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The Lost Paintings of Mary Iron Eyes
Mary Iron Eyes The Gathering circa
x 48 inches
J R Compton Collection and photograph NFS
This is the original, painted version of Mary's small, silk-screened print that she sent me in 1993; that I posted online after she died; and that started her Lost Paintings' recent journey back to Dallas to become unlost.
I was working on Art Here Lately stories, when some guy in Las Vegas, whom Google suggested was from Dallas or maybe Marshall, Texas, emailed me saying he had some of what he called "the Lost Mary Iron Eyes paintings." He didn't want to talk about price, but after I asked repeatedly, he said he'd sell them for "whatever the market will bear."
Thus began an adventure during which I learned
more about Mary and her life, family, children, boyfriends and husbands than
I ever knew when we were just friends. I think our
friendship began when I volunteered to do
the publicity for her and Laney Yarber's John F. Kennedy Performance
November 22, 1988 (The 25th Anniversary of the assassination) in the Texas Theatre,
with performances by Fred Curchack, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Derrick Geter and many
others, and film, video, readings and art by Dallas writers and poets and artists.
Mary Iron Eyes head detail The
I have no doubt this is the best piece in this collection of six paintings. It has the strongest composition, the most legible forms, careful, eloquent colorations and that dynamic central figure against an appealing sunset sky that's lusciously reflected in the stormy water below. I find the contrast between the figure and the maelstrom stunning. None of the other pieces are as strong or energetic, although a few are at least as well painted.
These birds look like birds, not as you will see further down, like abstract blobs. Earlier I thought they had to be ravens, but now my best guess is crows, though I'm not sure either would be happy at the tempestuous edge of wild rivers or oceans. Her florid gown is flamboyant in red, blue, green and black as our golden-haired star reaches her offering to the fates.
It's better than I could have imagined, even with the cheat-sheet of the silk-screened version within arm's reach for the last decade and a half.
Mary Iron Eyes Bio
Mary Frances Nelson, born March 22, 1943, grew up in Houston; taught herself to make art in several media during her late teens; graduated from Spring Branch Memorial High School in 1961; earned her Bachelor's degree from North Texas State University (now UNT) and a Master's and Doctorate from Texas Woman's University. She also studied at the University of Southern California and The University of Texas; worked as a fashion model; and in September 1972, became one of the founding professors — in painting and clay — at Richland College, where she also taught psychology and women's studies.
There are still two obituaries online. One in the Dallas Morning News and a caring one by Richland College's Jay Wooldridge on ZoomInfo, "She first taught as Dr. Hatzenbuehler, the name she used during her first marriage." She started the Pow Wow Tradition at Richland College; founded their All Nations Indian Club; and "taught American Indian children how to throw pottery like their ancestors had," and "The first 15 years of her art career she signed her name M. Hatz." She married Roy Cirigliana, briefly used that last name, then began using her mother's Indian family name, "Iron Eyes," when her mother died in 1988. Mary "was a descendant of the Osage and Eastern Band Cherokee people."
Her work was featured at the Chicago Art Institute and the University of Guadalajara in Mexico. She worked in various media, including painting, sculpture and ceremonies, and she organized shows at many Dallas-area venues. In the 1980s she was an honorary Consulate of Culture for Costa Rica, was actively involved in American Indian causes and an early member of the American Indian Movement.
When she learned she had cancer, Mary took early retirement from Richland College, and moved to the Santa Fe and Taos area of New Mexico, where she met R.C. Israel, and they moved to his home in Wichita, Kansas, where they married, and where she died on June 28, 2003.
I also found an oddly patriarchal biography online that further confuses the chronology of her name changes by calling her by her last, last name throughout her life's story, which may be Dallas Morning News policy. I first knew her as Mary Hatzenbuehler (usually shortened to 'Hatz),' then Hatz-Cirigliana, Cirigliana, and for awhile I thought she might become Mary Thompson, when The Seller's biological father, Duane Douglas Thompson was calling himself "River," which seemed simpatico. He certainly looks Indian.
When Mary first adopted the name "Iron Eyes," there was much derision in the Dallas arts community, because she had so suddenly "became Indian" with no explanation why or how. I never learned what percentage of American Indian she was, but I remember someone calling her "Mary Rolling Eyes" after she announced her latest new name.
In a Dallas Observer story from 500X' 20th Anniversary show in 1998, she is called "Mary Iron-Hatz" and credited with bringing the first video art to Dallas, which assertion is absurd. So perhaps her name was then in transition or the journalist couldn't read her own notes or didn't understand Indian names, or some editor wasn't paying attention, although the name "Iron Hats" does have a certain comical charm to it.
Work by Mary online include some tiny images of work in Richland College's permanent collection, including Time = Time and Destiny Holds the Chalice. Most of the images Google shows that are actually connected with Mary are from DallasArtsRevue, already linked from this page. Plus there's a resin horse called Blue Medicine that's shown and described, though better in the second link.
And the page has no pictures, but there is a Mary Iron Eyes Israel Scholarship for Richland College students.
The Seller’s first email – 7:44 PM, November 15 2013
So have you and possibly others been looking for several lost paintings of Mary "Iron Eyes?"
If so, I've got several of her paintings, including "The Gathering." No BS!!!
