Treasures from the Vault: Mary Nimmo Moran

Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, Curator of Prints & Drawings

Throughout history, there have been families so rich in artistic talent it is as if it is in their blood.  Some powerhouse names may come to mind, like Peale and Wyeth.  For the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, however, it is the Moran family.

One of the most significant donations to the Fort Wayne Museum of Art is an oil painting by Thomas Moran from William Telfer, donated in the early 1990s. Moran is best known for his sublime views of the American West, unveiling natural wonders that people back east had never seen in person. In fact, his works were key in the creation of Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the country.  The museum’s A Glimpse of the Sea, Amagansett (1904) is a quiet, bucolic view of the area around his summer home-studio on Long Island.

A landscape painting shows a dirt trod path running through the hills beside a creek. On the other side of the creek are trees. The sky is dark, suggesting rain.
Thomas Moran, American born England, 1837-1926. A Glimpse of the Sea, Amagansett, 1904. Oil on canvas. Gift of William Telfer, 1992.14. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Thomas’ brothers Edward, John, and Peter were also artists.  In the early 1990s Henry and Jane Eckert donated an oil painting of General Anthony Wayne by Edward Percy Moran, who studied art under his father.  Over fifteen years later, former docent and long-time museum supporter Lorraine Davis donated an etching, Gardiner’s Bay from Fresh Ponds, Long Island (1884), an exquisite gem with its rich inking on silk rather than paper, making the intimate view glisten.  The etching was made by Mary Nimmo Moran, who exhibited alongside her husband, Thomas, during their lifetime, but remains largely unknown today.

Born in Strathaven, Scotland in 1842, Mary came to the U.S. along with her father and brother when she was 10.  They eventually settled in northeastern Pennsylvania, coincidentally next door to the parents of Thomas Moran.  Thomas was already making his way in the art world as a teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  Not long after the two were married in 1863, Mary began her study of drawing and painting under her husband.

In 1878, Thomas purchased an etching press for their home-studio just as the medium’s revived interest grew among artists.  A year later, at her husband’s suggestion during his trip to Mexico, Mary started experimenting with etching.  Views of the eastern end of Long Island figured largely in her work from the moment she began to make etchings until her untimely death.   The simple requirements for etching—a small-scaled copper plate and an etching needle—were ideal for her preference for working outdoors directly from nature, or en plein air.

Fluffy clouds are windswept through the sky overlooking a hillock with trees. In the background are boats in water, heading toward the horizon. On the foreground, a pat leads toward the hillock spanning the river via a wooden bridge.
Mary Nimmo Moran, American born Scotland, 1842-1899. Gardiner’s Bay from Fresh Ponds, Long Island. Etching on silk, 1884. Gift of Lorraine Hook Davis, 2008.10. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Nineteenth-century women artists faced challenges with societal expectations and limited access to education and professional opportunities.   Receiving formal instruction from another artist in the family, as Moran did from her husband, was a way for women to study art at that time.  Female students had limited or no access to anatomy and life drawing classes using a nude model, despite it being essential to understanding the human form.

Some women maintained their financial independence by becoming teachers.  Being single allowed a woman to focus on art full-time without being distracted by family responsibilities.  Others, like Mary Nimmo Moran, tried to maintain a balance between creative ambition, marriage, and motherhood.  Her landscapes of the eastern seaboard were noted for their technical skill, innovation, and expressiveness.  Mary became the first woman elected to the New York Etching Club and the Society of Painter-Etchers in London.

Want to learn more about FWMoA’s print collection? Come to the next Print Room Talk on Wednesday, January 16 at 2pm in the Print and Drawing Center. Visit Sachi in the Print and Drawing Study Center Tuesday-Friday 11am-3pm, or by appointment.

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