Local Artist Lives On In Exhibit
Mary Morrison’s Works Displayed In Dayton
Posted: January 22, 2013
Deborah and David Raynes of Broadway look at sculptures while attending the opening of the Mary Morrison art exhibit at The Heritage Museum in Dayton on Sunday. Morrison was David’s great aunt. The exhibit contains more than 90 works of sculpture, paintings and drawings over four decades when she resided in Harrisonburg. (Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R)
On Sunday, The Heritage Museum in Dayton, run by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society, held a preview exhibit of Morrison’s work.
Morrison, who died in 1995 at the age of 87, created portraits, landscapes and sculptures that depict the small, rural Harrisonburg in which she lived from 1930 to 1975.
“Mary Morrison has always been a favorite because she’s a local artist,” said the exhibit’s chairman, Bonnie Paul, who added that Morrison’s art tells the area’s history through her time here.
The museum gathered the collection with help from members of the community and from Morrison’s daughter, Martha LaNette Morrison Merz, who returned to the Valley about a year ago.
Many of Morrison’s paintings portray the Old Order Mennonite community.
The Old Order Mennonites believe photography and portraits are graven images and discourage depictions of themselves in such media, Merz said.
To get around the doctrine, Morrison used much less detail and created more rounded figures to portray the faces and bodies of Mennonites than she did when painting portraits.
“She would paint the life, and you don’t know who it is,” Merz said, “so she could capture what they did, their farm life, their quilt making, their apple-butter making.”
Morrison made her first contact with the Mennonite community in the 1940s when an elderly man of the faith knocked on her door requesting that she paint his cattle for the cattle registry.
“She was called back and back,” Merz said. “She was very much involved with them, and they with her.”
After Morrison, who was born in Richmond, graduated from high school, she enrolled in The Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., in 1925. There, she studied sculpture and graduated with honors.
For a time, she trained with Gutzon Borglum, who is best known for his work on Mount Rushmore, then opened her own studio in Washington, D.C.
She moved to Harrisonburg in 1930 after marrying Claude Moore Morrison, a local dentist.
According to Merz, her mother said she saw her future husband sitting on a piano bench at a church in Washington, where he was visiting, and “that was it.”
Although she was a trained sculptor, Morrison taught herself to paint. She concentrated on this practice more frequently throughout the 1940s.
“I think she always wanted to paint,” Merz said. “What she could afford was clay. Clay was cheap; paint was expensive.”
The Morrisons were active in the Harrisonburg civic community. Claude Morrison became the first director of the city’s recreation department.
Mary Morrison taught art classes through the department her husband developed.
“I admired her; she was very much an individual,” said Betsy Eggleston of Lacey Spring, a former student.
Eggleston pointed to a quote on the wall by Morrison’s good friend, Dr. Argus Tressider, that reads: “Mary was always everything Harrisonburg was not.”
“It was a lot of what I liked about Mary,” Eggleston said, explaining Morrison had no problem expressing ideas that disagreed with those in the community around her.
“She challenged the culture,” Merz said. “If everyone believed in one thing, she would question it.”
Merz and the Historical Society are trying to develop an inventory of all Morrison’s work through photographs. The exhibit brought many latent pieces to light, she said.
The exhibit is on display until June.
The museum, located at 382 High St., Dayton, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission for adults is $5. Students and children are free.
For more information, call 879-2616 or visit www.heritagecenter.com online .
Contact Alex Rohr at 574-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org