Hope to hear from you soon,
I hadn't been looking, because I'd long forgot that they even might exist, and I believed I already had plenty Mary Iron Eyes art. But the message piqued my interest, even if at first, I had no idea what gathering he was talking about. Gradually, however, my little print and other relevant facts sifted back into my consciousness, so I asked for pictures and sizes and began a major research and detective job.
Mary Iron Eyes printed postcard signed 1994
5.5 x 8.5 inches (pre-fade colors) NFS
J R Compton Collection — gifted from Mary Iron Eyes
My 1994 postcard-sized print of The Gathering [above] that I cherish, figures prominently in this process, beginning to end. I published it and other works Mary had given me, on a webpage that served as obituary. On the plain paper back of this silk-screened image, Mary wrote, "Look forward to seeing you both…" signing it with her first name.
The Seller saw the page, tracked me down, and I was especially fascinated to see even his mediocre cell phone images of the original painting — I only vaguely remember her telling me there was one. The two images are different and the same. And I had no idea there were five more.
The postcard version is simpler with solid areas
of color and obviously no impasto, but they have the same character and style,
and the composition is identical — though she cropped the painting's top
and bottom to adapt the remarkably dynamic and well-composed 5 x 4 feet, vertical
painting to fit five-and-a-half by eight-and-a-half-inch reproduction. Otherwise,
they are the same, although the colors are not. From this original jpeg
I made nearly 10 years ago, I can see that in my print, the reds have faded
to orange. Cheap red ink is usually the first to go.
Shortly after Mary died, her children — Asia (Anastasia Cirigliana Maston), with whom I have corresponded extensively for this story; and Natasha and Maxx Hatzenbuehler, from whom I have not heard a peep, asked — via Asia — artwork-specific questions about my version of The Gathering. I assume they were seeking the painting at top of this page — and others, and they seemed surprised mine wasn't it.
So I was excited to see Bryan's cell phone photos of it and the five others, but initially, I had deep misgivings, and I didn't know what or how much I could do about them.
I assumed — and he later confirmed — that he emailed me, because I had published that page of her art showing four of the six [and counting; I keep finding more.] pieces she gave me, including the small print of The Gathering that's tacked to the wall in my office, just above my head. I have always liked having it near, but now, seeing the much larger and more vivid original, even if The Seller's cellphone photos were seriously flawed, I was quietly thrilled.
Mary Iron Eyes Snakes circa late
1980s 40 inches high
J R Compton Collection — gifted from Mary Iron Eyes NFS
The day before he contacted me, I noticed that Mary's Snakes painting in my back room was curling up, and its rough, porous, construction-paper base had gathered dust and soft gray abrasions. I took it down from the several kinds and colors of blue material installation Mary created around it as a memorial for my late friend and artist Georgia Stafford. Mary told me snakes symbolized transition.
I brought it into my work room/truck stop, flattened it on my big table, and I have been gently dusting and abrading its blemishes. It was my only Iron Eyes painting, and it needed my attention, but little did I know that a collection of Mary's much larger paintings would soon join it.
Nice that Mary can still reach out from wherever and thump me on the noggin, wake me up and get me thinking about art and dear friends and dear friends' art, and what I could do about them.
The Seller’s email – 8:40 PM, November 15 2013
My biological father, Duane "River" Thompson, was a very close friend of Mary. She kept several of her paintings at my father's house when she lived there.
But my father died of a heart attack July 23, 2001 …
So that's where I come in after settling with … the Thompson family estate. … So I have them now.
I'll send you the pics of them. But how do you want them? It's easier if I take pics and text them, ok?
Let me know,
I had never seen any of the six "Lost" paintings before. In fact, I don't think I'd seen any painting by Mary except my Snakes. And for a awhile during my early negotiations with Bryan Fertitta, I thought I did not want to get entangled in the karma of objects that might belong to someone else. I have a precious handful of pieces Mary gave or made for me when she was alive, and I love them and thought those were enough.
But these paintings are large, impressive and intriguing, and I have gradually let myself believe how nice it might be to own some. Mary's and my religions were remarkably similar, and I could easily imagine the real The Gathering blessing my home. It probably needs it.
Although Bryan had possession, I did not know if he had legal ownership, since he told me that Mary "kept several of her paintings at [his] father's house when they lived in North Dallas," and I had already discovered that Mary had attempted to get them — or some of them — back.
"But [Bryan's] father," former Dallas Club-Owner Duane Douglas Thompson, "died in 2001] ... and the paintings were stored in the house that has since been occupied" by another family member, who did not care about the art. So, he told me, "I have them now."
Bryan liked them enough to keep them with him, despite their size, and he told me he thought they were beautiful. I agreed. He also said he was reluctant to let them go. But for the right price … he could be convinced.
I was also interested in that elusive right price, but when I checked around, I learned that Mary usually gifted her art to friends, and she had not established a price range anybody I contacted knew of. Even her last husband, R.C. Israel, who told me he'd been in the art business for forty years, said he couldn't establish a valid price range. But I thought I probably could, although it would be based on value, not sales.
Shortly after I learned from Mary's family that that Duane Thompson, whom we knew as "River" may have "taken" three of her paintings — and that Mary and then-husband, R.C. Israel, had attempted to get those paintings back. R.C. told me he even had a lawyer's letter sent to try to retrieve them, but those letters are easily ignored and often deemed inconsequential.
Then someone else remembered that Mary had given River an unknown number of paintings to pay back his costs for her paint and canvas, so it is at least plausible that The Seller got them legally.
