Recent Acquisitions: Mary Henry

December 17, 2019 – June 7, 2020

A long-time resident of Whidbey Island, Washington, Mary Henry (1913–2009) devoted nearly four decades to creating distinctive works of geometric abstraction. This focused presentation will display two gifts from the artist’s estate, North Slope #15, Kuparuk and Brooks Range. These diptychs exemplify the opportunities for experimentation and growth Henry found within the confines of Minimalism during the 1970s. Part of the North Slope series (1975–77), inspired by the artist’s stay in Wiseman, Alaska for several months during 1975, the drawings distilled her impressions of the pale tones and broad glacial expanses of the Brooks Range and other natural aspects of the North Slope region. Henry later created large paintings based on these drawings. "It's just that I was so enamored, I suppose, of these shapes," Henry said. "And there are so many different varieties and things you could do with them that there's no end to it."

Although her paintings and drawings were virtually unseen by the public until she began exhibiting late in her life, during the late 1990s, she has since gained recognition for large-scale, audacious canvases that push against societal expectations for women and speak to her role as a “matriarch of Modernism.” Committed to a daily, labor-intensive practice that imbued her formal explorations with soft lines, emotional tenor, and notes of humor, Henry’s work has been exhibited in major museums and galleries on the West Coast, while her broader influence within art history has only just begun to be recognized. These drawings are the first works by Henry to enter the Frye Art Museum’s collection.

Recent Acquisitions is a biannual series highlighting works that have been gifted to or purchased for the Frye Art Museum’s permanent collection.

Mary Henry. Brooks Range, 1975. Prismacolor on paper. 16 x 20 in. Frye Art Museum, Gift of Suzanne and John Rahn, 2018.008.01. Photo: Nathaniel Willson.

Mary Henry. North Slope #15, Kuparuk, 1975. Prismacolor on paper. 16 x 20 in. Frye Art Museum, Gift of Suzanne and John Rahn, 2018.008.02. Photo: Nathaniel Willson.

Mary Henry. Brooks Range, 1975. Prismacolor on paper. 16 x 20 in. Frye Art Museum, Gift of Suzanne and John Rahn, 2018.008.01. Photo: Nathaniel Willson.

Mary Henry. North Slope #15, Kuparuk, 1975. Prismacolor on paper. 16 x 20 in. Frye Art Museum, Gift of Suzanne and John Rahn, 2018.008.02. Photo: Nathaniel Willson.