Margaret Moffett Law’s art education led her to the most prestigious academies and influential teachers of the day. And while these studies took her far and wide—domestically and abroad—she spent much of her notable career in her hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina. Born into a prominent Southern family, she first attended Converse College, the local women’s college. Following her 1895 graduation as the institution’s first art major, Law enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she took classes from William Merritt Chase, the American impressionist and most important teacher of his generation. She followed Chase to New York; there, her studies continued under his direction at the Cooper Art School, Art Students League, and New York School of Art. Over the years, her other instructors included F. Luis Mora, Charles Hawthorne at the art colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts; André Lhote in his Paris atelier; Lamar Dodd at the University of Georgia in 1946; and leading muralists in Mexico City. Of all her instructors, however, it was Robert Henri whom she identified as the most influential on her creative development. Henri, leader of the Ashcan School, encouraged Law and other artists to find inspiration and expression in ordinary life.
A highly independent woman remembered for her keen intellect and lively spirit, Law enjoyed a part-time career as an illustrator in New York during her student days. At the conclusion of World War I, she served with distinction on the art faculty at Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore for nearly twenty years. In 1936, Law returned permanently to Spartanburg, where she worked as Superintendent of Art in the public school system for a decade. A vocal arts advocate, she co-founded the Spartanburg Arts and Crafts Club with fellow artist Josephine Couper, which evolved into the Spartanburg County Museum of Art. Despite her removal from major art centers, Law actively exhibited her work, showing at the Society of Independent Artists (1917-1931); Corcoran Gallery of Art (1918); Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1921); Southern States Art League; and other venues.
Law’s aesthetic approach became more free and gestural as she matured. Her paintings of the 1930s and 1940s—executed in a vivid palette and featuring simplified forms in rhythmic compositions—reflect her adoption of a modernist technique, while their subject matter connects her to the American Scene movement. Law’s unsentimental depictions of rural laborers, often African Americans, established her reputation. Working in the same vein, Law captured the residents and routines of the local textile mill communities that were central to Spartanburg’s economy and her own family’s prosperity. No matter the medium—watercolor, pastel, oil, or prints—Law portrayed the Southern experience in a signature style that was at once familiar and fresh, unidealized yet somehow affectionate. Of her own efforts, Law stated: “I put down what I see, wherever I am, and the result is a record of life in a small Southern town.”
Law participated in a number of important arts organizations including the Baltimore Watercolor Club (of which she served as president for three years), American Print Society, League of Professional Artists, and National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Morris Museum of Art, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and University of South Carolina.