Exhibit tells tale of colorful life

Published 1:47 pm Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Montevallo Arts Council recently announced a showing of the paintings of Adelaide Eleanor Mahan in the Parnell Memorial Library Gallery from Oct. 1 – Nov. 14. There will be a gallery talk Oct. 12 at 2 p.m. followed by a reception on the Parkside Terrace. Dr. Mike Mahan and Sandy Swindall are set to speak about the artist’s life and work.

Adelaide Mahan is a relatively unknown artist who created works for her own satisfaction and never seemed to desire recognition. The story of the re-discovery of her art is an interesting one. Sandra Swindall of Montevallo was in Dr. Mike Mahan’s home having some emergency dental work done when she became very interested in the many paintings there by Adelaide Mahan. Mahan remarked that, to his knowledge, his great-aunt’s work had never been recognized except by the family and that he really did not know much about her.

As luck would have it, Swindall is an art lover, a painter, an elementary school teacher and a freelance writer with a lively curiosity. Dr. Mahan had, in his collection of family memorabilia, a bundle of old letters that Adelaide had written while she was in Honduras and other places. On glancing through the letters, Swindall realized that there was a fascinating story behind them and that she wanted to write it.

Over coffee recently, she said she had discovered, through the letters and other sources, that Adelaide was born in Brierfield in 1872, grew up there and worked in the post office as a young woman. In 1901 she went to New York to study art at Cooper Union. She studied under well-known artists J. H. Twachtman, Willard Metcalf and Charles Hawthorne. After returning and spending several years in Brierfield, Adelaide demonstrated her independent nature by traveling to Honduras where her brother had a banana plantation.

After spending some time abroad she went back to complete her studies in New York and graduated in 1911. She returned to Brierfield to care for her sick mother and there she continued to paint and supported herself by keeping bees and selling greeting cards. In addition to painting, she created art works in various mediums including photography using emulsion film — a state-of-the-art process for that day.

Relatives remember their aunt as a pretty and extremely high-spirited lady who never married. Her adventurous and creative life ended in 1959 and she is buried in the Brierfield Cemetery.

Swindall’s story of Adelaide Mahan will be published in the winter issue of Alabama Heritage magazine.

Catherine Legg can be reached at clegg2@bellsouth.net