I was beginning to perceive the serious plausibility that a lovers' spat was what got the paintings lost, since next I heard she was with R.C. Israel and living in my old stomping grounds in Wichita, Kansas.
With no slight intended to Mr. Israel,
it was Mary and River who are the principals of this story, and even a little
about them will be valuable to understand what was and might have been
going on at the time when these paintings "got lost."
Mary Iron Eyes and River Thompson
Not great of her, but this is the only Mary
photo I could find in my archives.
Imagine my surprise when I learned the guy with her was River Thompson.
I knew Mary had met former Club-Owner Duane Douglas "River" Thompson (Red Dog bar (1973), Number Three Lift (1975), and Papagayo (1978) in the building that was later renamed In Cahoots, then Et Cetera), and I vaguely remember her telling me that they were planning a non-official, wedding-like ceremony out in nature somewhere, perhaps at Taos Pueblo, which she called her spiritual home. although having a ceremony there seemed unlikely.
R.C. Israel told me in November 2013 that he has written those paintings off. In fact, he repeatedly said that he had told Mary then — which may have been in the mid 1990s, that she "could always paint another picture, anytime."
I don't believe painters can just whip out another painting like any of these — certainly not the painters I've watched or sat for. It's a time-consuming endeavor, with a lot of compromises, corrections and do-overs. But that's what he said he told her. And he told me he no longer had any interest in them, adding that they were painted before Mary and he were married, so these paintings were not community property.
Asia spoke with him, and on November 21, 2013, she told me, "I think you are definitely good to go … RC's stance was that these paintings were done before he met my mom, and since they were not listed in the will, he supports whatever decision is made. So I do not believe you should have any concern regarding moving forward. He called me this afternoon, so it is all worked out."
His and my short discussion on the phone — one of less than a hand full of non-email communications for this story — set off a process where I began to believe it might actually be legal and socially acceptable for me to buy the paintings from River's biological son, if I could. Asia later told me that Mary would have been happy I got them.
I felt like a nervous detective. First no information was available, then a little, then an abrupt flood of it — much of it contradictory.
Picking and choosing among data I collected till I thought I could put enough plausible puzzle pieces together to have a fair idea what really happened, I developed this theory: Mary lived with River, who let her use his house for her studio, and he bought canvas and paint for these large paintings and let her exhibit them there, in his North Dallas home, in exchange for getting to keep at least three of the paintings, possibly twice that. If her show had been in a gallery, there might have been information on titles and prices, but I have no numbers, only that one title, and I'm told she didn't sell any of the paintings.
I never even knew about the show, so probably somebody besides Mary sent out invitations. Possibly to people who were perceived as rich, rather than us who are interested in art or in Mary, although at least one of her ex-husbands, who is a fine artist, one of whose work I have in my collection, also attended. That was back before DallasArtsRevue was online, but I would have attended, photographed her work and got an idea of the lay of the land.
Mary Iron Eyes Israel Taos Rising Production and Lithography by Printing Inc., Wichita, Kansas
Copyright 2002 Mary Iron Eyes Israel All Rights Reserved
Signed Image lithographed on a July, August and September
2002 calendar, which fellow artist Marty Ray later gave to me.
Mary Iron Eyes title unknown (ceremony) circa
x 49 inches $50
This painting of a healer, medicine person, priest or magico-religious practitioner of indeterminate gender was probably done at the same time — if not before the original painting of The Gathering above. It features a similarly stormy sky of dark birds — possibly Common Ravens, who are not at all unusual in the desert southwest where Mary spent many of her last years, but highly unlikely here in Dallas, Texas, where she actually painted, then showed it at that hauntingly unsuccessful exhibition that led to them becoming "lost."
Or they might be crows, which are common almost everywhere in the United States, except West Texas, most of New Mexico, south-most Arizona and California, eastern Nevada and western Utah, i.e., "The Southwest."
Crows symbolize wisdom, and ravens look like they're having a lot of fun. Lately, scientists have called crows the smartest birds, but Indians have known that for centuries. Both species are smart and symbolic and extraordinary. Of course, by species, ravens are crows — like egrets are herons, but there are enough differences to keep ornithologist busy for hours explaining.
The black birds in The Gathering are all but copied in this painting — although as exact as some of the copies are, it might be the other way around. But the black birds in The Gathering don't look like ravens, who are larger, have longer wingspans and shaggier throats. And the birds in this painting don't even look like birds.
Early on in this adventure, I wanted this painting and The Gathering, but I've been wavering since I realized this is somewhat less well composed and painted, although I still love the subject, the colors and the flying paint. It is smaller, and that's a good thing, because I am running out of wall space. And these birds are more abstract, and the sky and its birds are not as realistic. I had thought of the two paintings as a matched set, but they are no Doppelgangers.
In fact, these are so imperfect, I'm wondering if this came first, then The Gathering, with its stronger, more dynamic, complex and more interesting composition and fascinating colors, but I doubt anyone alive knows these paintings' chronology.
Looking at the face just below, I can't help but think it is Mary and her iron eyes staring at us.
Mary Iron Eyes ceremony head and shoulders detail
The Seller — Bryan — originally sent cell-phone images at my request, and soon as I found — via a friend of a friend and member of Asia's true family — an email address for one of Mary's grown children, I contacted her, whom I then still believed might have legal right to the paintings. And Mary's and Roy Cirigliana's younger daughter, Asia, has been very helpful in compiling this story.
