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Mary Passailaigue: A Hidden Gem

Fellow Columbusites we are missing out on not knowing more about this woman. By all accounts she was quite the character, and she never met a stranger.
Mary Passailaigue Artwork: A Hidden Gem

A hidden gem.  That is what Mary Flournoy Passailague is.  Fellow Columbusites we are missing out on not knowing more about this woman.  By all accounts she was quite the character, and she never met a stranger. In all the photographs I saw of her, there is a definite glint in her eye.  I am sure she was one I would not have been able to sit next to at church.

It is rumored that if it sat still long enough, Mary was going to paint it.  Travel was one of her great joys and inspiration.  She has painted scenes from nearly every part of the world.  I tried to sneak a small work on paper of a village in Iran but felt guilty about it and put it back.  When China reopened to the West, she was one of the first American artists to go.  Of the 55 pieces she painted there only 2 were not sold. There is a Ledger photograph of her standing beside a Chinese landscape wearing a kimono.  She liked to match her paintings.  There is also one of her in full Scottish garb among her Scottish collection.  She was painting “Robinson Crusoe Beach” on Tobago when John Lennon and Ringo Starr asked to see what she was painting.  They liked it and, like you do, offered to paint them if they sat on the rocks nearby.  They agreed and she did a quick ten-minute sketch so as not to take up too much of their time.  They autographed it when she was finished, and they chatted several more times around the hotel during their stay.  In New Orleans she was late for lunch with her husband and son.  They found her painting a go-go dancer she had posed leaning up against a light post a couple of blocks over, with an audience of around 30 people, not at all concerned she was delaying lunch.  She was prolific.  There are stacks upon stacks in her home that have passed through the family.  Some of the pieces are painted on both sides.  I marvel at the amount of time this woman spent on what was clearly her passion.  A passion that she did not come into until college.  Her mother was an artist and even let two-year-old Mary paint murals on the walls while she was quarantined for six weeks with scarlet fever.  But it wasn’t until attending Hollins College that she saw a “fine set of paints that she could not resist, even though it cost her entire spending allowance for three months.” (Columbus Tattler). She did manage to make her money back by using the paints to decorate yellow slickers for 75 cents each.


Painting by Mary Passailaigue
Painting by Mary Passailaigue

Born and raised in Midtown in a house built by her father, Reynolds Flournoy, in 1906 named Tranquilla on Wildwood Avenue. Midtown used to be the country and they had a cow and a vegetable garden.  It’s so hard to imagine a cow roaming the yard on Wildwood, isn’t it? The property is a wonder and I found myself desperately wanting to be transported back to watch Mary chase chickens or set up her easel or tend to her garden.  Tranquilla is still in the family.  When Mary inherited it, she made it her own.  She kept her heirlooms, but added in pieces she picked up wherever she went.  She liked everything.  Her wardrobe also varied from Hawaiian print mumus to designer dresses.  She was nothing if not an individual.  You can see this reflected in her work as well.  Though she is best known for her watercolor landscapes, there is a little of everything in her repertoire. Watercolor and oil are her main mediums, but there are some charcoal and pencil drawings and pen and ink sketches that are just so whimsical.  I have developed a love of her still life works.  Her grand-daughter Dee Dee Tebeau says she didn’t do portraits, but a quick glance around her storage room tells a different story.  There are portraits everywhere.  The family doesn’t know who most of them are.  Makes sense given she never met a stranger.  A still life or a portrait is a departure from her usual impressionist style, but clearly they interested her. 

All of this work and Mary was not one to hang her own work on her own walls.  Her collection featured the work of her friends.  There was a regular group of artists that Mary painted with.  They traveled together and socialized and painted.  It’s quite the group and once again I am jealous I was not in it.  How fabulous to have Barbara Pound, Lamar Dodd, Dong Kingman, Henry Nordhausen, Gerry Bosch, Chen Chi, Edward Shorter, Wyndell Taylor and a young Bruno Zupan as your colleagues? 

Columbus has been influenced and blessed my Mary Passailaigue in so many ways.  She and her husband, Jack, were instrumental in the formation of the Columbus Museum.  Jack served eight years as president of the board of trustees.  Mary was an invaluable member of Junior League of Columbus, Tea Olive Garden Club, Three Arts League, Linwood Cemetery Foundation, Historic Columbus Foundation (Honored Lady of the 1979 Heritage Ball), Brookstone School (which still has 3 Mary and Jack Passailaigue foreign language awards for graduating seniors), and a Mary Passailaigue art scholarship at CSU. 

Obviously, Mary was not just local.  She was a member of the Grand Central Galleries of New York (Grand Central Station used to have an art gallery on the sixth floor of the Grand Central terminal. It was open 1923-1994.)  and a board member of the Artists Associates of Atlanta.  She was one of the first female members of the New York Salmagundi Club. Which is the oldest art club in America founded in 1871.  It still has less than 1200 members.

Is there nothing this woman could not do?  Artist, philanthropist, poet, horticulturalist, needlewoman, ballroom dance, cook, florist, and Google even says composer to two songs.  She illustrated cookbooks and programs and even her own unpublished children’s book.  There have been countless exhibitions of her work, including shows in Paris and Athens, Greece. 

In her published book of poems, A Little Pamphlet of Assorted Poems, she wrote:           

‘Tis a shame we mortals

                        Have to sleep

            I wish I was a fay

                        And in my garden

                        All night long

            Could laugh, sing,

                        Dance and play

Mary Flournoy Passailaigue is someone we should all know more about.  If you ask the older generation if they knew her their eyes light up.  She is still so well regarded not only for her artistic talents, but for being just a really good person.  Of all the things I have read about her I think the biography printed in the invitation for an exhibition of forty watercolors executed in Venice, Rome, Sicily, and the Basque Country of France is the best.  I can only hope that one day someone, somewhere writes about me in the same way.

            Mary has intense interest and joy in life-people, places, the plastic arts, music, poetry and the world of nature.  All are expressed in her paintings through her trained and receptive eye, skilled hands, knowledge of techniques and media, and last but not least – heart.  Color, rhythm, vitality, realism, impressionism, mood – all are there for communication with the beholder.  Her work is her own and there is only one Mary Passailaigue.

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