Mary Harvey Tannahill

Mary Harvey Tannahill was an American painter, print maker, embroiderer, and batik maker. She studied in the United States and Europe and spent 30 summers in Provincetown, Massachusetts with the artist colony there. There she was instructed by Blanche Lazzell and assumed the style of the Provincetown Printers. She exhibited her works through several artist organizations. A native of North Carolina, she spent much of her career based in New York.


Tannahill was born in Warrenton, North Carolina to Robert Tannahill and his wife, Sallie Sims Tannahill. Robert was a cotton and tobacco merchant in Petersburg, Virginia prior to joining the Confederate army. After the war, he moved his large family to New York City where he continued with the cotton business. 


A New York lifestyle was perfect for Tannahill as a budding artist. She originally began as a miniature painter, exhibiting at the Philadelphia Society of Miniature Painters in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. The 1914 WOMANS’ WHO’S WHO OF AMERICA describes her portrait painting inclinations, as well as “favors woman’s suffrage” and is a “Christian Scientist.” A critic for the New York Times described two of Tannahill’s watercolors, “By the Weeping Willow Trees” and “Neighbors,” as showing the evidence of “modern training” while being “fresh and amusing”. 


Reviews of Tannahill’s work in various media, including sculpture, woodblocks, textiles, and paintings were a common occurrence in the New York Times.


Stylistically, Tannahill’s work derived some of its influence from folk art, which was combined with modernism. She exhibited interest in continued artistic growth throughout her career, absorbing influences such as Cubism and Precisionism in some of her later works. A Raleigh newspaper critic, writing in The News & Observer in 1937, called her an “unusual painter of familiar objects in the modern manner”, and she was sometimes described as an “artist’s artist”; she herself said that “her work was considered modern but not overly so”. The Gibbes Art Gallery in Charleston includes her works.


Tannahill exhibited in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco, California; and in New York City at the Society of Independent Artist in 1917, 1922, and 1925. She also exhibited at the New York Society of Women Artist 1917 and 1925.


Tannahill, described as having been tall, blond, and striking in appearance in her youth, never married. She was a Christian Scientist who believed in suffrage for women.


She spent the last years of her life in Warrenton until her death in 1951. She was buried in Petersburg at Blandford Cemetery.

"The Sisters", 1920, oil on canvas, Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina

"A Family", White-line Woodcut, 1921


Since her death, Tannahill's work has continued to be included in exhibitions, such as Eight Southern Women at the Greenville County Museum of Art in 1986 and Nine from North Carolina in 1989 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and in a traveling show, like the exhibit sponsored by the Fayetteville Museum of Art in North Carolina.


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