Mary Paxton Herrick Ross Biography

On May 4, 1934 the Carmel Pine Cone listed Mary Herrick Ross as one of the “Twelve Women Who Have Helped Immortalize Carmel in the Arts because of her “celebrated” oil paintings of flowers. Among the other “immortals” were Mary DeNeale Morgan, Josephine Culbertson, Jennie V. Cannon, Elizabeth Strong, Laura Maxwell, Jessie A. Botke, Catherine Seideneck, Kate Carew, Jessie Short-Jackson, Ida M. Curtis and Helen C. Brown.

     Mary Paxton Herrick was born in San Francisco, the first of seven siblings. Her father was a wealthy businessman who, in 1873, helped to establish the San Francisco School of Design. She had learned to draw under her father’s tutelage, and when the School opened in 1874, she was the first student to enroll. Studies were with Virgil Williams who was appointed as the first Director of the newly formed school, and Raymond Dabb Yelland.   In the last spring of 1874, at the age of 18, she sold her first painting, “some cherries in a cabbage leaf painted from nature,” at a local gallery. At the San Francisco Art Association (SFAA) exhibitions, almost all of displayed work before 1904 consisted of flower studies.

In 1878 she married Colin Ross and resided in Oakland with an open studio in San Francisco. The couple had two children. She maintained a vigorous schedule of professional showings.

In the mid 1890s she was very active with the SFAA and School of Design and exhibited at the Annuals of the California Ceramic Club – her painted punch bowls, tankards and “charming” Delft designs were ‘always features of the show.’ By late 1899 she resigned from the Ceramic Club and along with her sister, sold directly from their studio where they frequently taught popular classes on porcelain decoration. She continued to sell painted ceramics from her studio as late as 1904, and also held separate classes in sketching and oil painting.

In December of 1899, when the Bohemian Club briefly experimented with allowing non-members to exhibit at the Annual Exhibition, Mary H. Ross was one of only eight women invited to contribute. Her two submissions were florals.

An example of her still-life painting is illustrated in California Impressionism/Gerdts, William; Will South page 171, plate 157: “My Studio Garden…The thick, twisting configuration of reds, yellows, and greens in Ross’s My Studio Garden recalls the dynamic surface effects to be found in works like Joseph Raphael’s In the Orchard (plate 158).”

San Francisco Call/1897: “…a master in this branch (florals) of art…”

In the early twentieth century she painted more landscapes and expanded her venues for exhibition. In the summer of 1905 she sketched in Yosemite and exhibited her watercolors and oils in a temporary San Francisco studio.

San Francisco Call/1910: “…marine views along the Cornish coast are equally strong, and all are done with a touch that shows in the artist a warm love of nature, who understands her every mood.”

Between 1907 and 1909 Mary H. Ross studied in Europe with her two artist-sisters. On her return the press gave her rave reviews. During the winter of 1909-1910 she rented the Post Street studio of Francis McComas in San Francisco.

Mary H. Ross and her husband became habitual summer residents of Carmel by 1911, the same year that she began to exhibit at the Del Monte Art Gallery. Her “famous” study of Sycamores was purchased by Mrs. Joseph Stanford and the Oakland press declared her one of the region’s prominent artists.  

By 1916 they had purchased a Carmel studio-home on Camino Real between Ninth and Tenth Avenues and frequently lived there year round. She was active in the local art colony and a regular exhibitor with the Arts and Crafts Club. Titles of paintings exhibited in 1916/A Fresh Morning and A Sunny Morning; 1920 entry/Sunset Over My Poppies was voted among the 25 best paintings in a poll of almost 1000 visitors. In her review for the Carmel Pine Cone she was grouped with the works of E. Charlton Fortune. In 1921/Poppies in My Garden, Sunshine in Carmel and Springtime in the Cypress Grove.

After her husband’s death she returned in 1930 to the Piedmont home, maintaining a secondary residence at her Camino Real bungalow in Carmel and was socially active. Mary Herrick Ross died in Piedmont on October 31, 1935, where she is buried in the Mountain View cemetery.

Exhibited: SFAA, 1873-1919; Morris, Schwab & Co. Gallery/1874; World’s Columbian Exposition of Chicago, 1893; California Midwinter International Exposition/1894; California State Fair, 1895, 1896; Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, San Francisco, 1897; Century Club of San Francisco, 1898, 1899; Bohemian Club/1899; Oakland Art Fund Annuals/1904-1905; Schussler Brothers Gallery (SF)/1905; Home Club Exhibition in Oakland/1905; Claremont Country Club/1910; Del Monte Art Gallery/1911; Rabjohn & Morcom Gallery/1914, 1920; First Exhibition of California Artists at the Golden Gate Park Memorial Museum/1915 (Beach at Carmel-by-the-Sea); Jury-free Summer Exhibition at the California Palace of Fine Arts/1916; East Bay Artists Exhibition at the Oakland Art Gallery/1917; California Federation of Women’s Clubs in Oakland/1918; Arts and Crafts Club/1913-1921; Stanford University Art Gallery/1921; Claremont Hotel Art Gallery/1922, 1925; Shriner’s Convention Exhibition in San Francisco/1923; Carmel Art Association/1930, 1931; Monterey County Fair/1931; Adams-Danysh Galleries/1934 (along with Helen Forbes and August Gay); Bay Region Art Association at the Palace of the Legion of Honor/1935.

Reference Books: An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West/Kovinick; California Impressionism/Gerdts, William; Will South; Hughes, Edan Milton, Artists in California, 1786-1940; Davenport’s Art Reference; Falk’s Who Was Who In American Art.

Source: Jennie V. Cannon: The Untold History of the Carmel and Berkeley Art Colonies (Volume 1), by Robert W. Edwards; Artists in California, 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes; California Impressionism/Gerdts, William; Will South.