When, several long days later, I showed Asia the paintings to help her decide which two she wanted, she said she thought the four-pointed figures in this red-robed person's hands were The Four Points, or Four Sacred — Cardinal — Directions often employed in Indian ceremonies and symbolism. See Four Colors and Four Directions.
Here, a nearly equi-armed cross, much like the black three-dimensional ceramic a few clicks below that Mary had explored into the third dimension when I knew her, is enclosed in a circle, and that symbol also figured prominently, though more subtly and questionably, in the next painting down — the one I had initially dismissed as "practice" for other paintings, but again I am beginning to understand more of what is going on in it, and others of these supposedly lost paintings.
brushed paint or a stain on the back of Mary Iron Eyes' ceremony painting detail
Then, about a third up from the bottom of this painting, there's an angled down, straight-across, then angled back up, discontinuous crease or join, that may be discerned in the full view of it above. I can feel it with my fingers, but I can't always see it.
On the plain canvas back, there's a heavy, but loosely brushed on, large blue-stain that extends and loops around, about 17 x 35 inches across the left and central part of the painting, which does not seem disturbed. The two are roughly in the same place, front and back, and I don't know enough about paintings to say what or why that is, but it may have covered up an error or repaired the canvas.
Maybe Mary wrote something back there, then changed her mind.
Comparing Black Birds
Mary Iron Eyes Black Bird in The Gathering
Mary Iron Eyes Black Bird in ceremony
Both these birds are in the upper left corners of their respective paintings. Notice that they are very similarly formed, with wings and tails configured almost identically, at the same angles, and into the same directions, except for the styles of painting and the backgrounds. The Gathering's multicolored sunset cloud background is more sophisticated, but ceremony's Birds have their abstract charm. Most of the other birds in ceremony do not fare as well.
Mary Iron Eyes title
unknown (red bird) 60
x 48 inches FS
This dark and complicated, jumbled yet painterly piece is the one painting that is most different from the others.
Most of the thick impasto of its spine is glossy, while the surrounding paint is matte to dull. A red bird with blazing, Phoenix-like tail rises from the lower middle, and what may be an elongated, pale blue Pegasus, one of whose wings could be on fire, trots the rounded earth beneath its hoofs.
The uppermost vertical slash of red, darkened with little blue lateral diagonals just above the center could be Pegasus' wing or a staff of feathers held by a chief. Or all or none, but I have seen that horse ever since I started looking into this odd painting in those less-than cell phone images The Seller originally sent.
Upper "Impasto Spine"
It looks wild with a contrasting thick, impasto centerpiece that literally stands out from its dullish ground. It is almost non-objective, but it has enough visual objectivity to keep us wondering. I am still curious when it was painted, but I always am, because I like placing works in a continuum as I attempt to understand what's going on, and where individual elements come from and how they develop. Although the dark, circular — perhaps even spherical — object on the right near the bottom looks like the orbs the Indian in ceremony balances in each outstretched hand, although this one does not have that crucial horizontal bar. Mary would not forget that.
I still think of this piece as an experiment that got lost, that its painter lacked the time, patience or inspiration to finish. But there's more to it than that. It's her only serious sally into abstraction in this collection, and though it's not altogether abstract, it seems a sharp and sudden move in that direction. It's wilder and simultaneously more subtle and overt — a strange mix that almost works. I like the Phoenix and the Pegasus, even if the artist didn't intend them, and if I had acres of wall space, I'd hang this one, too.
So far in this description, I've been careful not to ascribe this one to Mary Iron Eyes, and I'm not altogether certain it is hers. It could be that fake I dreaded before I started corresponding with Bryan Fertitta. It could also mirror intense anger or the disintegration of something precious.
I have studied painters painting, trying to understand what they are doing and why, and how long it takes — even if just when I think it's going fabulous, they paint over all that and go off into whole other directions. I don't believe I ever saw Mary paint. Sometimes artists like a little spectacle — and she certainly did — and don't mind showing what they're up to. Others hide it like it's a deep, dark secret, and of course it is, and maybe it should be. So we only get glimpses of those private moments when they expose their painterly souls.
I wonder if this was a blockage piece; as if she were trying to get beyond a certain place in her work or in her life. Sometimes we have to leave what we're working on, so we can think more clearly about it — so it's not in our face, badgering us.
Mary Iron Eyes Four Points ca
1990 black-glazed ceramic with black fired clay 15
x 17 x 1 inches
J R Compton Collection — gifted from Mary Iron Eyes NFS
This piece can can either be hung with the broken bits on the bottom, like here, or on the right. Glued into the hollows of two rounded ends of its spokes are loops of thick, loose, white fiber, so it can be hung on a nail.
Asia and I have conjectured a progression through the six lost paintings, beginning with the figurative works on top — neatly skipping the less important little pieces like this little Four Points sculpture — down through the paint storm of sudden transfigurations above it, then on down through the painterly but staid ravens or crows, where it slows to gentle into the happier and more serene light blue ones below.
First the sterling composition of the upward transition of the bright, contrasty one, then mellowing into the soft, smooth colors and composition of the 82-inches wide birds and sky painting near the bottom of this page.
In addition to my conjectures about the darker but more dynamic painting I'm calling red bird, Asia — and now I do, too — sees the trickster and teacher coyote's head rising almost vertically up from the curving stripes of light and dark blues and red clockwise from the bottom left corner. The mystic coyote becomes the haunches of the flaming horse arching over the dissolving Four Points globe.
