Strasbourg 1958 (Alain Joseph Beach Photo)
Mary Beach: Artist and Translator by Leila Durkin
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Mary Beach was born in Hartford, Connecticut in on May 8, 1919. In 1925, after her mother's divorce, she moved, for six months out of the year, to France with her mother and two sisters. During the first part of World War II she lived in the small town of St. Jean de Luz, but, with the entrance of the United States in the war in 1941, she was soon viewed as a suspicious alien and was, for a time, interned in a Nazi prison camp known as Glacière.
Despite her parent’s protests, but perhaps under the influence of her distant relative Sylvia Beach, famed proprietor of Paris's Shakespeare & Co. and the first publisher of James Joyce, Mary pursued her life as an artist with great passion from an early age. Her first solo show was at the Galerie du Béarn, in Pau, France in 1943, and she has since then continuously exhibited her work all over the world.
Mary returned to the United States in 1946, where she married Alain Joseph (an American soldier she had met in France) and had two children, Pamela and Jeffery. She attended the Hartford Art School (where she won first prize in her class), and also attended school at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
In 1957 Mary and her family returned to France, to Strasbourg, and then Paris in 1959. She attended the esteemed Grande Chaumière, where she studied under Henri Goetz. She exhibited at the historic Salon des Indépendents in Paris in both 1957 and 1958; won the Prix du Dome at the Salon des Femmes Peintres in 1959; won 1st Prize, Vichy, France, and Silver Medal in 1959 as well; and was exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendents in Paris in 1960.
These early accomplishments stand alone, and would be exemplary for any artist. But for an American woman in France -- for a wife and mother in the late 1950s anywhere, Mary's success in the male-dominated art world is truly astounding. She is one of the great, underappreciated pioneers of her generation.
After the loss of her first husband, Mary met Claude Pélieu. While living with Claude she continued to work and exhibit all over the world (Galerie du Moulin Rouge, Biennale de Paris; Suzan Cooper Gallery; Galerie Wandragore, Rouen; etc., etc.). During this time she worked at City Lights, in San Francisco, where she discovered and published the poet Bob Kaufman and, under her own imprint of Beach Books, Texts, and Documents, published William Burroughs. She also collaborated extensively with Allen Ginsberg.
Claude Pélieu and Mary Beach met in 1962 and, until Claude's unfortunate passing in December of 2002, shared an exemplary rich and creative life. Traveling extensively while living primarily in Paris, New York and San Francisco, their existence was a bohemian adventure during which they ceaselessly explored and continuously created: With a keen and graceful eye they deconstruct, critique and reinterpret the classical and contemporary worlds of art and media, while creating striking new works of wit and beauty -- drawing subconscious associations that are both mysterious and poetic.
Long hailed in Claude's native France as the natural inheritors of the Surrealist legacy (a direct line has been drawn by French critics from Picasso and Braque to Schwitters and Duchamp to Warhol and Pélieu), their works are highly prized and respected. However, in Mary's native America, the pair remains relatively unknown, their work still awaits discovery by both mainstream critics and collectors. Mary passed away on January 26, 2006, after a long illness. Up until a week before she passed, Mary was still drawing and painting. She was contemplating a new series of ink drawings.