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Black, Mary Childs (1922–1992) - Art History

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Mary Childs Black was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on April 7, 1922, to George and Isabelle (Merrill) Childs. She received a B.A. from the University of North Carolina in 1943 and served in the U.S. Navy Women’s Reserve (WAVES) from 1943 to 1946 as a lieutenant junior grade. She married Richard Winthrop Black on April 7, 1947. In 1951 she received an M.A. from George Washington University.

From 1956 to 1957 Black was a research assistant at Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia. She was registrar for the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection at Williamsburg from 1957 to 1958, curator from 1958 to 1960, and director and curator from 1960 to 1963. She was director of the Museum of American Folk Art from 1964 until 1969, when she became curator of painting, sculpture, and decorative arts for the New-York Historical Society in New York City. She was divorced in 1970 and remained with the Historical Society until 1982, when she was suddenly dismissed by James B. Bell, the director. Black filed a complaint with federal and state agencies for sex and age discrimination, and the society settled out of court. She was awarded back pay and vacation, plus a full pension.

During these years, Mary Childs Black completed several books. She wrote American Folk Paintings with Jean Lipman in 1966. She identified portraits attributed to four different unidentified painters as the work of one man, Ammi Phillips, an itinerant artist, and wrote Ammi Phillips with Barbara and Lawrence Holdridge, folk art collectors, in 1969. She wrote What Is American in American Art in 1971 and Old New York in Early Photographs in 1973. In 1984 she wrote New York City’s Gracie Mansion: A History of The Mayor’s House for the Gracie Mansion Conservancy. In addition, Black worked on a number of publications for the New-York Historical Society on various topics, including Edward Hicks, Erastus Salisbury Field, aspects of Jewish life in New York, Dutch paintings, advertising posters, Federal furniture and decorative arts, and Belmont Park.

Mary Childs Black died of cancer in Germantown, New York, at age sixty-nine. At the time of her death, she was working on an exhibition of Colonial American painters for the New-York Historical Society.

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