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Mary Parks Washington 

Date of birth:


1946 Summer Art Institute



Collage from the class of Jean Varda

Exhibition catalogue

Collage of son Erik




Mary Parks Washington heard about Black Mountain at the end of her senior year at Spelman College in Atlanta where she majored in art. Her teacher Hale Woodruff told her about a scholarship being offered by the Rosenwald Fund for study at the 1946 Summer Art Institute at Black Mountain. The college had enrolled its first black students in the summer of 1944, and Washington remembered that althoughthe South was still segregated, she felt comfortable attending. She took classes with Jean Varda, Josef Albers, Beaumont Newhall, Leo Amino, and Concetta Scaravaglione. She also studied dance with Gwendolyn Lawrence.

In Atlanta where her father Walter Parks was a shoe “rebuilder” – she recalled that he not only repaired shoes but he also built shoes for people with problem feet –  Washington had attended the Atlanta University Elementary, Chadwick School, and the Atlanta Public Schools before enrolling at Spelman College. There she studied art with Elizabeth Prophet, William Artist and Hale Woodruff. Woodruff encouraged her to attend the Art Students League in New York for one summer where she studied with Reginald Marsh.

When Washington left Black Mountain at the end of the summer, she returned to Atlanta where she taught school for two years. After her marriage to Samuel Washington, a Tuskegee pilot with the 332nd who later became a psychiatric social worker, she lived in Fort Devins in Massachusetts, Sampson Air Force Base in New York, and for a year in Japan. They then moved to Campbell, California where she continued her art work while teaching, rearing her son and daughter, and working for her Master of Arts degree in painting from San José State University. In California she renewed her friendship, with Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence, Jean Varda and Ruth Asawa. 

Washington developed a collage form which she calls “histcollage,” in which she incorporates family photographs and documents into paintings. Collages recalling her childhood in Atlanta were exhibited as Atlanta: Remembrances, Impressions and Reflections at The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History in Atlanta in 1996. She has used travel to both experience different cultures and to study art.








Mary Parks at Black Mountain College, Summer 1946. Courtesy North Carolina State Archives, Black Mountain College Papers, 175.1






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