Mary-ites of Moment
To meet Lucy Matthews Chambers of the Class of 1895 is to sense the sparkling enthusiasm for art that has characterized her life. Wishing to honor her for her creative achievements in this field, the editors asked her for information about her career and received such an interesting account that we are publishing it below. We are proud to present Mrs. Chambers as a Mary-ite of Moment.
“My first instruction in art was at the old Mary Institute, when it was on Beaumont and Locust Streets even before it moved to Lake Avenue. I entered Mary Institute in 1882 when I was seven but because of two serious illnesses did not graduate until 1895 when I was nineteen.
“Although my art training began with Miss Mills and Miss Butler and continued by doing copies, it was Miss Lucy Smith’s course in the History of Art that made me want to become an artist. It was that early training at Mary Institute that brought me to painting and enabled me in my eighties to draw, paint, and dress eight large figures for our Christmas crèche and Easter tableau at the Gatesworth Manor.
“Two years after I left Mary Institute I was a student at the old St. Louis Art School at Nineteenth and Locust Streets, studying the antique from plaster casts and drawing in charcoal under Percy Davis and learning portraiture and landscape painting under Edmund Wuerpel. During my second year there, some of my oils were chosen for the school’s final exhibit. My name was put up for membership in the Artists’ Guild, which met at that time in a room over Stumpf’s Grocery on Vandeventer Avenue just west of Vandeventer Place. Its president was Halsey C. Ives, who was also head of the Art School, and my first evening at the guild was thrilling for me when I was seated next to Professor Ives at the head table. Our duties at the guild were many, from judging and hanging exhibits to cooking and serving meals. Meanwhile I continued my work at the Art School, where Frederick Oaks Sylvester’s Mississippi River paintings inspired me and I learned landscape from Dawson-Watson’s outdoor sketch classes. A studio at home gave me a place to do portraits, and a portrait of my father, Leonard Matthews, was hung at the guild.
“In 1908 I went to New York and studied at the Art Students’ League under Dumond, William Merritt Chase, and Augustus Vincent Tack. Two extended trips to Europe gave me a chance to see the best paintings of most countries, and four weeks in Egypt and a month in Sicily gave me a new outlook.
“In 1911 I married William Lionel Chambers, who came to this country from England and settled in St. Louis where, because of his English manner, he was often referred to by his intimates as ‘Lord Billy.’ We had two children – Mary Levering, who is now Mrs. William E. Wiese of Kirkwood and who taught briefly at Mary Institute, and William Nisbet Chambers, professor of Political Science at Washington University, where he will assume the chairmanship of the Department of History in July. The five grandchildren I have are a delight to me.
“When my husband served as Pardon Attorney under Governor Herbert Hadley, later Chancellor of Washington University, we went to Jefferson City to live. A portrait of my husband I painted there attracted attention, and the Art Club of Jefferson City asked me to be their president. Later my husband was sent by the Mercantile Trust Company to Joplin, Missouri, where we were both active in civic affairs. The library asked me to serve on its board and, when the Joplin Art League was formed, they asked me to serve as its president. We had a room in the Carnegie Library, where we had our own exhibits, special exhibits like the paintings of Tom Barnett and exhibits from the Metropolitan Museum of New York and the Taos Colony. One of our most difficult problems at first was to make local exhibitors understood that copies were not admitted, only originals. The Art League sent me to St. Louis as a delegate to the Federation of Art convention. We had the opportunity to see some of the finest private collections in St. Louis, including the Mallinckrodt collection and the Faust collection with its fine Frans Hals etchings and other important paintings.
“In 1922 our family moved to Rolla, Missouri, where my husband went into business on his own. An art group had started there and I had a painting class. When my husband died in 1927, my children and I returned to St. Louis to live. Ill health and concern for my children and their education kept me from doing much painting, but I was able to renew activity at the Artists’ Guild, which my children enjoyed too, and had an exhibit of portrait silhouettes in the classical manner there which brought several orders. Both of my children went east to college, my daughter to Smith and my son to Harvard, and both lived out of town for some time before returning here. Meanwhile I continued to do silhouettes and enjoyed making copies of Hans Holbein portraits. Before long I also returned to painting, water colors and pastels, doing occasional pieces here and on trips to Mexico and Sicily, as well as in Massachusetts, where my daughter lived.
“After living as the Congress Hotel for some years, I moved into the Gatesworth Manor when it opened. Good health, old and new friends, and leisure gave me time to draw and paint again. At the Gatesworth I was put to work by Mr. Percy Ramsey, a former president of the Artists’ Guild, and by Mr. Lester C. Gardner on Easter and Christmas tableaux of medieval carol singers from a three-inch print, all in little over a week. It was fun even so, as all of my various undertakings in the field of art and painting have been from the time my interest in the subject was first aroused at Mary Institute three-quarters of a century ago.”