Bio Sketch: Mary (Forrer) Peirce (1838-1929), artist in Dayton, Ohio

Mary Forrer was born August 24, 1838, in Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of Samuel Forrer (1793-1874) and Sarah Howard (1807-1887).[1]

As a child, Mary showed an interest in and aptitude for drawing, a talent she had at least partially inherited from her mother. Her mother was probably her first drawing teacher. She also received some tutoring in botany and the drawing of plants from John W. Van Cleve. From girlhood onwards, her artwork often featured nature, flowers, still life, and landscapes.[2]

Mary Forrer, undated

Mary Forrer, undated (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 13, Folder 20)

As a young woman, Mary studied at Cooper Female Seminary in Dayton, where she had a most talented art teacher, Clara Soule (later Medlar), daughter of a well-known portrait painter, Charles Soule. Clara, also an accomplished portrait painter, taught Mary much about painting.[3]

In July 1862, Mary traveled to New York City again, to Fort Hamilton. Her brother-in-law Luther Bruen, husband of her sister Augusta, was stationed there with the 12th U.S. Infantry. While in New York City, she attended the Cooper Institute (now called Cooper Union), where she studied, for the most part, landscape painting and water color techniques.[4] Mary continued her studies at the Cooper Institute until at least November 1862, before returning to Dayton sometime prior to 1864.[5]

Mary Forrer, 1863

Mary Forrer, 1863 (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 13, Folder 20)

By 1864, Mary had begun teaching at the Cooper Female Seminary in Dayton.[6] She taught at the school for a few years, and then afterwards, she taught private lessons in drawing and painting in her home for a few more years.[7]

From June 1874 through August 1875, Mary studied in Europe, visiting many of the famous European art galleries and receiving instruction from teachers in several different cities. She studied at least two months in the British Isles, mainly in London. She spent two months in Geneva, Switzerland. She studied for four months in Germany, primarily in Munich. There, she studied with a man who had been artist for the German Emperor, and this experience has been credited as most helpful to her career. She spent another four months in Italy, studying at Naples, Florence, Rome, and Venice. She also visited at least briefly the cities of Paris, Oxford, and Berlin.[8]

After Mary returned from Europe, she returned to teaching at Cooper Academy (as it was then called). She primarily taught drawing, but she also sometimes taught wax-flower making and other art subjects. Her work as a teacher required her to cover many types of art, rather than focusing on her own favorite subjects and mediums. She remained as a teacher at the school until about 1882.[9]

On October 5, 1882, Mary married Jeremiah H. Peirce (1818-1889), the widower of her sister Elizabeth, apparently despite her mother Sarah’s objections. At the time of their marriage, Mary was 44, and Jeremiah was 64; they had no children.[10]

Mary (Forrer) Peirce, undated

Mary (Forrer) Peirce, undated (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 13, Folder 20)

After her marriage, Mary was able to return her attention to painting primarily flowers and landscapes. She no longer worked at Cooper Academy, although she still taught students at her home occasionally. Her new home, her husband’s Five Oaks estate nestled in Peirce’s woods with a pond and trees and flowers all around, provided many beautiful subjects for Mary’s artwork.[11]

Over the course of her life, Mary exhibited her artwork many times and won several awards, including many at the Ohio State Fair in the 1860s and Cincinnati exhibitions in the 1860s and 1870s. She exhibited less after her marriage but continued creating artwork until about a year before her death.[12]

A few of Mary’s watercolor paintings are included in the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection.[13]

'Eglon, West Virginia, July 1901' watercolor painting by Mary (Forrer) Peirce

‘Eglon, West Virginia, July 1901’ watercolor painting by Mary (Forrer) Peirce (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 13, Folder 11)

The Dayton Art Institute has also preserved some of her artwork.[14]

Mary, along with her nieces Sarah and Elizabeth Peirce, were among the founding members of the First Unitarian Church of Dayton, founded in 1910 and located at the corner of Salem Avenue and Five Oaks Avenue. During the 1913 Flood, when the church was unable to use its temporary meeting place on West Fourth Street, the Peirce family offered the use of their home at Five Oaks. The family also donated to the church a stained glass window dedicated to the memory of Howard Forrer Peirce.[15]

Mary (Forrer) Peirce, late in life

Mary (Forrer) Peirce, late in life (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 13, Folder 20)

Mary (Forrer) Peirce died September 2, 1929, at her home Five Oaks in Dayton, Ohio; she was 91 years old.[16] She was buried on September 5, 1929, in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio, near her parents.[17]

Tombstone of Mary (Forrer) Peirce in Woodland Cemetery, Section 102

Tombstone of Mary (Forrer) Peirce in Woodland Cemetery, Section 102 (Photo by the author, 29 Oct. 2011)

*****

This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey in April 2012 for the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654.

Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection. For more information about the manuscript collection’s contents, please see the original PDF finding aid available in the Local History Room of the Dayton Metro Library, the OhioLINK EAD Repository entry, or the WorldCat record.

Please contact the Dayton Metro Library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.


[1] Forrer Genealogical Data, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 7:12, Dayton Metro Library (Dayton, Ohio); Frank Bruen, Christian Forrer, the Clockmaker, and his Descendants (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1939), 136; Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum Interment Database, accessed 20 Dec. 2011, http://www.woodlandcemetery.org. See also FPW, Series I: Samuel Forrer Family.

