, San Francisco Women Artists, and Designer-Craftsmen of California. With colleague Edith Heath and others, she worked tirelessly to foster dialogue among museums, critics, and artists in the burgeoning art world of the Bay Area, breaking down barriers between "art" and "craft."

From 1947 until her death, she lived in Marin County, principally Sausalito and Bolinas. During her most prolific years, 1950-1969, she figured prominently in the discussion carried out in publications, panels, television programs, and newspapers, all the while exhibiting in important ceramics and studio craft exhibitions in America and abroad. While president of the Association of San Francisco Potters (1952 to 1953), she helped open the halls and walls of the M.H. deYoung Memorial Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Art (now SFMOMA) to annual studio craft exhibits. She worked in clay steadily, also exploring mosaic and wall sculpture, experimenting with vessel forms, and creating architectural screens.

A great beauty who had appeared in a 1933 film with Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford before rejecting Hollywood as "a ghastly rat race," Lindheim was often photographed and much admired. She lived unconventionally by her own strict code of values, which included activism on behalf of political, social, and art organizations and causes. She taught at the progressive California Labor School and was a member of the CIO union. As art writer and curator DeWitt Cheng observed, "Lindheim said, 'The creative spirit and the compassionate spirit are not things apart but kindred responses to life.' Art and social justice were, as the essayists point out, the artist's twin passions."

Married three times by 1945, when Donald Lindheim died, Mary Lindheim never remarried. She had a few serious live-in relationships, usually with artists with whom she collaborated on creative projects. With Ed Spolin, a Sausalito jeweler and carpenter, she designed installations and helped form policy for the young Sausalito Art Fair. With industrial designer Martin Metal, she worked on educational museum exhibits.

She sold her work steadily throughout her career, but lived frugally and took care to keep most of her best pieces. Following her death of natural causes at age 92, a large body of sculpture and ceramics remained in her estate. Artworks by Mary Tuthill Lindheim reside in the permanent collections of Arizona State University Art Museum and Ceramics Center, Bolinas Museum, Crocker Art Museum, Mills College Art Museum, Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art (Utah State University), and the Oakland Museum of California.



In 1994, West Marin sculptor Joyce Clements, curator of the Mary Lindheim retrospective at the Bolinas Museum, wrote the following:

      "Working with Mary Lindheim on this exhibition has brought me a great deal:
      "It has enhanced my awareness and respect for the delicate balances which must be developed (and fiercely maintained) by a person whose being is seamlessly integrated with creativity.
      "It has reminded me of the passionate and relentless demands an artist must make on her physical, psychic and spiritual resources to be true to herself and her work.
      "It has fortified my view that art itself is timeless and boundary-less.
      "It has reassured me that commitment based on positive and sure values manifests a path that is individually and socially valuable and vital.
      "For Mary Lindheim, art is not an occupation, it is an identity. Her work is an affirmation; she speaks from an inner voice that rejoices in the natural world and honors human potential."

--Joyce Clements, 1994. Reproduced with permission.

Copyright 2006-2012 Abby Wasserman. All rights reserved.