Mary Spain • Ohio (1934-1983)
Hanging Clown with Yellow Cat • Oil on Canvas 26" x 30"
Canton Museum of Art Permanent Collection • Purchased by the Canton Museum of Art, 78.35
Lady Spain we adore you. As a small girl, Lisa Eastman lived across the lane from a magical woman who moved effortlessly across sun-dappled wood floors, under cathedral ceilings and surrounded by large colorful paintings. The smell of oil paints filled the air, casting a powerful spell on the younger girl. “That’s when I knew I wanted to be a painter.” Mary Spain Colie had spread her magical life to another generation, though her own life ended before middle age.
The details of Mary Spain’s life are sketchy, drawn more in paint and sculpture than biographical details. She grew up in North Carolina, but shared a creative soul with famed Belgian artist, Rene Magritte whose work pulled her away from the Expressionist landscapes that defined her early career. Later she moved to Ohio to teach art at Chagrin Falls High School and lived a quiet life with her husband Frederic Colie, a fireman, outdoorsman, and commercial chemicals salesman.
The parallels between their lives and works are hard to ignore. Putting Magritte’s renowned “Son of Man,” beside any of Mary Spain’s many masked figures makes one question the effects of having a world war take place in your back yard or childhood. Magritte’s response was to probe deeper and deeper into Surrealism, a style that challenged viewers perceptions of reality. He became one of only a handful of surrealistic masters.
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Mary Spain, on the other hand, escaped to her magical kingdom on the banks of the Chagrin River. There she captured a world others couldn’t see in surrealistic images of people and animals, often mechanical, always mysteriously hidden behind masked faces. Certainly they were influenced by her collection of antique dolls, but where did her love of dolls and whimsical images come from? One art critic wrote: “Exactly when Mary Spain tumbled into her pictorial Looking-Glass world is difficult to determine. She may have been born there.” Only Mary Spain Colie knew for sure, and her voice was silenced by cancer at the young age of 49. Magritte lived two decades longer, but succumbed too early to the same horrible disease.
Her husband, Frederic, had supported his wife’s career by forging relationships with galleries in Cleveland, New York and Florida. After her death he withdrew all her paintings and sculptures from those galleries. They were never again offered for sale until after his own death in 2012.
Today in a secluded, almost magical place, surrounded by waterfalls and hardwood trees, Lisa Eastman pursues her own artistic career. Mary Spain would be proud.
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“An art critic once wrote: ‘Exactly when Mary Spain tumbled into her pictorial Looking-Glass world is difficult to determine. She may have been born there.”
“She was obviously heavily influenced by Belgian Surrealist, Rene Magritte. In some whimsical world, everyone must hide their face behind masks and floating objects.”
“Her art seems simplistic, but it uses familiar symbols from ancient tales making it, somehow, familiar.”
“I love her quote, ‘You know, I love painting more than Baskin-Robbins ice cream.’”