[2] “Mary Forrer Peirce: An Artist Who is Yet Busy with Brush and Palette Though Near Her 80th Year,” Dayton Daily News, 24 Dec. 1916, in Mary Forrer Peirce: Newspaper Clippings, FPW, 13:18, and also quoted in Frank Bruen, Christian Forrer, the Clockmaker, and his Descendants (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1939), 137; “High Interest in Art Affairs Began Long Ago,” Dayton Journal, 13 Feb. 1927, in Mary (Forrer) Peirce: Newspaper Clippings, FPW, 13:18; Mary Sayre Haverstock, Jeannette Mahoney Vance, & Brian L. Meggitt, eds., Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2000), 301.

[3] “Mary Forrer Peirce,” Dayton Daily News, 24 Dec. 1916, FPW, 13:18.

[4] Mary Forrer to Sarah Forrer, 28 July 1862, FPW, 11:7; Harvey W. Crew, History of Dayton, Ohio (Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing House, 1889), 565; Haverstock, Vance, & Meggitt, Artists in Ohio, 301; Bruen, Christian Forrer, 140; “Cooper Union: History,” Cooper Union web site, accessed 10 Jan. 2012, http://cooper.edu/about/history.

All of the published sources consulted (see above paragraph) state that Mary attended the Cooper Institute in 1860 and returned to Dayton in 1861. However, according to her correspondence (see Mary Forrer to Sarah Forrer, 1860-1861, FPW, 11:6), she was not in New York at that time but wrote to her mother from various cities in Ohio. In the July 28, 1862, letter, Mary writes to her mother about arriving in New York and inquiring about her lessons at “the Institute.”

[5] Mary Forrer to Sarah Forrer, 15 Nov. 1862, FPW, 11:7; Howard Forrer to Elizabeth Peirce, 29 Sept. 1861, FPW, 6:8. Howard sent an advertisement for Cooper Union to his sister to give to their mother and states that he “will visit the Institute and find out what we can about it” while he is in New York.

There is no correspondence between Mary and Sarah for the year 1863, which may indicate that she had already returned to Dayton. The collection does include letters from 1864 (see FPW, 11:8), but they are not written from New York. Furthermore, Mary is listed in the 1864-65 Dayton city directory as a teacher at Cooper Female Seminary in Dayton.

[6] Dayton City Directory, 1864; Crew, History of Dayton, 565.

Note: The Cooper Female Seminary was known by several different names over the years, including: Cooper Female Seminary, Cooper Seminary, Cooper Academy for Young Ladies, Cooper Female Academy, and simply Cooper Academy. All of these terms refer to the same school, which was located on the southwest corner of First and Wilkinson (source: Dayton City Directories).

[7] Crew, History of Dayton, 565.

[8] Mary Forrer to Sarah Forrer, 1874-1875 (several letters), FPW, 11:10-12; “Mary Forrer Peirce,” Dayton Daily News, 24 Dec. 1916, FPW, 13:18; Crew, History of Dayton, 565.

[9] Dayton City Directories, 1877-1879; Crew, History of Dayton, 565-566; “Mary Forrer Peirce,” Dayton Daily News, 24 Dec. 1916, FPW, 13:18; Haverstock, Vance, & Meggitt, Artists in Ohio, 301.

[10] Bruen, Christian Forrer, 136, 138-140; Sarah Forrer to Jeremiah H. Peirce, 2 Sept. 1877, FPW, 4:9; Jeremiah H. Peirce to Sarah Forrer, undated, FPW, 4:9. See also FPW, Series II, Subseries 1: Jeremiah Hunt Peirce.

[11] “Mary Forrer Peirce,” Dayton Daily News, 24 Dec. 1916, FPW, 13:18; Crew, History of Dayton, 566; Haverstock, Vance, & Meggitt, Artists in Ohio, 301-302.

[12] Haverstock, Vance, & Meggitt, Artists in Ohio, 302; Bruen, Christian Forrer, 140; Mary (Forrer) Peirce: Newspaper Clippings, FPW, 13:18.

[13] Mary (Forrer) Peirce: Watercolor Paintings, FPW, 13:11.

[14] Dayton Art Institute Bulletin 35, no. 1 (Sept. 1976): 31.

[15] Finding Aid, First Unitarian Church of Dayton Church Records (MS-230), Wright State University Special Collections & Archives (Dayton, Ohio), accessed 18 Jan. 2012, http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/collection_guides/guide_files/ms230.pdf; Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship church web site, accessed 18 Jan. 2012, http://www.mvuuf.org.

[16] Bruen, Christian Forrer, 136.

[17] Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum Interment Database, accessed 20 Dec. 2011, http://www.woodlandcemetery.org. Mary is buried in Section 102, Lot 1348.

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7 responses to “Bio Sketch: Mary (Forrer) Peirce (1838-1929), artist in Dayton, Ohio

  1. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Joseph Peirce (1786-1821), pioneer, merchant, & banker in Dayton, Ohio | Glancing Backwards

  2. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Samuel Forrer (1793-1874), Miami-Erie Canal engineer | Glancing Backwards

  3. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Sarah H. (Howard) Forrer (1807-1887), wife of Samuel Forrer | Glancing Backwards

  4. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Sarah Howard Peirce (1853-1930), founded first kindergaten in Dayton, Ohio | Glancing Backwards

  5. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Mary Forrer ‘Mellie’ Peirce (1855-1892), music-lover and middle child | Glancing Backwards

  6. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Elizabeth Forrer Peirce (1857-1930), nurse in Dayton, Ohio | Glancing Backwards

  7. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Howard Forrer Peirce (1865-1899), prominent musician in Dayton, Ohio | Glancing Backwards

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