A few months back I was wandering through the vast collection of historical books at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum Library and I wandered into the name Mary Wesselhoeft. She taught at the Santa Barbara Schools of the Arts, and lived in Santa Barbara right until her death in 1971 but I was unable to find much detail on her. Those of you who know me, know this certainly doesn’t sit well with me- and I was left with a dangling feeling, a sense that it was all somehow all incomplete. You know that feeling? The one where you feel like someone has just left off mid-sentence?
I was able to dig further on Ms. Wesselhoeft outside the library and found that she studied art at Harvard and graduated from the School of Drawing and Painting at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She came from a liberal family, as her grandfather, Robert Wesselhoeft, once shocked prussian nobility when he made fun of them in an article he wrote that expressed his liberal views. He moved to the US shortly after…
Mary did a great deal of traveling abroad after college and stayed in Paris for some time with her friend, Gertrude Stein. Much of her glass design work was in Europe, where she studied and worked under Gottfried Heinersdorff, a famous stained glass and mosaic glass manufacturer, art patron and collector.
She returned to the States because of the US involvement in WWI. Apparently from what I’ve read, she stayed there as long as she could, and then when it came time to leave for her safety- it was an adventure getting out. She stayed on the east coast opening a small glass studio upon her return and then a few years later arrived in Santa Barbara. Her arrival to Santa Barbara was timely as she came a few days after the 1925 earthquake that demolished many of the city’s buildings. Ironically, much of the work she did abroad became destroyed during the world wars and so very little of her art exists today. She has 2 stain glass windows in the USA which she designed that are in existence today– one resides in Kansas City and the other is here locally in Santa Barbara.
As if that all doesn’t make her interesting enough, she also participated in the 1932 Summer Olympics. Yep, The Games of the X Olympiad, celebrated in 1932, in Los Angeles, CA. No other cities made a bid to host these Olympics, and they were held during the worldwide Great Depression, so many nations and athletes were unable to pay for the trip to Los Angeles. Fewer than half the athletes of the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam returned to compete in 1932. Mary competed in Mixed Painting and retained a standing in the top 25 artists in the category. The Olympics had Art competitions from 1914 through 1948, where it became a side event as there was some consternation in who was a professional artist and who was amateur. More interesting, they competed in architecture and many of our worlds most interesting buildings were part of the competitions.
In an news article written in 1933, Mary had this quote painted on her studio wall “We mortals come into this world like rays of a great light and gazing for one brief moment on the river of life, we see only the reflection of ourselves and heaven.” A timely quote for an artist who surpassed many boundaries and achieved great recognition worldwide.