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Mary Dill Henry Papers, 1913-2021

Identifier: 038.01.54

The papers of Mary Dill Henry date from 1913 to 2021 and document Henry's life as an artist through a collection of biographical materials, writings, exhibition and museum files, project files, press, business records and artworks, compiled posthumously by Henry's family and by the fine art advisory service and sales brokerage Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art.

Series I: Biographical Material. Biographical materials include life documents, resumes and biographical summaries, student records, awards, files on friends and family, and personal photographs.

Series II: Writings. Writings include a draft for an unpublished book on the "magic" of Mendocino, California, a garden diary with accompanying photographs, and Henry's written statements about art and life.

Series III: Exhibition and Museum. Files Exhibition and museum files consist of records pertaining to Henry's work in exhibitions and museum collections, including correspondence, announcements, exhibition and museum catalogs, and photographs of Henry at exhibitions that featured her work.

Series IV: Project Files. Project files contain material concerning Henry's illustration work, graphic design, Architectural Arts mosaic and mural projects, work for Don Clever Design and Murals, Henry's master's thesis notebooks, and book cover artwork.

Series V: Press. Press items include collected journal articles, published interviews, exhibition reviews, and publicity brochures on Henry.

Series VI: Business Records Business records consist of documents related to Henry's business affairs, including correspondence with curators and galleries, records on sales and donations, price lists, artwork inventories, calendar pages, and photographs of artwork.

Series VII: Artwork. The series includes original artwork created by Henry, such as ink and pencil drawings, sketchbooks, and a painted self portrait.

Series VIII: Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art Files. This series consists of exhibition files, business records, photographic material, and artwork collected by Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art. Included in this series are digital records on Henry's life and art that were originally housed on a USB thumb drive.


  • Creation: 1913-2021


Language of Materials

English .

Collection Size

14.5 Linear Feet

3.65 Gigabytes

Biographical / Historical

Mary Dill Henry (1913-2009) was an American artist whose work included abstract paintings and large-scale mosaics and murals.

Born in Sonoma, California, Mary attended the California College of the Arts in Oakland, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1938. Her teachers included modernists Ethel Abeel, Glen Wessels, and Marie Togni. Mary also studied lithography with Ray Bertrand at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts in 1941. She married Wilbur Henry in 1940 and, while Wilbur attended Stanford University for a Masters in Biology, Mary moved to Iowa to teach at Iowa State University's Ames campus until 1943. Wilbur enlisted in the army in 1942 and Mary moved back to California for the birth of their first child, Suzanne, in 1944.

In 1945, while Wilbur was still in the military, Mary moved to Chicago with her mother and daughter to study with László Moholy-Nagy at the Institute of Design (now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology). Moholy-Nagy initiated the School of Design in Chicago in 1939, which became the Institute of Design in 1944. Mary had been inspired to study with Moholy-Nagy after attending a lecture he gave at Mills College in Oakland, California in 1940. She followed the Bauhaus curriculum at the Institute, including photography, architecture, and design. Study under Moholy-Nagy had a significant impact on Henry: "He was amazing. He talked about art that wasn't what you saw, but what you believed. It was like a whole new world opened up for me." [1] Mary graduated from the Institute of Design in 1946 with her Masters in Fine Arts.

Mary moved to Arkansas in 1946 with Wilbur when he was hired to work at the state's Department of Health. In 1947, Mary gave birth to their second child, William, in Little Rock. In 1949, the Henry family returned to Los Altos Hills, California to live on Wilbur's family fruit ranch.

During the 1950s, Mary focused on design projects. She submitted detailed designs to a "Design Your Dream Kitchen" contest in McCall's magazine in 1952 and won first prize. From 1953 to 1955, she worked for Don Clever's commercial art firm in San Francisco on a variety of assignments, including mural designs for the bar at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and the Emporium's Mezzanine Restaurant. In 1955, Mary founded a business specializing in large-scale murals and mosaics called Architectural Arts whose projects included murals for Manning's Coffee House restaurant in Los Angeles, a mural for the Santa Clara County Courthouse, mosaic walls for two banks in Palo Alto, and a mural and mosaics for Hewlett-Packard.

In the early 1960s, Mary moved to a house in Mendocino, California and recommitted herself to painting. She and Wilbur divorced in 1966 and she turned her Mendocino home into an inn to support herself while painting. At this time, Mary's art used oscillating shapes in kinetic patterns, a style that aligned with the Op Art movement that came to prominence in the 1960s. Mary's paintings were featured in her first solo exhibitions in 1967 and 1968 at the Ampex Corporation in Redwood City, California, and her first gallery show took place in 1969 at the Arleigh Gallery in San Francisco.

In 1976, Mary moved to Everett, Washington to live closer to her daughter, Suzanne, and son-in-law, John Rahn. She spent that summer in a master class with Abstract Expressionist Jack Tworkov at the Centrum Foundation in Port Townsend, Washington, and made connections with a number of prominent local artists. Tragically, Mary's son William was killed in a car accident in 1979.

In 1980, Mary's paintings were shown for the first time in Seattle at the Gallery Diane Gilson. In 1982, she purchased a farmhouse on Whidbey Island, Washington, where she turned a woodshed on the property into her studio and cultivated an English-style garden. In the 1980s, Mary's paintings were shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions in the Pacific Northwest. During the 1990s and 2000s, Mary's work was regularly exhibited in solo exhibitions at galleries and museums.

References: [1] Quoted in Sheila Farr, "Mary Henry: 93 Years of Life and Art," Seattle Times, February 23, 2007.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Digital files require a computer with a color monitor for viewing.

Physical Location

S66/1/A - S66/6/A

Custodial History

This collection was compiled posthumously by Henry's family and by the fine art advisory service and sales brokerage Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art. It was processed and digitzed by the Hauser & Wirth Institute and shipped to Illinois Tech from their offices in New York.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

One box of materials was initially loaned to Hauser & Wirth Institute in 2019 by Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art and the Henry family for exhibition at the Institute, and then retained for processing. Additional materials collected by Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art as well as documents created by Henry and posthumously assembled by the Henry family were loaned to Hauser & Wirth Institute for processing in 2021.

Processing Information

Since the archive was posthumously assembled, its initial arrangement was determined by the Henry family. The family provided lists of assembled materials and additional contextual information that has been recorded in Scope and Contents notes at the folder level.

The collection was arranged, processed, and described by Hauser & Wirth Institute in 2021-2022. Materials in the archive have been rehoused in archival boxes and folders, staples and paperclips have been removed and replaced with folded bond paper, and articles on newsprint have been reformatted to prevent acid migration. The archive has been arranged into eight series and records have been described to the folder level. Though the majority of the archive was not arranged by Henry, original order was preserved in some instances as noted in Scope and Contents notes at the series level. Flat reflective materials in the archive (excepting publications and materials over 11x14 inches) were digitized in 2022.

Digital records originally housed on a USB thumb drive have been transferred to an E01 disk image to support long term preservation of the digital content. The digital files have been extracted for processing and researcher access. Collection originally processed under identifier HWI.002 at Hauser & Wirth Institute.

Part of the Paul V. Galvin Library. University Archives and Special Collections Repository

35 West 33rd Street
Chicago IL 60616
(312) 567-5993

Paul V. Galvin Library

35 West 33rd Street | Chicago, IL | 60616