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Garfield, Marjorie S.

Published onJul 30, 2021
Garfield, Marjorie S.

(November 30, 1904 – January 7, 1993)

Quick Facts

Professor, artist and Head of the Applied Art Department in the Division of Home Economics at Iowa State University from 1948 to 1969.

Source: Plaza of Heroines, Iowa State University

Landscape muralist, portrait painter, world traveler, and expert in decorative arts are just a few of the titles worn by Marjorie Stuart Garfield. Garfield was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1904, raised, educated, and began her teaching career in Syracuse, N.Y., worked for over 20 years at Iowa State, and eventually settled in Marco Island in Florida where she continued to paint until her death January 7, 1993.

Casa Popenoe,  c. 1980s by Marjorie S. Garfield (American, 1903 - 1993). Watercolor. Gift of Marjorie S. Garfield. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM83.182

Garfield first visited Guatemala during the summer of 1937, intending to spend a few weeks sketching and painting. During this vacation, she became intrigued with Guatemalan architecture and furniture of the colonial period (1523-1824). She then decided to undertake the task of documenting through photographs, watercolors, drawings and paintings the Guatemala interiors and architecture that remained after 300 years of Spanish colonial rule, a task she pursued for the next 10 years. Her research presents a case study of an attempt to recreate a European community in the New World. In the permanent collection the Brunnier Art Museum owns Garfield's watercolors of this project, and Special Collections, Parks Library has her photographic documentation.

Throughout her life she traveled the world as a visiting scholar and artist-in-residence in far flung locations from Central America to Eastern Europe. While a Professor at Iowa State Garfield “built a strong interior design emphasis from a nucleus of required home furnishings courses”. Believing in the importance of hands-on experience, Garfield insisted that Iowa State be one of the first institutions to require a summer internship as part of a design curriculum. This requirement is still in effect for all undergraduate majors at the College of Design and the Apparel, Merchandising, and Design program. In addition to her teaching salary, Garfield worked as a contract artist in interior design and was commissioned to paint walks for lavish homes in Europe and the United States. She wrote a book titled Spanish Colonial Furniture in Guatemala and was an expert in tropical woods and the style of colonial decorative arts.

During her administration of the department she built a strong interior design emphasis from a nucleus of required home furnishings courses. Iowa State was one of the first institutions if not specifically the first to require a summer internship as a part of the requirements for a degree in interior design which continues today.

Garfield is perhaps most known for her extensive canon of watercolor paintings some of which are still hanging on the Iowa State University campus. In addition to the paintings she entrusted to Iowa State, many of Garfield’s paintings are held in permanent or privately owned collections including: The Des Moines Art Center, the Dwight Art Gallery at Mount Holyoke College, the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, and Iowa State’s University Museums, to name a few. As a student in Syracuse she minored in architecture and some of her work is held in the permanent collection at the University of Manitoba’s School of Architecture. She was an esteemed member of the American Watercolor Society, the Art League of Marco Island and throughout her life she had 38 solo exhibitions. In 1982 Garfield was awarded the Christian Petersen Design Award and later, in 1991 set up the Marjorie Garfield Fine Arts Scholarship which continues to financially support the artistic scholarship of fine arts and design students at Iowa State.

Marjorie Garfield died on January 7, 1993, from heart failure in Naples, Florida.

Selected Sources

Marjorie Stuart Garfield Papers, RS 26/2/13, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

"Choice of Subject Up to Artist, Says Miss Garfield." Iowa State Daily, sec. page 3, April 25, 1961.

Weitzel, Carmen. "Marco Artist Finds Inspiration ON Island." Naples Daily News, , sec. pages 1-2, May 6, 1979.

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