Wills, Mary Motz (1875–1961)

By: Jill S. Seeber

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1995

Mary Motz Wills, wildflower artist, was born on June 6, 1875, in Wytheville, Virginia, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Motz. The Motzes soon moved to Waco, Texas, where Mary and her younger sister, Elsie, grew up. Mary influenced Elsie's artistic development, as Elsie herself became a well-known miniaturist. Mary acquired her art education at the Art Students League in New York, where she studied with William Merritt Chase, Frank Vincent DuMond, and John Henry Twachtmann, and may have attended the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Arts and art schools in Boston and Philadelphia. Following her formal art education she married Col. Will Dunbar Wills of the United States Army. While with him on his tours of South and Central America, Wills first began to paint watercolors of exotic wildflowers. Several years later, following her husband's early death in Maryland, Wills moved to Georgia and then to Abilene, Texas, where she lived for the rest of her life. She began painting detailed depictions of Texas wildflowers. An accredited botanist, Ellen Dorothy Schulz Quillin, was first to acknowledge the significance of Wills's work. In 1935 Quillin arranged an exhibition of Wills's paintings at the Witte Museum with the annual flower show. The Witte Museum again displayed Wills's floral portraits in 1943 in the Big Bend area. In 1955 the Witte Museum showed another collection of her paintings. In addition to these exhibitions, Wills's floral portraits were shown at the Montgomery Museum in Georgia; the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas, Texas; the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina; and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, New York. On November 14, 1961, Mary Motz Wills died. She is best remembered for her 257 paintings published in Roadside Flowers of Texas in 1961 shortly before her death. The wildflower paintings are especially significant because many are endangered species, and some of them have completely disappeared from the Texas landscape.

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Cecilia Steinfeldt, Art for History's Sake: The Texas Collection of the Witte Museum (Austin: Texas State Historical Association for the Witte Museum of the San Antonio Museum Association, 1993).
  • Visual Arts
  • Painting
  • