Margaret M. Law
(Spartanburg, South Carolina, 1871 - 1956, Spartanburg, South Carolina)
Authors and artists are often counseled to work from experience, and painters in the South during the early part of the twentieth century found ample subject matter in their everyday lives. The painter and printmaker Margaret Law of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is an excellent example of this practice. In turn, like J. Kelly Fitzpatrick in Montgomery, she enriched her community by acting as a driving force in fostering an appreciation of art in her hometown. (1)
Law is one of a group of women who left the South to study in New York City at the turn of the century . After graduating from Spartanburg’s Converse College in 1895, she pursued her art training with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri at the New York School of Art and the Art Students League. In the early 1920s, she studied briefly in Paris, and her work reveals her exposure to Post-Impressionism and Fauvism in its brilliant color and gestural brushwork. After concluding her training, Law supported herself by teaching, first at The Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, and later with the Spartanburg School District, where she also had a supervisory role.
Law did produce some pure landscapes in the uncultivated areas around Spartanburg, but most of her paintings, etchings, and lithographs depict the local black community engaged in agricultural activities or other daily tasks. Although she also painted members of her own race, Law—like many artists of that time—believed that the lives of African-American families reflected an intimate connection between people and land. She followed the advice of her teacher Henri in selecting subjects that allowed her to portray the dignity of labor and the people engaged in it.
Law was also an activist, extending her educational endeavors to the larger community over the course of her life. In April 1907, while still in her twenties, she organized Spartanburg’s first public art exhibition. This ambitious show featured one hundred works, among them paintings by Chase and Henri, two of Law’s New York teachers. Those who attended the exhibition voted Henri’s painting The Girl with Red Hair (1903) as best in show, and Law was instrumental in raising funds to buy the work, now in the local art museum. (2)
(1) Margaret Law: Painter of Southern Life (Spartanburg, SC: The Spartanburg Museum of Art, 1999), n.p.
(2) The most comprehensive source of information on Law and her career is the Spartanburg County Regional Museum of History in South Carolina.
American Paintings from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 2006, cat. no. 54, p. 140.