Mary Tuthill Lindheim:
 Art and Inspiration

Mary Tuthill Lindheim:
Art and Inspiration
Preview the Book
About Mary Lindheim
  Study Guide
Photo Gallery
The Editor and Authors


preview of the book

    C O N T E N T S

7 Introduction
Julie M. Muñiz

E S S A Y S 10 Mary Tuthill Lindheim: A Life (not yet) Examined
Maria Porges
22 Mary Lindheim's Role in Bay Area Ceramics
Abby Wasserman
32 A Passion for Social Justice
Aram Fischer and Abby Wasserman

P L A T E S 31 Sculpture
65 Ceramics
117 Wall Sculpture, Paintings, Jewelry

147 Illustrated Chronology
Abby Wasserman
165 Writing by Mary Lindheim
182 Mary Lindheim's Credo

183 Appendices
188 Selected Bibliography
190 Index
192 Acknowledgments
Photography Credits
195 About the Authors

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.

Below are excerpts from the book's lead essay by Maria Porges and from a section devoted to Mary Lindheim's writing.

From "Mary Tuthill Lindheim: A Life (not yet) Examined," by Maria Porges


. . . .

Writers (and readers) are accustomed to the idea of early, middle, and late phases in an artist's development determining the shape of that individual's career. In most cases, our understanding of a work is at least partly determined by the point at which it was made. But what happens when the artist, for a combination of reasons, does not date her pieces? Lindheim saw her production as a seamless whole, rather than as a progression of segments or a series of developments. Though some of her works can be dated by her focus at particular points in her life, Lindheim rarely recorded that information. In addition, though she made her living as an artist and potter, she had difficulty parting with—or even putting a price on—a great many of her best pieces. She exhibited and received prizes for her work, and was respected for her contribution as both a leader and a teacher, but she sold reluctantly. Up until now, only a small number of examples of her sculpture and ceramics were included in private and institutional collections. The vast majority remained in the possession of family, friends, and her estate.

. . . .


Lindheim's life story is as compellingly panoramic as a Wallace Stegner novel. Over a period of more than nine decades, she saw the world go from being a place where a girl could ride on horseback from Santa Fe to Tucson, as she did at age 10, to the space travel/cell phone/internet age she left behind at her death in 2004. She experienced both great love and great loss, suffered through life-threatening illnesses, and endured a family saga as dark and painful as a Greek tragedy. Yet Lindheim persevered, fueled by what appears to have been a combination of deeply held principles and a strong belief in the importance of expressing her creativity through whatever forms or material seemed best. Surviving notes and studio records show that she was skilled, methodical, and deliberate—but never calculating, since it was part of her credo to "never make money the goal." She wanted her works to convey eternal concerns: life, love, death, beauty. At the same time, the distinctive qualities of mid-century modern embodied in her pieces show her awareness of the ideas that dominated avant-garde art and culture in the post-war era.

These two forces suggest contradictory aims—to create an air of timelessness through the adoption of classical forms and subjects, but to do so through works that were clearly of the moment. For Lindheim, however, these two poles represented her world. An intense involvement with politics and social justice existed side by side with a profound reverence for nature, a gift for solitude, and a love of everything beautiful. These forces led to the creation of works of art and fine craft that we can now appreciate as the inventions of an extraordinary individual who followed both her heart and her principles.

In 1943, Mary Tuthill Lindheim was living with her husband, Don, in San Francisco. Here is her recollection of their Telegraph Hill apartment: "Butcher Shop, San Francisco, 1943."

Telegraph Hill was a fascinating place to live. It was an almost entirely Italian neighborhood with a sprinkling of artists and writers. From the top the hill dropped precipitously to the busy waterfront docks and the bay full of ships. Westward, Union Street plunged steeply down into the teeming section of Italian shops, bursting with produce and open gunny sacks of polenta, rice and beans, and pungent bakeries, and huge handsome Italian women sitting in chairs inside and out. Just beyond was Chinatown, a place of color, fascination, mystery, and our favorite food.

Our apartment, a former butcher shop, had its own dramas. One night I awakened, for no particular reason, to see a large grey rat crossing the moonlit tile floor and disappearing. I woke Don, and we proceeded to cram everything handy into the drain hole near the front window. We'd not paid much attention to this hole before—just something laughable that went along with living in a butcher shop.

"When this was built as a butcher shop," Don was saying as he added an old sweater into the hole and weighted everything with a pile of heavy books, "the idea must have been to hose off the floor and flush a lot of residue down the drain—that's why our floor is sloping to this corner."

"I'd like to plug up the hole with cement," I said, "though I doubt George will really let us. He probably wants to use it as a butcher shop after the war. Well, at least we can plug it with something more deterring than this stuff. Rats as co-tenants are not my choice."

One afternoon I returned to the butcher shop to find an immense wooden tub in the street at the corner of the shop. Mysterious. The next day I saw George, our huge, hulking landlord, and several of his friends, wrestling and rolling the tub down the alley to the back entrance of the building. Later, when I questioned him, he said, "Oh, that's the wine press. We loan it back and forth between our friends. We all make our own wine." One night when Dad was visiting from his parish in Sonora, we borrowed a cot from George so that he could stay with us. We were all awakened by subterranean rumblings and explosions. Very mystifying. In the morning we asked George, who lived right above us, what was going on.

"Oh," he said, "it's the wine. It's fermenting," and took us all down into the nether regions of his basement and showed us a very large room lined with shelves loaded with bottles of wine. And right in the center—right under our room—was the huge wooden wine press, rumbling away. He pointed to a sort of ladder at its side. "Go. Take a look." We did. Seething and burbling dark mass of grapes and liquid.

"Have a taste," said George, leading us to the bottled wine. "Last year. It's good." We did. It was.

"Nothing like this in Sonora," Dad said, and we all toasted the source of the interruption of our sleep.

--Mary Tuthill Lindheim

Copyright 2006-2012 Abby Wasserman. All rights reserved.