Mary Anne Keel Jenkins, born in 1929 in Stokes, North Carolina, rebelled against the genteel expectations placed upon mid-twentieth century Southern women. She trained in, advocated for, and taught art, successfully keeping up with the trends of her contemporaries. Raised in Greenville, her father funded her painterly pursuits along with business classes. After one year at East Carolina University, she moved to Raleigh in 1951 to study at Ferree School of Art for a BFA. When she graduated, she married Glenn G. Jenkins Jr., with whom she had two children, and worked at the Raleigh Times. In this early period, the works she made from her small studio above a shoe shop were realistic and often included still lifes, portraits, and figure paintings.

Jenkins’s art seemed to have four distinct eras, but she played with medium and style throughout her career. She explained that her color field paintings, in communicating suffering and peace, reflected her state of mind at the time of her divorce in the late 1960s. Taking inspiration from abstract expressionists Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler, Jenkins put her own spin on drip paintings between 1965 and 1975. Her time studying at San Carlos Art School in Mexico City in 1971, however, would inspire the next decade of her work, in which she used mixed media on amate, or Mexican tree bark paper, which had an appealing “crude, dry look.” These serials were largely rectangles, circles, and metallic beads stacked in a grid pattern. In 1975, she became a driving force in having North Carolina laws changed to distinguish original prints from commercial reproductions, and the following year, she was named in the Who’s Who in American Art. 

In the 1980s she traveled to Europe with an exhibition of paintings by North Carolina artists which was shown in three countries. A decade later, Jenkins began her foray into acrylics on prepared surfaces. Using muted colors and architectural elements inspired by a trip to Pompeii, she created abrasive surfaces using marble dust and cheesecloth. From the turn of the century until the end of her life in 2017, she worked largely with Alkyd and collage on paper. She incorporated common Cubist motifs such as music and cards, adding some of her own bird motifs as well Her appeal to the “intellectual rather than the emotional” in these works reflects her long history within art education. In addition to her many art courses and practices, she was also an instructor at Pullen Arts Center for 47 years and taught continuing education classes at North Carolina State University. Over the course of her career, she won dozens of awards, including the Raleigh Medal of Art in 1994, and was involved heavily in the art community, serving on the Raleigh Arts Commission from 1984–1990, the Raleigh Artist Housing Task Force, and the Art in Public Places Task Force.