Paintings each have a rhythm, and while this one seems to have got interrupted, it has paint-application styles and that one probable symbol in common with the preceding ceremonials — The Gathering and ceremony.
I found that double-bisected circle among the Internet's plethora of Indian Symbols, where it is also defined as "the greatest of gods," the Sun — or fire, either of which interpretations might be operative here. But though I have spent hours staring at this little monster, attempting to pick apart its fantasies and realities, I could easily be mistaken.
I wish I had access to more of her work to compare these with, but that might take forever, and I need to get this story out of my head and onto the web.
The Seller’s email — November 20, 2013
Good. Well, wanna make me an offer?
How much should I offer for the paintings? Mary's obituaries described national gallery and museum showings without naming any, and there seems to be no established price basis for her work. According to friends I talked with for this story, she usually gave her art to friends. That's certainly how I got my Iron Eyes treasures.
I didn't want to low-ball prices for the pieces I was most fascinated with, because I still wanted to honor Mary and her work, and I really wanted the whole collection, but realized I was feeling of a lot of nostalgia mixed with my appreciation. Mary was a dear friend from a time of mutual transition, and I did not want to diminish her or her work. But neither did I want to overpay for the others in which I was much less interested.
So I stewed over it a couple days, then offered Bryan $500 each for the two paintings at the top of this page, The Gathering and ceremony, whose title I'm keeping in lower case, because it doesn't really fit, and I have no idea what Mary called any but The Gathering, and except for the next piece down, none are signed, titled or dated, on the front, back or anywhere I can find.
And $35 each for the other four.
I didn't think he would go for what I considered an initial, low bid. Then, too late, I wondered if he might have taken even less, although I later decided he liked the sound of more than a thousand dollars. I considered the $35 each for what I still thought of as "the little ones," an opening bid that would inevitably rise. So I was surprised when Bryan took it and ran with it. I liked the way it worked out.
But he apparently hadn't been watching or listening to the weather stations, so he didn't expect a Blue Norther coming down out of The Rockies, that slowed his expected progress to Dallas from Las Vegas for our first agreed-upon delivery time. It was nerve-wracking waiting for him, even if he kept calling and giving us — Anna and Alex helped me wait — updated schedules, but in the end, he did not show, so I postponed delivery till the following Wednesday, when he arrived close enough to the agreed-upon time.
Alex Troup and I carted them into the front room while Bryan directed and watched, and when we were back in my suddenly much busier living room, I handed him a wad of 13 one hundred dollar bills. At first he didn't count them, so I told him he should. He did, and after a little chit-chat he drove off.
I've had more than a week with them now, and those big chunks of rectangular art are already in my way, and they block the visual gentleness of the one room in my house I keep clean and sometimes even serene. It's nice to have them, but I really hope I can get rid of most of them, even if I am growing fonder of several.
I promised Asia two paintings for $35 each, and she's paid but has not yet taken the other painting. She will eventually (I hope, maybe) get the big one we're calling birds and sky, but she'll need a truck or a trailer for art that's 82 inches long. And now that I've finally decided which ones I'll keep, I'm willing to sell others to either bona fide friends of Mary Iron Eyes or people who most helped me create this long page of words, pictures and hypotheses.
The most realistic price I have come up with would be in the range of about $50 each, which is what I bid on each painting of the original six, after the first two thatI still think are the best. That makes more sense now that I've changed my mind about the other painting I want to keep at least twice. That's $35 each plus $15 each for what Bryan called Shipping & Handling.
But I really want my house back.
three ravens — or crows
Mary Iron Eyes title unknown (three
crows) circa 1993 36
x 108 inches
Asia Cirigliana Matson Collection
Each panel is signed on the back, with placement instructions numbered right to left.
I wasn't a fan of this until 500X' 35th Anniversary Exhibition Curator Leslie Murrell, said she wanted to show it, of the six images I sent her. Then Asia told me she liked it best (and she now owns it, although it is in the 500X show). But I never really gave it much thought until I made this final photograph before I delivered it to 500X.
First time I shot it, I arranged them according to Mary's large numbers on the back, #1, #2 and #3. Then I realized she'd done that backwards, right to left, which should not have surprised me. She was like that, often going a different direction from where anyone expected, and usually making that work. For the photo I sent Murrell, I jockeyed them around in Photoshop, so the light looked discontinuous and amateurish. But Mary also instructed, "left, center and right," and that saved the day for my my last photo of it. Plus, this way, they fit together better.
Gradually, I came to understand that I like the magic and ritual images best, because I knew Mary was heavy into ceremonies and things spiritual. We often talked about magic in the world as a real and positive force, not at all the hopeless hopefulness that has since come to be known as "magical thinking" that people who don't believe in magic use to describe when their hopes and wishes don't match reality.
One of the factoids I unearthed doing online and other research for this story was that in 1981 at NTSU, Mary exhibited in an on-campus exhibition called The Occult Object, showing she'd had strong feelings for the more metaphysical aspects of art objects for a long, long time.
The three squares of painted canvas that comprise the crow/raven triptych are the only ones in the collection that are signed — once "Iron Eye" and twice "Iron Eyes," in large, quick script, and none are dated. It turned out I was especially lucky with Murrell's choice, because the three rectangular objects comprising this piece are the only of the six found paintings that I could easily fit into my car and deliver to 500X.
It's one dark bird per canvas. They are iridescent blue-black like our own most populous Blackbird species, the Great-tailed Grackles, except with bigger feathers and dimensions and deeper meanings. The brushstrokes are thinner than before (If you accept our made-up chronology down this page.) and quicker, done with more variety and speed. All against that vivid red that holds the tychs together. Kinda wish I'd got into it a little quicker, but I feel solid good about having it in that show and in Mary's family, lost no more.
Mary Iron Eyes Offering Bowl 1993
clay with glazed interior
and unglazed exterior 5 inches diameter x 2.1 inches high
J R Compton Collection — gifted from Mary Iron Eyes NFS
Mary gave me this bowl to burn offerings in, and I have, although now it usually holds what was once a lusciously colorful flower Anna gave me that has become empty of color but still full of the its beauty and form, overtly manifesting all our great transitions.
Mary Iron Eyes title
unknown (blue birds) acrylic on canvas 60
x 48 inches
J R Compton Collection NFS
This is the other one I now hope to keep — though I was careful when Asia was here, not to be too overt about that. As Mary's closest living relative whom I might ever get to talk with, I wanted to understand what she saw in them all, and which she liked and why. We spent over an hour touring the collection through my living and dining rooms, and I briefly braved opening my kitchen to show her an odd "self-portrait" Mary made for me of small pieces she'd asked me to gather, that "meant something to me," which she gathered and attached. Asia recognized it, as she likely had one of her own.
She likes this one, too, but luckily she likes the biggest of the bunch more — and says she has room for it. I might not have a week ago, but now I agree that those are among the best.
As often, figuring out what I really want is a drawn-out process of decisioning back and forth and back again. I'd love the big one more if I had more walls empty of art. I've even been thinking I might move, someday, into a bigger house with an attached garage and much more wall space.
Now that I've finally got my own, high-resolution and color-accurate photographs of these, with the real things close-enough by to check the colors, contrast and density, I'm warming to several I previously dismissed. Though this one's colors are similar to the next one down, I'm seeing that it has almost everything that "practice," dba red bird [above] lacked.
Overall, this one is a visual transition from the middle bottom edge, up through the vivid storm of its major cloud horizon via a shredding, wraith-like blue rain- or thunder-bird, flying upward through a break in the clouds, past the remnants of a rainbow, into calmer, gentler, skies, comprising yet another of those big transitions that might already have been on Mary's mind. Or just in mine.
Mary Iron Eyes Pink-feathered Bird detail
The big blue bird at the bottom is obvious. This darker, smaller one with one pink tail feather above it, is a little more subtle, and the lines and forms over that have almost achieved pure spirituality. It's beautiful, lushly colorful but without those slashing reds and intensely contrasting hues of the last lost paintings.
I'm looking forward to Asia's second visit, hoping she'll take that big, beautiful one she describes as "large w/ soft colors." 82 inches (6.83 feet) by 48 inches qualifies it as huge, especially in the context of my living room, where it blocks one largish love seat, one largish sculpture object, my globe of the world that sometimes rolls around wandering the room, and most of the light from the day-bright window behind it.
Altogether, these paintings must have taken weeks to complete. Maybe months. And that's a lot of rent and materials to pay back, especially after the show she created them for did not sell even one. I'm sure that was a shock to both River and Mary, and it seems a plausible basis for conflict over who owned which.
birds and sky
Mary Iron Eyes title unknown (birds and sky) acrylic on canvas 82 x 48 inches
Asia Cirgliana Maston Collection
This is the biggest of the bunch and perhaps the most popular. Though huge, it is beautiful. Anna and Lin both like it best, and Asia may still take it away, if she can arrange transport. It is softer and more nebulous than the others, but gentle. I think of it as resolved, but I tend to think in stories, whether they are there or not. I don't know if Mary saw these as manifesting a transition — but knowing what I know now and she may not have then, I cannot help but think of this as a soft sort of acceptance.
I keep being surprised how popular this image, which I almost entirely dismissed as too pretty and plain, has been, and I often wonder why she used such a large canvas to make this statement. It must have seemed very important at the time she was painting it.
82 inches is a lot of canvas, although the paint is thinner than many of what we are calling "the earlier paintings."
Mary Iron Eyes leftmost bird with sky detail from birds and sky
Now compare this with those other paintings' Black Birds, the raven/crows or the transitional blue bird, not to even mention the fiery red bird. Are we all even on the same planet? It seems hard to believe they were all done by the same hand at about the same time.
Letter to a Lawyer
L ate in the game, but just in time on the arc of this story before I agreed to buy the paintings, I contacted a friend, who has extensive experience in intellectual property law. His legal credentials are set out at www.linmedlinlaw.com/about/, and his pro bono First Amendment defense of a mural in Pilot Point, Texas is the last of the “success stories” discussed in an article at https://members.ala.org/nif/v55n2/success_stories.html.
See also our illustrated Pilot Point Visit story.
In light of many of the new facts I unearthed during my detective work for this story, these are slightly updated and corrected versions of my letter to him and his back to me. I have carefully removed both facts that were never true and those that only served to confuse, though probably not all of those.
As usual in DallasArtsRevue, indented gray text like this indicates comments by the editor.
“This involves your expertise as a lawyer, so I don't know if you'd even want to mess with it.
I'm still attempting to straighten out the story, which I hope to publish in DallasArtsRevue but not so early that it would scare off the person who wants to sell the paintings to me.
