This month I want to draw your attention to Mary Colter, the woman who designed many of his hotels and restaurants. At a time when traveling was expensive and people traveled only out of necessity, she helped introduce the concept of traveling just for pleasure and that’s not all she did.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1862, she attended the California School of Design at the tender age of seventeen. She planned to support her mother and sister by teaching art. While attending school, she apprenticed as an architect.
At the time, architecture was going through great changes. Instead of emulating European styles, a new type of California architecture was in the works and Mary was influenced by this new Mission-type of design. She also believed in replicating nature by utilizing natural materials in her designs.
After graduating in 1890, she returned to St. Paul and taught art at the Mechanic Arts High School.
She was hired by the Fred Harvey company in 1902 as an interior decorator. In the early days, Fred Harvey collected Indian art and she encouraged the company to expand on this concept. She was instrumental in reaching out to Native American craftsmen and bringing their wares into the Harvey hotel shops. This was a daring venture as the Indian Wars were still ongoing in some parts of the country, but somehow she persuaded visitors to purchase tribal pottery, blankets and jewelry—quite a feat given the times.
Eventually, Mary became the chief architect of the Fred Harvey company. The idea of a woman playing such a role in a company was unthinkable, and it wasn’t easy. She clashed with family members who carried on after Fred’s death, but eventually won them over.
Never heard of her? There’s a good reason for that. Architecture was a male dominated profession, and Mary was not credited as architect on the buildings she designed. As a result, she never gained the same recognition as many her peers such as Frank Lloyd Wright. She has been called the best unknown architect of the Southwest.
Some of Mary’s work includes the Indian Watchtower at Desert View; Lookout Studio; Hopi House; Hermit’s Rest and Painted in Painted Desert. La Posada in Winslow, Arizona was her favorite.
Okay, you decide; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Park Inn Hotel is on the left and Mary’s La Posada hotel is on the right. Many think that had Mary been a man she would be better known today. What do you think?
Working Undercover is No Job for A Lady!
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