Maryanne Parson dead at 60


March 14, 2008   ·   12 Comments

Maryanne Parson
Maryanne Parson. This is not upside down. It is a detail of a very large painting, The Ship, that has portions that orient in different directions. It reflects on life in the urban landscape and on the endangered earth.

I am sad to report the death of artist Maryanne Parson, whose large, complex paintings mixed trompe l’oeil surrealism with new age symbolism and personal storytelling. She died last night.

Maryanne, who went to the Academy and Philadelphia College of Art (now UArts), first became known about town for her True Romance comics-inspired menu paintings at Lickety Split, one of the “fern restaurants” that marked the beginning of Philadelphia’s reputation as a food city. The first of her outstanding menu paintings were on blackboard, and included hunky men and bombshell women discussing their angst along with the sauce bearnaise. Eventually, the menus became leather folders, also adorned with Parson’s witty take on romance amid the beefcake.

Eventually her painting turned to erotica of women loving women, inflected with spiritual symbols like crystals, shafts of light and bits of Egyptian cosmology. She displayed the work at women’s festivals–the largest one in Michigan, the Midwest festival, and Sister Space in the Poconos.

Maryanne Parson
by Maryanne Parson, from her toy series. This is a small painting, maybe 8 or 10 inches wide. But her subject is pretty big–how we instill in our children the values of misplaced patriotism and war.

Although she displayed the work at those venues, she was a reluctant seller, holding on to the art that was so much a part of who she was and who she loved, including her sometime partner and lifelong friend–my dear friend of nearly 40 years, Millie.

Maryanne also created work that looked out at the world we live in and described her feelings about war, the endangered environment and the visually overwhelming urban landscape.

She never let her admiration for accomplished painting limit her to canvas. When we were in our 20s, Millie and I each had wife-beater shirts decorated with enormous vermillion roses Maryanne had painted on them. And for many years, Millie carried her glasses and her money in leather pouches Maryanne painted. More recently, she painted furniture (I have a chair of hers that I gave to Murray as an anniversary gift) and beautiful boxes, one of which Millie gave me as a gift. Maryanne also painted ceramics with her father. “She put her full force into anything she did. Her ceramics are incredible,” said Millie, who called me early this morning with the bad news.

Maryanne Parson
Maryanne Parson, Basketgirls, a box that Millie gave me, about 5 x 10 x 3 inches. Like so much of Maryanne’s work, it has a a sense of humanity’s role in the cosmos. The center is gold leaf.

Her body of work included portraits of toys–almost always with some surreal twist to suggest toys as powerful objects and symbols. She also painted family members, all of these works a reflection of her deep love for her large Philadelphia Catholic family, including her brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and her parents.

Like so many artists, Parson earned a living doing odd jobs. In many ways that was how she wanted it. She was extremely loyal, and she was modest about her art and about the person she was. She always retained a loving, positive energy and spirituality that carried her through, and drew people to her. But her art was her passion, and her work pulsed with ambition and seriousness.

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12 Responses to “Maryanne Parson dead at 60”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What you wrote here is truly amazing but not surprising. All of us will miss her.

    Cousin Pete D

  2. libby says:

    She was an amazing woman!! We’re all lucky we knew her.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Libby for your loving rememberances of Maryanne. I knew Maryanne from the Academy (PAFA) and I am saddened by her passing. I will remember her always.


  4. libby says:

    Hi, Barbara, a lot of people remember Maryanne. Thanks for the note.

    For one an all, there was a death notice in the Inquirer yesterday.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this excellent article. I was privileged to be in Maryanne’s life and see the making of the space ship painting from the beginning. As an artist myself, I constantly learned from/with her. She is an extra-ordinary rare gem.

  6. libby says:

    Maybe we’ll all meet afterward on the spaceship. Thanks for sharing your love for Maryanne.

  7. Louise says:

    Thank you so much for this entry and the photos. And thanks to those who let me know about her death. Thanks especially to Millie for being there for Mars. I was close to Mars from 1988- about 1996 or so while she lived in AR. I appreciated the genius of her work, and an thrilled to have portraits of myself and my partner done by her. I had a significant true heart connection with Mars which will always enrich my life. Mars, her partner Kymara, Nancy and I spent many fun-filled joyous times together. Nancy and I still laugh with joy at some of Mars antics during the many hours we spent in the water at Beaver lake. I also remember the many, long, meaningful talks we shared. I have grieved the loss of Mars on this earthly plane for some days, but am now becoming peaceful knowing that she is no longer suffering. Until we meet again my beloved Mars!

  8. libby says:

    thanks for that note, Louise. I am so touched to read all these wonderful remembrances.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for writing this blog about Maryanne. I always admired her beautiful art work and her contentment with the world around her.

    Cousin Clarinda R

  10. libby says:

    Hi, Clarinda, thanks for the note.
    MaryAnne was so well loved!

  11. I’m so sorry to hear Maryanne is gone, glad she returned to painting, and that she had people who loved her. She, Ed Matrazak (sp?)and I were friendly while we were at the Academy and PCA, as they were called while we were students. I spent time with her in the morgue–where she painted at the Academy–and we studied together at her apartment. When I last saw her, she was washing dishes at a restaurant in Philly. She wasn’t painting and she wasn’t happy. She had such talent; I loved her work and I always hoped she’d gone back to it. I see Maryanne’s life turned out well and I’m glad. She was a good person with a lot to share. God bless her.

  12. libby says:

    Thanks for sharing those memories!

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