(I thought I knew enough not to get involved financially, although I was plenty involved emotionally, and by the time I wrote this, I was looking forward to getting involved financially.)
… I'm writing a story as an odd set of circumstance unveils about some paintings Mary Iron Eyes, a dear friend of mine now deceased 16 years ago of pancreatic cancer, who either left some paintings at a guy who had wanted to look at them awhile, claiming he was going to buy them's house, or she just left them there when she lived there, then could not get the guy to give them back; and now that guy's biological son, is in email contact with me trying to sell those paintings for, he says, "whatever the market will bear."
I contacted Mary Iron Eyes' children, whom I believed might own the paintings now, but Mary's last husband, R.C. Israel, says they had tried to get them back from the guy, but the guy wouldn't give them up, and then the last husband told me he told Mary she could always paint more paintings (showing a profound misunderstanding of how painters work).
But she died, then the guy who had the paintings in his house also died and left his house and contents (including the paintings), and ten or so years later his "biological" son who has the paintings wants to sell them to me.
There are six paintings, one of which is a triptych, so eight actual rectangular canvases with paint on them.
I don't know whether the person who is trying to sell them either inherited them or owns them, but he's got them.
Mary's Children [seem to] believe R.C. that they're lost forever, and they may even believe him that they're not worth trying to get back.
Nobody, including me, has any real understanding of how to get them back.
The paintings probably aren't particularly valuable. Maybe a thou or couple thou each for the best of them in the best possible circumstances, although R.C. Israel, who says he's been in the art business for forty years, wouldn't hazard a guess.
My questions to you, should you even want to think about this mess:
Who owns the paintings? Apparently they were not included in Mary's will.
Is there any way to legally get them back from the kid of the guy who kept them when Mary said she wanted them back?
Is it all just dust in the wind?
Would I be perpetrating a criminal act if I bought the paintings, since I don't know if the dude selling them legally owns them, and his biological father may not have got them legally?"
Mary Iron Eyes Offering Detail from The Gathering
I think I recognize that bowl.
Letter from a Lawyer
That’s quite a story. I have not done any research on these issues, and I'm assuming here the facts in your e-mail are accurate, and the guy in whose house she left the paintings had no right to keep them. Without doing some, I’m not even sure who technically “owns” the paintings at this point, but given their low value, it’s a theoretical issue, as it would never make sense to litigate. Almost certainly Mary’s will did cover these paintings in a general remainder clause, in which, after making specific bequests, she left the remainder of her estate to someone.
Depending on the terms of the will, the paintings may be owned by the children. But given the circumstances, if the “biological son” isn’t willing to turn them over to their rightful owners for free, this seems neither here nor there.
What happened here is, again assuming that the guy who had the paintings had no right to them, although that may not actually turn out to be the case, then the paintings were “converted” by this guy who held onto Mary Iron Eyes paintings back after she left them with him (hereinafter the “Deceased Converter”). When he refused to give them back, she could have sued for them, bringing a common law claim for “conversion,” as well as claims for unjust enrichment and possibly fraud.
For examples of conversion of art works with dramatic stakes, check out : ArtNews.com's Conversion Presents Thorny Issues for Art Owners. Depending on details of the transaction, there was also probably a civil claim under the Texas Theft Liability Act, and the Deceased Converter, also may have committed a crime under the Texas Penal Code.
But Mary Iron Eyes apparently took no legal action, and the statutes of limitations on the torts have long since run, and the Deceased Converter is dead. Significantly, this is NOT a case where she did not know that the Converter had her paintings and wasn’t giving them back, so no “discovery rule” tolls the statute of limitations.
I don’t know offhand what the legal remedy would be at this point for Mary Iron Eyes’ family to get back her paintings, which is not to say that a remedy doesn’t exist. But if one exists, it still wouldn’t be worth their pursuing in my opinion, given what you’ve said about the value of the paintings.
As for your acquiring the paintings by buying them from the biological son … I do not think you would be in any danger of being convicted of a “crime” if you bought the paintings, especially since you’ve alerted the people you believe to be the rightful owners — the husband and children — about the situation.
I think the worst that could happen is that someone willing to pay lots of money in legal fees would somehow successfully argue that the “biological son” had no legal title to the paintings, and that you actually knew this when you bought them and that therefore you lacked title and someone with better title owns them. Slim odds of that happening
Does the late-husband have any interest in buying back the paintings? I am guessing that this “biological son” has no other readily available potential buyer for these paintings besides you. After consultation with the husband, you could offer the biological son a real low-ball price for all six, and if he sells, you could then split the art work with the husband and children who have long given them up as lost.
The husband told me he has no interest in them. I believe the other children have been contacted, and there was no known price at that time, but they have shown no interest in these paintings.
I hope this helps,
It helped immensely. Thank you so much for your time and effort. It means I can buy the paintings and even keep some.
Wiggling One Found,
Lost Mary Iron Eyes Painting
into The 35th Anniversary 500X Exhibition
Three Ravens, Three Crows or Three
Black Birds, from the only place I could
get the whole of it in one picutre — a quarter the way up the back stairway
After several, overtly ethnic exhibitions at D-Art, then still in the Meadows Building on Swiss Avenue, after they had all but ignored minorities for decades, I suggested Mary show there. But she adamantly insisted that she did not want a posthumous show at D-Art, though I bet she would cherish the notion of showing again at 500X, where she was an early and active member of the collective — and she had participated in their 20th Anniversary exhibition.
