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MacLeary, Bonnie (1886–1971)

Kendall Curlee Biography Entry

Bonnie MacLeary (sometimes spelled McLeary), sculptor, was born in San Antonio, Texas, on January 2, 1886 (although other sources list 1902). She was the youngest of four children of Mary (King) and James Harvey McLeary. She molded her first sculpture with natural clay from the banks of the San Antonio River at age six. Her parents were divorced when she was a young child, and she was subsequently raised in the Austin home of her grandparents, Helen and Valentine Overton King, who took her in 1901 to New York City, where she studied at the William Merritt Chase School of Art. By 1903 they were in Paris, France, where Bonnie studied at the Académie Julien with William Adolphe Bouguereau. Macleary studied miniature painting in Siena, Italy, before returning with her family to New York City.

She met Ernest William Kramer while visiting her sister in Waco and married him on March 28, 1906. During the next few years the couple lived in Dallas, St. Louis, and New Mexico, and frequently visited Puerto Rico, where MacLeary's remarried parents and grandparents had settled. In 1912 she began studies at the Art Students League under sculptor James Earle Fraser and determined that sculpture would be her medium. After her husband went overseas to fight in World War I, she established a studio in New York City and devoted herself to sculpture. Her career was launched in 1921, when two of her sculptures were exhibited at the National Academy of Design. In 1924 her bronze statue Aspiration (1921) was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first sculpture by a Texan to be acquired by that institution. MacLeary suffered a temporary setback in 1927, when many of her works were destroyed in a studio fire. Her first marriage apparently ended in divorce during this period. Her career continued to gain momentum, however. In 1928–29 she exhibited two of her works, Squawkie Birds (1928) and Laughing Frog (1928), at the Woman's Arts and Industries Exposition, where the latter won first prize in 1929. She also exhibited her work at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the Memorial Galleries in Rochester, New York, and the National Arts Club in New York City. In 1930 she was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design. She also became a member of the National Sculpture Society, the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, the Allied Artists of America, the American Artists Professional League, the Society of Medalists, and the Southern States Art League.

MacLeary won acclaim for her smooth, idealized statues of women and children, many of which were designed for gardens. Titles such as Ouch (1923), Baby Bacchante (1926), and Goosie Goosie (1921) attest to the preciosity of her sculptures of children; they were, however, tremendously successful at that time, and she capitalized on their popularity by making small replicas that were sold in jewelry stores and novelty shops. Her sculptures of women typically embodied more lofty ideals, manifesting her conviction that the female figure was the most appropriate form for expressing spirituality. For example, she characterized her bronze female nude Aspiration as representing "all of us who long for the best [and] reach toward the heavens for it." She rarely used male models in her garden pieces, and once remarked that she would choose a male figure if she had to sculpt a "hideous type." The implied hostility in this comment was made explicit in a sculpture of a man entitled Hate (ca. 1922). MacLeary did, however, sculpt several commemorative pieces that cast men in a heroic light, notably a bronze sculpture of Benjamin R. Milam (1938) commissioned by the Texas Historical and Landmarks Association in the late 1920s.

In 1935 she completed two commemorative works in Waco, a bust of A. Joseph Armstrong at Baylor University and the Rotan Memorial, presented to the Antoinette Memorial Home. Her other dedicatory sculptures included Free Ireland (1923) in Dublin, Ireland, a World War I memorial entitled Victory (1926) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a monument to Luis Muñoz Rivera (1927) at the University of Puerto Rico. From the 1940s on MacLeary focused on smaller ceramic pieces. She moved to Florida with her second husband, James McGahan, in 1964; after a short illness she died at Lakeland General Hospital in Lakeland, Florida, on February 2, 1971. She was cremated and buried in Oakside Cemetery in Zephyrhills, Florida. Her work is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Baylor University in Waco, Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Waco, and several private collections.

Annie Laurie Williams Crain, "Texas Sculptor Wins New Laurels," Holland's, January 1929. Peter Haskins Falk, ed., Who Was Who in American Art (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View, 1985). Patricia D. Hendricks and Becky D. Reese, A Century of Sculpture in Texas, 1889–1989 (Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, 1989). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


  • Visual Arts
  • Sculpture
  • Women

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Kendall Curlee, “MacLeary, Bonnie,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed March 06, 2021,

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