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Meixner, Mary

Published onOct 11, 2021
Meixner, Mary

(December 7, 1916 - October 26, 2004)

Quick Facts

Meixner was renowned as an inspiring teacher who ushered in a new era in applied and performing arts.

Following on the heels of her solo painting exhibition in New York City in 1969, Mary Meixner received a distinguished teaching award at Iowa State for her “ability to build glimmers of curiosity into full-scale investigation”, according to Alumnus Magazine in 1970. The same article discussed Meixner’s teaching philosophy namely, “The meaning of art cannot be taught. Rather, the things that happen in class can be stimulus.” With this in mind, Meixner was renowned as an inspiring teacher who taught classes and guided research projects in the fine arts as well as sciences. Her work in color and light ushered in a new era in teaching in the applied arts and she was a pioneer in early forms of recognized performance art.

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she eventually moved to Iowa while pursuing her Master of Arts degree at the University of Iowa (Iowa City) in 1945. She continued her art studies at the Art Student League in New York; Mills College, Oakland, California; Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Kentucky; American School at Fountainbleu, France; Carpenter Center at Harvard University; and the Des Moines Art Center. In 1953 Meixner accepted a faculty position at Iowa State’s Department of Applied Art where she remained until retiring in 1983. Upon retiring Meixner returned to her native Wisconsin, where she helped fund local arts programs until she passed away on October 26, 2004.

There is a tendency in biography to posthumously prioritize a character’s talents and scholarship. However, with Mary Meixner this task proves impossible. Meixner was equally a painter, teacher, scholar, scientist, and writer. Fascinated by the sketchbooks of other artists, she kept an extensive collection of others’ personal drawings. She wrote, “[The] sketchbooks of artists are grammars of seeing. The drawings, spontaneous, disarming, filled with incredible simplicities or painstaking graphic records bind us to their humanness. I find the immediacy of a sketchbook the artist’s truth to his vision sometimes with flaw, erasure, repeated forms, and scribble.” Meixner herself kept such sketchbooks of her own work which she exhibited across the country, including at the National Design Center, New York; Lakefront Festival, Milwaukee; Sioux City, Iowa; Mason City, Iowa; and Des Moines.

She was a member of numerous professional associations and organizations including the College Art Association of America, Mid-America College Art Association, Des Moines Art Center, Milwaukee Art Center, American Association of University Professors, American Home Economics Association, Iowa State Historical Society, the Octagon Center for the Arts in Ames, and the Museum of Art of the University of Iowa. 

In her courses at Iowa State, she organized collaborative projects using echochrome and kodachrome film to capture elaborate dance and kinetic art performances which conveyed meaning through the manipulation of color and shadow. Meixner was a renaissance woman and true avant-garde who enriched the arts at Iowa State beyond measure.

Selected Sources

Mary L. Meixner Papers, RS 26/2/54, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

Three of Meixner’s paintings are in the permanent collection, University Museums, Iowa State University.

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