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Margaret Law

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. It was in the familiar landscape of home that Law could best heed the advice of her most influential instructor, Ashcan artist Robert Henri. Of her own work, Law said simply: “I put down what I see, wherever I am, and the result is a record of life in a small Southern town.”

Born into a prominent Southern family, Margaret Law first attended Converse College, the local women’s college. Following her 1895 graduation as the institution’s first art major, she 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 Henri, 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.

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 and then enjoyed a twenty-year tenure on the art faculty at Bryn Mawr College in Baltimore. In 1936, Law returned permanently to Spartanburg, where she worked as Superintendent of Art in the public school system for a decade. 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.

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