.....................a world unto herself
by Richard Schiff

On December 30, 2004, Mary Catherine Sinclair went to sleep for the last time in her daughter Judith's home, surrounded by five of her six children as well as many other family members. Her daughter Mary Elizabeth - her namesake, was unable to be there at the very end but called in constantly to inquire about her failing health. She died with her youngest daughter by her side.

Born Detroit, Michigan May 24, 1914 to Grace Elizabeth Williams and Samuel Eastwick Sinclair, Mary Catherine Sinclair was a painter who has always marched to her own drum. She was the middle child of three girls. Her late, older sister Helen was married to New Yorker cartoonist Mischa Richter. Detroit was a very different city back then, with the Automobile business just really getting started. More rural than urban. Telephones were not too common, nor was there radio. And not even one experiment in television. Hard to imagine.

Her father, a lieutenant in the United States Army, was killed in action in the Battle of the Marnes, in France during World War I. Her widowed mother, a commercial artist, relocated to the east, to Connecticut and remarried a former fellow art student, George Annand. Annand was the man who drew and painted the famous child in a yellow slicker for the Nabisco Company, and it was his little step daughter, young Mary Catherine who was the model for that now legendary image.

She was educated at the Ferrer Modern School, Stelton, New Jersey; Miss Thomas's School for Girls, Rowaton, Connecticut; the Darien High School, Connecticut; and eventually came to New York to study at The Art Students League of New York, starting in 1933.

Mary married Will Barnet , then a printing instructor at the League when she was 19. Mother of three sons and three daughters, Ms. Sinclair had remarried Dr. Joshua Epstein, also a painter, after divorcing her first husband. Her six children, often appearing in her artwork are Peter, Richard (Dick), Todd and Mary (Betsy) Barnet, Margaret (Peggy) Kelly and Captain Judith (Judy) Epstein, MD, USNavy (United States). She lived and painted in Union City, New Jersey for 45 years. During the 1930's, 1940's, and until 1952 when she was Mrs. Barnet, Mary Sinclair taught Studio Art in the lower school at Birch Wathen on 93rd Street and Amsterdam Ave. The school is now Birch Wathen-Lennox and is located at 210 East 77th Street.

Her art career began in childhood. At age six a crayon drawing was reproduced in The Liberator in conjunction with an exhibition in New York City of childrens' work from the Modern School.

At age nine she helped decorate Macy's Toy Department for Christmas. Drawing of "The Queen" was used exclusively in the advertisements. Poster of "The Dolls" was first and only work to be included in the Annual Art Directors' Show in 1923.Her Sculpture was shown at the Darien Guild of the Seven Arts and singled out by The New York Times for acclaim. Artist was then sixteen. Work has been reproduced widely, including: Art News; Art Digest; Art World; Art Speak; Art Now; etc. Mary has been an active Member for forty-three years of the League of Present Day Artists. Also of UNESCO, International Association of Art. Her work has been shown all over the country in group shows and she has held one-woman shows at The New School for Social Research, Van Dieman Lillianfield, Hilda Carmel, Educational Alliance, Carl Ashby, College of Mount Saint Vincent on Hudson, all in New York. Collection of Mount Saint Vincent owns three large paintings.

Two solo exhibitions were mounted during the latter part of her lifetime. In Spring of 1994 at Gwynedd, Pennsylvania in the Foulkeways residence association and at Robin Hutchins Gallery in Maplewood, New Jersey during January and February 1996; where seventy-five pieces dating from early childhood to the present were displayed in an retrospective exhibition entitled "A Lifetime of Painting."

A painting purchased by the late A.L. Bing was accepted at his death by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Winner of several honors, including best oil in L.P.D.A. at the National Arts Club, New York City, 1975. Also material related to artist's career is included in the archives of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington,D.C.

The paintings, often large, merge colorfield and post-impressionistic strain to allow us glimpses into a taut private world.

Mary Sinclair never adopted a style that was in front of her. She has lived through analytic cubism, fauvism, neo-plasticism, expressionism, both realistic and abstract, Indian space painting, hard edge abstraction, minimal, pop, op and conceptual art. She has been surrounded by the artists responsible for all those styles, and yet she has never let her vision cloud, not for a day. She brings a fresh breath of spring into every canvas. her family and her studio have provided her a lifetime of subjects and she explored them all.

She always surrounded herself with young artists and always encouraging them. Most of her large extended family were quite successful artists or professionals, and in their lifetimes were both. Her home was a sanctuary for the creative soul, and she was always an inspiration to those who knew her. She also wrote a good deal of poetry some of which was published on line in PoetryMagazine.com which her eldest daughter Mary (Betsy) Barnet founded as the internet was just beginning in 1996 the well known PoetryMagazine.com which she is still now  publishing, for 20 years, as Senior Editor. She has also released 3 books of poems.  Mary's son-in-law and her namesakes' husband Richard E. Schiff, who was her first husband Will Barnet's student and later colleague is a Commercial Artist, painter, sculptor, cartoonist, puppeteer, film maker who took part in the creation of an Academy Award winning documentary, musician, actor, and writer as well. From all of these he has since childhood with his partents and also artistic family, as well as completely on his own with no help from age 17, supported himself and his little family. Her second husband Joshua (Joe) Epstein, MD was a physician, painter and in his early years in Europe a published poet. His daughter with Mary Sinclair was a very successful ballet and jazz dancer who was with a prominant European National Ballet as a young lady and is now a physician and very prominent Researcher in Communicable Diseases. Likewise Mary Sinclair's mother was a Commercial Artist in a world where women did not work indepently, as well as a succesful poet, and her step-father was a Commercial Artist as well. She also had a sister who was a painter and a brother-in-law painter an extremely successful cartoonist for The New Yorker, as well ! The list of songsresses,  painters and sculpters, mimes and musicians. It goes on and on.


Sinclair always painted with a keen eye for the decor, whether interior or exterior. The patterns of nature and art hold a fascination. Like Vuillard, she shows us the minutae of a wallpaper, a carpet, a curtain, a frock. She captures her subject with a flick of the brush, and anchors them in a sea of their environment. When you see her work hung in exhibition, there is a startling sense of brilliance, of light that comes at you like the sun through a kitchen window. That special light of early morning when everything is right as rain. That is the sense you walk away from a Sinclair with. because you have experienced the world through the eyes a painter with a single vision. Mary Catherine Sinclair died in December of 2004, but her paainting, her poetry and her childen yet survive.

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