Mary Farl Powers was an artist, working mostly in print, but also in cast paper and paper sculpture. She was born in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, USA, in 1948, the second of five children. Her parents, J.F. Powers and Betty Wahl Powers, were both writers. The family (then just Mary and her sister Katherine) came to Ireland first in 1951. They moved between the USA (Massachusetts and Minnesota) and Ireland until the mid–1970s.
Mary studied at University College in Dublin for a year. She studied art at Dún Laoghaire Technical School (now IADT), and studied ceramic sculpture at Saint Cloud State College, Minnesota, USA. Mary also studied etching and sculpture at the National College of Art in Dublin (NCAD) on a four year scholarship. She worked as a prop maker at the Abbey Theatre and other theatres in Dublin. Mary joined the Graphic Studio collective of print-makers in the early 1970s and became a director of the studio in the late 1970s and continued in that role until her death in 1992.
Mary’s first solo exhibition was at The Peacock Theatre Gallery, in 1972, of prints and sculpture. She had regular one–person shows afterwards in Dublin and Belfast, and also had shows in Minnesota. Mary represented Ireland in many international exhibitions, including in the UK, Germany, Spain, Poland, Yugoslavia, Norway, India, USA and Mexico. Her work is in the collections of the Arts Council of Ireland; the Ulster Museum; the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art; University College Dublin; Listowel Permanent Collection; the Contemporary Art Society; Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi.
The Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin holds a collection of over 50 of her artworks donated by her family. In 1975, she won the gold medal (first prize) at the Listowel Graphics Exhibition (for Torso’ – pictured below). In the same year, she took part in The Male Nude, an exhibition by six women artists at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin.
She was awarded a year’s subsistence grant by the Art’s Council in 1978. In 1980, she received a fellowship as Print Maker in Residence at the Northern Irish Art Council’s print workshop.
She was a founding member of Aosdána (1981) and served for several years as a Toscaireacht (one of the ten committee members). She lived in Belfast during her residency at the gate lodge of the Arts Council’s premises on Stranmillis Road. She met Paul Muldoon during this time and started a relationship with him. She commuted regularly to Dublin to work on Graphic Studio business. She died of breast cancer at her home in Northumberland Road in Dublin on April 4th, 1992. She was 43 years old.
Graphic Studio Dublin
Mary was the driving force behind the studio between the late 1970s and her death in 1992, negotiating its move from a basement in Upper Mount Street to a huge warehouse in Green East Street. She was the main communicator with the Arts Council and other bodies. She was instrumental in setting up the Graphic Studio Gallery in 1983.
She was a teacher and mentor of other artists. She worked with nonprintmakers to bring their work into the mediums of etching and lithography, and she helped existing printmakers to refine their work and learn new techniques. She advanced the practice of printmaking significantly in Ireland.
Incantata by Paul Muldoon was written in memory of Mary Farl Powers. For more information on Incantata, see irishrep.org/incantata