BRATTLEBORO — Renowned American painter Emily Mason died at her home on Dec. 10, surrounded by family and friends, including her husband of 62 years, artist Wolf Kahn. She was 87.
Her death was announced on Dec. 13 by the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC), where Mason was an honorary trustee.
A lifelong New Yorker, Mason adopted Brattleboro as her second home. Every spring, beginning in 1968, she and Kahn would arrive at their hillside farm, where they would remain through foliage season, drawing inspiration from their surroundings and their many friends to create works of art that are admired throughout the world.
Mason and Kahn would ordinarily pack up their art studios and return to New York in late October, but this year, battling cancer, Mason decided to stay in Vermont.
“The colors were so incredible, I just couldn't leave,” she said. “And then in November, the world looked like one of Wolf's pastels.”
A lifetime of art
Emily Mason was born on Jan. 12, 1932, in New York City, to Warwood Edwin Mason, a sea captain for American Export Lines, and Alice Trumbull Mason, an abstract painter and descendant of John Trumbull (1756–1843), one of the great history and portrait painters of his time.
As a child, Mason met many influential artists, including Piet Mondrian, who was a friend of her mother, and Joan Miró, who painted in a studio adjacent to Alice Trumbull Mason's.
Mason graduated from New York's High School of Music & Art and then studied at Bennington College before transferring to The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1952.
That summer she attended the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine, where she was particularly influenced by Jack Lenor Larsen's lecture on analogous color.
After graduating from The Cooper Union in 1955, Mason was awarded a Fulbright grant to study painting in Venice. It was there in 1957 that she married Kahn, whom she had met earlier in New York.
As a young artist in New York during the 1950s, Mason was influenced by the emergence of Abstract Expressionism, adopting an intuitive approach to painting that would remain a hallmark of her work for the rest of her life.
In the 2017 RAVA Films documentary Emily Mason: A Painting Experience, Mason described her process as follows: “I always begin a painting with a blank canvas and not any preconceived idea of what it's going to look like. I just sort of react. I can't predict it, so I let the materials suggest the next step and then take it from there.
“It's a process of letting a painting talk to you,” she said. “I want a painting to take me to a place I've never been.”
Prizes and accolades
Emily Mason had her first solo exhibition at New York's Area Gallery in 1960, exhibiting her work regularly thereafter, in New York and elsewhere. In 1979, she was awarded the Ranger Fund Purchase Prize by the National Academy of Design, and she began teaching painting at Hunter College, which she would do for over 30 years.
Mason's work is the subject of two books by David Ebony, managing editor of Art in America magazine: Emily Mason: The Fifth Element (2006) and Emily Mason: The Light in Spring (2015).
Her paintings are included in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, National Academy Museum, Bennington Museum, Springfield Museums, and the New Britain Museum of American Art, among others.
BMAC recently announced plans to dedicate its main gallery to ongoing exhibits of work by Mason and Kahn. In the fall and winter of 2018-19, the museum presented the exhibit “Emily Mason: To Another Place,” which featured 50 of her paintings spanning 60 years.
In addition to her husband, Mason is survived by two daughters.
She leaves Cecily Kahn, of Maine, an abstract artist like her mother and grandmother; her husband David Kapp, also an artist; and their two adult children, Arthur and Millie.
She leaves her other daughter, Melany Kahn, and her husband, Bo Foard, of West Chesterfield, N.H.; their two children, Mason and Ally; and Foard's two children, Cooper and Emily.
In the spring, the community will have an opportunity to express their love and appreciation for Mason at a public celebration of her life that is being planned by her family, according to BMAC Director Danny Lichtenstein. The museum will announce details when they are available.