“Graceful yet precise, poetic yet deeply rooted in research, this exploration of an overlooked painter is gorgeous — a joy to read. Molly Peacock’s insights and empathy with her subject bring to life both Mary Hiester Reid and her luscious flower paintings.” — Charlotte Gray, author of The Massey Murder
Molly Peacock uncovers the history of neglected painter Mary Hiester Reid, a trailblazing artist who refused to choose between marriage and a career.
Born into a patrician American family in the middle of the nineteenth century, Mary Hiester Reid was determined to be a painter and left behind women’s design schools to enter the art world of men. After she married fellow artist George Reid, she returned with him to his home country of Canada. There she set about creating over 300 stunning still life and landscape paintings, inhabiting a rich, if sometimes difficult, marriage, coping with a younger rival, exhibiting internationally, and becoming well-reviewed. She studied in Paris, traveled in Spain, and divided her time between Canada and the United States where she lived among America’s Arts and Crafts movement titans. She left slender written records; rather, her art became her diary and Flower Diary unfolds with an artwork for each episode of her life.
In this sumptuous and precisely researched biography, celebrated poet and biographer Molly Peacock brings Mary Hiester Reid, foremother of painters such as Georgia O’Keefe, out of the shadows, revealing a fascinating, complex woman who insisted on her right to live as a married artist, not as a tragic heroine. Peacock uses her poet’s skill to create a structurally inventive portrait of this extraordinary woman whom modernism almost swept aside, weaving threads of her own marriage with Hiester Reid’s, following the history of empathy and examining how women manage the demands of creativity and domesticity, coping with relationships, stoves, and steamships, too. How do you make room for art when you must go to the market to buy a chicken for dinner? Hiester Reid had her answers, as Peacock gloriously discovers.