Emily Muir (1904-2003) was born in Chicago, moved to Brooklyn as a child, and traveled the world on art assignments in her youth. She settled down with her husband Bill, also an artist, in Stonington, Maine, where she painted, created ceramics and mosaics, and designed architectural house plans. Her legacy, besides her beautiful homes, is primarily her painting.
In the late 1920s, she took classes at the Art Students League in New York City where she met her future husband, who was working at the League as a sculpture class monitor. She day studied portraiture at the League as well (Isamu Noguchi was in her class), and helped to pay some bills in this manner. During the Depression, she and Bill were successful commercial artists, making dioramas that they sold to travel agencies. As she wrote in her autobiography, “With luck, love, and ingenuity, we survive the Great Depression.”
One of her major influences was Richard Lahey, whom she studied under at the Art Students League. He was influential, she noted, because he pushed her to paint with feeling – to paint what she felt, not so much what she saw. But it was her husband Bill, whom she married in 1928, who was her major and life-long inspiration. She said it all came naturally to him: “With him it is no theory, it is a response to life.” Both artists were selected to show at the University of Maine by Maine legend Vincent Hartgen, once they had settled in the state in 1939. Portraits were not an uncommon subject for Emily, though landscapes and seascapes predominated. Over the years many people came under her spell as friends and fans of her paintings. Her work is represented in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine, the University of Maine, Portland Museum of Art, and numerous private collections.
In her life outside of the studio, Emily Muir was the first woman to serve on the national Commission of Fine Arts, a precursor to today’s National Endowment for the Arts. She was appointed by then-Senator Margaret Chase Smith, whose portrait Emily had painted. And she was actually one of the first – if not the first – to suggest that a percentage of the cost of any new government building should be set aside for art to enrich that building – what today is called “The Percent for Art Program,” that later caught on nationwide.
An artist for most of her long life, Emily explored many styles and materials. She had her own take on cubism, for instance, where space, light and color are employed to present faceted scenes of lobstermen and their boats and the seas upon which they toil. It is a fascinating hybrid of styles. Her various trips to different parts of the world are also well represented in the body of work that she left. Villages around the West Indies, such as Trinidad, and parts of South America, as well as familiar scenes of her adopted homeland along the Maine coast are lovingly portrayed in her paintings. Hers was a full and loving life, and now we are pleased to be able to offer the rich legacy of her paintings to her fans and collectors.