Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Mym Tuma

Mym Tuma

Born in Berwyn, Illinois, Mym Tuma aka Marilynn Thuma, studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, at Stanford University in Stanford, California and at New York University in New York City, New York. After graduation, she experimented with three dimensional works in her studio that she set up in Lake Chapala, Mexico.

An exhibit of her work hung in Eden Gallery Nov. 6-30, 1987 during Columbia College’s “Georgia O’Keeffe Centennial Celebration.” Tuma first met O’Keeffe in 1964 and during the following decade the two artists discovered several common interests, including an enthusiasm for each others art. This is shown from the various handwritten letters between Georgia O'Keeffe and Tuma which can be found on OkeeffeAndMe.com

A pastel exhibition curated by Henry Geldzahler, former Curator of 20th Century Painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hung at the Clayton Liberatore Gallery in Bridgehampton, New York. In 1992 she lectured at the Brooklyn Museum. Tuma is a charter member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and exhibits widely her unique synthesis of sculptured paintings. She works on the East End of Long Island, NY and some examples of her work are on display at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in Washington, DC.

She has abstracted works on paper from oval, spherical, radial, branching and spiraling growth patterns found in nature. Her art conveys an understanding of universal structures in living things and how the process of conserving energy creates order. In 2005, Tuma authored "Radiant Energy, Light In My Pastel Paintings." The work is listed in Who’s Who In America 2006. Her previous books include poetry in "Awakening The Spirit, The Blue Planet Series," and essays on the creative process in "The Shell Theory of the Sculptured Paintings," and "O’Keeffe & Me: Abstracts of Our Letters."

Tuma’s emphasis on organic forms and their structural and mathematical underpinnings tie her to the artistic category of an organic minimalist. Her work is unique in the way she creates shaped forms that exist in three dimensional space, namely what Tuma calls her sculptured painting.

Her artistic approach, has been predominantly influenced by oceanic and coastal forms. Forms such as beach pebbles, sand, sprouting seeds, and spiraling shell forms.
In the high plateau of southern Mexico, overlooking Lake Chapala, I painted in remote San Pedro Tesistan. In that village were only two vehicles: a red Firebird, and a paneled truck, until I arrived in 1966 in a Volkswagen bus. I rented a studio for $8 per month and worked with an assistant, 17-yr. old Cruz Robledo who I taught to drive. She suppressed her giggles learning how to control the VW on cobblestone streets, rumbling down a string of plastered, cracked and chipped adobes. Women like Cruz worked at home, sewing and cooking, but she had a streak of independence. She did not let people, or men subordinate her. She grew more confident, while working on my sculptures, sanding fiberglass to smooth curves. She helped me prepare my paintings. Her mother still scrubbed clothes on rocks at the edge of Lake Chapala, her Aunt Deodata partnered with another woman near my studio. Cruz respected my work. I tutored her to become as independent as I myself.

In the Sixties, women lost children and we heard church bells tolling for them in my 2nd floor plein aire studio. Cruz crossed herself and whispered sad news. We’d rest to watch the peaceful blue haze over the distant mountains and breathe. We shared ideas sanding my shaped sculptured paintings, far from the conflict in Vietnam. I felt militant about my work, in that time and remote place, to quote T.S. Eliot, "to construct something upon which to rejoice.” Convinced that one day it would bolster women’s power and equality in the US.

Before I left, we strung a rooster pinata from the church to my studio, and invited mothers with babes, and small children. They filled the floor eating cake and cream. Women nursed babes in rebozos around us. Cruz decided to become a midwife to help reduce suffering she saw among her sisters. As difficult as living in Mexico was, its vibrant colors, forms of energy, and simple life inspired my organic principles. For centuries, rituals of planting and harvesting maize surrounded my studio. However my materials/methods were innovative and contemporary to the 20th century and beyond.

I showed an elderly American Modernist painter the forms I had so much theory about--Georgia O’Keeffe. We debated issues and theories. I created 17 sculptured paintings, traveling 3,500 miles to the US and back, over five times to garner O’Keeffe’s fiscal mentorship.

View Mym Tuma's CV (PDF)

Daystar Sleeping Rock Morning Glory The First Pebble and the Black Bird (detail)The First Pebble and the Black Bird

Southampton, New York

P.O. Box 549
Southampton, New York

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