By Denise Dunbar | [email protected]
Mary Ann Stevens, one of the original Torpedo Factory artists who helped start the art center, died peacefully at home on Nov. 6. She was 89.
Stevens was best known for her portrait painting, primarily in oil, though she was a versatile artist who also worked in pastel, acrylic and watercolor. Her work was frequently part of shows at the Art League gallery and the Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory.
Two of the more prestigious shows that she took part in were “Virginia Artists: Juror’s Choice” at the Virginia Museum in Richmond in 1976, and the 157th annual exhibition at the National Academy of Design in New York in 1982. Her oil painting “Beach Scene” was on exhibit at the Virginia Museum, while her watercolor “The Hair-Do” hung in the National Academy show.
Marian Van Landingham, founder and first director of the Torpedo Factory, knew Stevens for more than 40 years as both a friend and fellow artist. She held Stevens’ art in high regard.
“Hers were very elegant, peaceful kinds of paintings. She also did very good portraits,” Van Landingham said. “Her work had a refined quality about it. She was an accomplished artist.”
Stevens’ daughter, Margaret, said her mother’s work was varied.
“She considered herself mostly a portrait painter, but she created beautiful landscapes and still life,” Margaret Stevens said.
“There were many portraits done of me, my sister and my father. My whole childhood was sitting for portraits,” she said with a laugh.
Margaret Stevens said her mother was drawn to art at a young age. She said she didn’t begin to pursue art as a career, though, until her father, who was in the Marine Corps, was stationed in Hawaii, and the family spent several years living there.
“I have a lot of slides that they both took when we were there,” Margaret Stevens said. “She was definitely inspired by the beauty of Hawaii.”
Van Landingham said Stevens and her family had pitched in to help open the Torpedo Factory in 1974.
“We painted and cleaned in that summer of ’74,” Van Landingham said. “Artists painted and cleaned that building. … Families all helped. … That same time Margaret and her sister were [young]. They helped.”
Margaret Stevens said that the summer the Torpedo Factory opened was memorable.
“I remember it being a lot of fun,” she said. “[Mom] would say, ‘Put your old clothes on because we’re going to go down there, and we’re going to get dirty.’ … Once her studio was there I went in a lot with her on Saturdays. I would spend the day.”
Van Landingham said in the early years, before the building was renovated in 1983, Stevens’ studio was right at the building’s entrance on King Street and that Stevens served as both a greeter of visitors and as the “lookout.”
“She greeted people as they came in. … She would always recognize if anyone famous came in the building,” Van Landingham said.
“There were people who came in – Virginia politicians and congress-people – and my mom had a good eye for recognizing people,” Margaret Stevens said.
One of those famous people to come into the art center was then Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, who commissioned Stevens to do a portrait of his wife. Margaret Stevens still has the note the Chief Justice wrote her mom after the portrait was completed.
Margaret Stevens said her mother kept her studio, which eventually was moved to the third floor, until she was 86. Van Landingham said Stevens continued to come to her studio even when it obviously required a great effort to do so.
“She loved the factory and she wanted to continue to be part of it,” Van Landingham said. “She was a very sweet, nice person. A caring kind of individual.”
Mary Ann Stevens was born in Memphis, Tennessee to Michael Joseph Bosi and Annabelle Bosi on Nov. 26, 1928. She was the wife of the late Marine Corps. Lt. Col. Marvin Hamilton Stevens, who died in 1987.
She was the mother of Catherine Stevens Quinn of Cincinnati, Ohio and Margaret Stevens (Richard Shaffer) of Alexandria. She is also survived by five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Stevens attended Memphis State University and studied art at the University of Hawaii, the Corcoran School of Art and the Art League of Alexandria. Her paintings and drawings are in private collections around the world.
Burial will be at Arlington Cemetery at a later date. The Art League is arranging a show of Stevens’ work, the proceeds of which will support the Art League.