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Mary Ann Currier with work Turn Away in progress.

Mary Ann Currier: Master of Still Life

“Mary Ann is good in art.”

At age 5, as the note from her kindergarten report card attests, Mary Ann Currier was already showing talent as an artist. Three-quarters of a century later, she is widely acclaimed as an outstanding American realist painter. Though she didn’t have her first solo show until she was 50, today her breathtakingly realistic still lifes are coveted by top private and institutional collectors. Her work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, and the Jacksonville Art Museum as well as the collections of ExxonMobil, American Express, Cargill Inc., and Goldman Sachs.

Her talent as a painter is one aspect of Currier’s story. Equally important is the influence she has had on numerous other Kentucky artists as an exceptional teacher of art. She taught at the Louisville School of Art from 1962 until 1982. Though now closed, the school was, at the time, a center of Louisville’s creative community, and Currier’s students included many young artists who went on to highly successful careers, among them sculptors Ed Hamilton and Dave Caudill and assemblage artist Jacque Parsley.

Currier at work in her studio.

The completed painting Turn Away.

In a one-hour documentary airing as part of the Kentucky Muse series, producer/director Guy Mendes tells the story of Currier’s life and art. In interviews at her home and studio in Louisville, Currier recalls her early interest in visual art, attending art school in Chicago, and returning to Louisville to work—first as a commercial artist for Stewart’s department store and eventually as a teacher at the Louisville School of Art. The program visits a gallery exhibit of her work in New York City and a 2005 retrospective at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum. Currier’s husband, Lionel; her daughters, Nancy and Anne Currier and Frances Lewis; and former students are also interviewed.

“Master of Still Life” is also a video exhibit of works spanning Currier’s career—from early illustrations and silkscreens to nudes and portraits to the large-scale oil pastel and charcoal compositions of fruit, onions, roses, glasses, and other ordinary objects that have made her a star among contemporary still life painters. Seeing a work in progress offers insight into her meticulous and contemplative process.

“For me, art is a way of being alive in the world,” says Mary Ann Currier, and this Kentucky Muse documentary portrait reveals a truly remarkable life in the arts.