Picture of the Week: Cerulean Cobalt Floral Forms #2 by Mary Jane Bigler

April 16, 2023

Mary Jane Bigler, Cerulean Cobalt Floral Forms #2, watercolor, 28 x 19 7/8 in.

“A painting doesn’t amount to a hill of beans unless you transfer your life into it.”-Mary Jane Bigler

Mary Jane Bigler was one of Michigan’s prominent artists and educators. She was born in 1909 in Indiana farm country. Her mother was a piano teacher and a gardener, and she inspired Bigler’s creativity and love of flowers. Bigler would go on to study art at Indiana University in Bloomington, where she graduated in 1929. 

Bigler was a member of several organizations in Detroit. In 1946, she became one of the founding members of the Michigan Water Color Society: a group of artists who strove to “further watercolor education, maintain high standards artistically, while based on the premise of integrity and professionalism, and to be a forum open to all points of view.” Bigler was also a member of the DIA Founders Society, the Women’s Association of the Detroit Symphony, the Society of Women Painters, the Detroit Artists Market, the Anthony Wayne Society and the alumni associations of Wayne State and Indiana University. 

Bigler taught art at Wayne State University for 34 years, retiring in 1977. She had a positive impact on the painting program during her time at the university. Her daughter, Virginia Thomas, shares that Bigler “was considered a wonderful teacher. She was never afraid to express her views.” Even after Bigler’s death, her former students would approach her daughter and share the great impact she had on their art education and career. One of her notable initiatives as a Wayne State art professor was a study abroad program, which she implemented in the 1950s. She would often travel with art students to the south of Italy where she would teach classes. Bigler earned several awards and honors from Wayne State University, including the Arts Achievement Award in 1980, along with faculty research fellowships in 1967 and 1974. In addition to Wayne State, Bigler also taught at the College for Creative Studies and the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. 

As an artist, Bigler is listed in “Who’s Who” in American art. Her paintings have been exhibited at Wayne State University, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Artists Market, the Chicago Institute of Arts, museums in Syracuse, NY and Wichita, KS, and the Detroit Focus Gallery, which honored her career in a 1991 exhibition entitled Sustained Vision. Bigler also donated 30 of her paintings to the WSU art collection. 

Throughout her career, Bigler painted many flowers, landscapes, and abstracts. She draws much of her inspiration for her watercolor paintings from her love of gardening. However, her watercolor paintings did not evoke the same feeling as traditional works. Virginia Thomas asserts that “she loved all flowers, but she never painted them in a sentimental way. She was a feisty woman. When others of her generation were painting timid watercolors, hers were very bold and colorful and expressionistic.” Bigler’s 1958 watercolor painting Cerulean Cobalt Floral Forms #2 very much aligns with her daughter’s description of her and her work as feisty and expressionistic. She fills the composition with a mix of blue and white flowers and green leaves. The background appears abstracted with blue and green brushstrokes. This abstract element may allude to the prominence of Abstract Expressionism during the late 1950s. Moreover, Bigler’s use of an abstract background allows the flowers and leaves to move freely within the space, as opposed to being restricted in a bouquet or garden. Her use of lively, expressionistic brushstrokes for both the background and floral forms contribute to the sense of freedom in the composition as well. To add, this theme of freedom may coincide with the freedom and optimism one might feel in the springtime. As warm weather approaches and the flowers bloom, people feel more inclined to embrace and move within the beauty of the outdoors.  

Written by Angela Athnasios

Sources: https://mwcsart.com/who-we-are/


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