Spellman, Coreen Mary (1905–1978)

By: Kendall Curlee

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: June 5, 2019

Coreen Mary Spellman, printmaker, painter, and teacher, was born on March 17, 1905, in Forney, Texas, the second of six children of Michael and Carrie (Huffines) Spellman. Her father was a well-to-do Irish farmer and banker. Coreen was interested in art from an early age, and her parents, neither of whom were artistically inclined, nurtured her talent. By the time she entered adolescence her father was driving her to Dallas, twenty miles west of Forney, for weekly art lessons with Vivian L. Aunspaugh. Spellman majored in costume design at the Texas State College for Women in Denton (later Texas Woman's University), where she earned her bachelor of science degree in 1925. She received a master's degree in art from the Teachers' College at Columbia University in 1926. She took art history and museum classes at Harvard University on a Carnegie Summer Scholarship in 1927 and from 1928 to 1929 attended the Art Students League in New York City, where she studied with Charles Locke, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Vyclav Vytlacil. After her year at the Art Students League Spellman accepted a post in the art department at Texas State College for Women in Denton, where she taught until her retirement in 1974. She continued her art studies in summer classes with Carlos Merida (1932), Charles J. Martin (1933), and Eliot O'Hara (1936) and at the University of Colorado. She attended the University of Iowa from 1941 to 1942, where she earned a master of fine arts degree.

She was skilled in watercolor, etching, aquatint, and mezzotint and was particularly fluent in lithography; her best lithographs exhibit a wide range of textures and tonal values. She used a primarily realistic style to represent urban scenes, southwestern landscapes, and portraits. In such architectural prints as Tearing Down the Old Inge House (ca. 1949) and Krum Weighing Station (ca. 1930s) Spellman's compositions are characterized by a spare, grid-like geometry; she also designed more sensual compositions in such works as Rhythmic Fields (ca. 1940), in which undulating curves of plowed earth dominate the picture plane. Her prize-winning print Dispossessed (ca. 1945) represents the aftermath of a tornado in which the debris forms a dynamic abstract pattern. The formal interest of the composition is counterbalanced by Spellman's sympathetic representation of two grieving women inside of their shattered home, shown with their backs toward the viewer. Coreen Spellman exhibited her work extensively throughout the Southwest and in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and New York. She won many prizes in competitive exhibitions. In 1932 the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the Dallas Museum of Art) mounted her first solo exhibition, which was the first of more than thirteen solo exhibitions at institutions like the Witte Museum in San Antonio (1933), the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1933), the Santa Fe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1949), New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico (1949), and the Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin (1950). In 1932 one of Spellman's lithographs, Nude, was selected by the Society of Graphic Arts as one of the fifty best prints of the year, and in 1936 the American Artists Congress selected one of her mezzotints for inclusion in an exhibition of contemporary American prints that was held simultaneously in thirty cities in the United States. Her work was also represented in American Prize Prints of the 20th Century (1949).

Spellman was one of eight founding members of the Printmakers Guild (later the Texas Printmakers), a group of printmakers, originally all women, who proposed to inform the public about printmaking and give female printmakers an opportunity to show and sell their work through annual circulating print exhibitions. Spellman was active in the group until it disbanded in 1965 and served as president in 1946. She was also a member of the Southern States Art League, Denton Art League, Delta Phi Delta, Delta Kappa Gamma Society, Associated Art Instructors of Texas, and National Women's Teacher Association. In addition to her teaching, exhibition, and club activities, she lectured, illustrated books and pamphlets, and traveled extensively. For many summers she taught in New Mexico. Spellman retired from Texas Woman's University in 1974. She died on October 15, 1978, and was honored posthumously by a portfolio of twelve lithographs assembled by the National Alumnae Association of Texas Woman's University. Several of her prints were exhibited in the 1990 exhibition The Texas Printmakers, 1940–1965. Her work is represented in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Joslyn Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; the Dallas Museum of Art; the San Antonio Museum Association; Southern Methodist University, Dallas; Texas Woman's University, Denton; and numerous private collections.

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Peter Hastings Falk, ed., Who Was Who in American Art (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View, 1985). Graphic Works of the American Thirties (New York: Da Capo Press, 1977). Paul Rogers Harris, The Texas Printmakers, 1940–1965 (Dallas: Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, 1990). Vertical Files, Special Collections, Texas Woman's University.

  • Education
  • Educators
  • Art and Architecture
  • Visual Arts
  • Art History and Criticism
  • Painting
  • Printmaking
  • Women
  • North Texas

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

Kendall Curlee, “Spellman, Coreen Mary,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 09, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/spellman-coreen-mary.

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June 1, 1995
June 5, 2019

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