But I didn't know what the 2103 show's policies were, nor who was putting it together, and I didn't want to push my luck.
500X' 35th Anniversary Exhibition, Creative Differences: 35 Years at 500X was originally scheduled to open December 7, but the ice storm intervened, and the exhibition was postponed till December 14, 2013 through January 5, 2014, and while I had wondered whether it might be possible to get one of Mary's paintings in it, I didn't move on that idea till I was near certain I would have paintings to proffer.
I dearly liked the idea of including Mary's work, so I contacted the only official in the latest collection of artists that is the 500X cooperative I had correspondence with, Colette Copeland, who does their email notices and did a video I had commented on in a recent Art Here Lately (link now) or here (link later).
So I emailed Colette, and she gave me email addresses for Joel Kiser, who, she said, is "in charge of compiling the archives and chronicling the history of 500X," and the the show's guest curator, former 500X member Leslie Murrell, who now works at the Fort Worth Modern, but Colette told me "The show has been set for at least six months now. It isn't a comprehensive overview of works, but rather selections from the years."
I contacted both members, and heard back from Archivist Joel Kiser first. He told me, "I do believe that Leslie has set the exhibition already. Rest assured Mary "Iron Eyes" is represented on our alumni member list that will be posted in the members space during the december exhibition. The list is a working list of all documented members since the hipchilds [Meaning, I assume, Will Hipps and Richard Childers, who bought the building and founded the cooperative.] broke-in the space so long ago."
I was dismissive of that spiel, but not disheartened, because by then I was in contact with Leslie Murrell who said that "The show is pretty much set in stone, but there may be a tiny bit of wiggle room, if a work seems like it will fit into the current layout. Please understand that I can't rearrange much of the show, so if the work doesn't fit in easily, I won't be able to include it. I'm a fan of her work, though, so I'd love to see what would be available."
I responded that I knew about the difficulties of receiving work late, but that my experience was with DallasArtsRevue Shows, and we always left room, because whom we were dealing with were members, not quite realizing then that's whom we were dealing with here, too. A lot else in this saga occurred while I waited for Murrell's decision, but I had good feelings and plenty of hope. I waited.
The next afternoon, Bryan delivered the paintings; I began to understand the immense dimensions of these things; and I realized I liked Bryan and began trusting that what he said was true. I had been worried and concerned, but since communicating with R.C. Israel, Bryan and the lawyer, I have felt at peace about the Lost Paintings and my impending but temporary ownership of the collection.
Then on November 27, Murrell wrote that "I think the raven triptych would be great in the show." and she told me exactly when she would be installing, so I could deliver it in plenty of time. And I did, although I've just learned that "the ravens" may actually be crows. The facts keep changing.
A curator's decision is the decision, so I never questioned it. I would have liked to have had one of the healers in that show, but I believe the ravens/crows were ideal, for all kinds of reasons. By delivery time, I had sold it to Mary's younger daughter Asia Cirigliana Maston — for the promised $35, so it seemed especially appropriate to have the painting in that show be one that belonged to the one family member who responded to my entreaties.
Mary Iron Eyes ceremony (upper detail) showing the dark birds the new owner loves
I sold two paintings to Mary's younger daughter Asia — but it took her nearly a month to take ownership of the one not in the 500X show, and I wonder whether I should have just given her one. Because someone who helped me more than anyone on this odd adventure had expressed serious appreciation for the big one, and I would love to have given it to them, but I'd already offered so to Asia, so I let it go. I like to think my rules keep changing to adapt to my varying experience. But I dither, keep trying to catch up with reality, who always escapes me.
Now I'm enforcing my latest, one painting per person, maybe even including me, rule.
I've just let go another of the paintings to someone who also helped this adventure, but I'd only got the opportunity to ask her directly a couple days ago on New Year's. I didn't know her emotions about the offer till the day she was to pick up the painting, when she said, "I am actually a little giddy with excitement about it," when she emailed. When she arrived, she was visibly moved, almost tearful, and that was contagious.
That was by far the best feedback I've got from someone I've distributed a painting to. And though I've loved and unloved ceremony, when I saw and felt her emotion, I knew hers was in the best possible new home for it. And yes, she knew Mary, had dealings with and worked with her, and she had long wanted one of Mary's paintings. I had got my camera out and had it around my neck, but I never once thought to shoot it. I was so happy to have found a good home for one of my favorites of Mary's paintings, I guess I just forgot to take a picture, so instead I'm heading this addendum with the part of the painting its new owner said she liked best — the birds.
Now, I have three paintings left. The not-altogether-wonderful red bird, the absolutely altogether wonderful The Gathering that began this adventure and I will keep forever, if possible, and blue bird. I would love to sell those to someone who knew and loved Mary and who has room and wants a painting.
Mary Iron Eyes black chevron circa
1990 glazed ceramic 11 x 17 x 1.7 inches
J R Compton Collection — gifted from Mary Iron Eyes NFS
This is another iconic image Mary made many of. She had a fascination for both this and the Four Points shapes, and she made many instances of each, and she even incorporated them into other artworks.
Special thanks to
Lin Medlin, Asia Cirigliana Maston, R.C. Israel, Alex Troup, Laura Walters Abrams, Anna Palmer, Susan Lecky, Marty Ray and Bryan Fertitta, who all helped accomplish this transaction and compile its history. Thank you all.
since 10:30 PM, Sunday,
December 8, 2013.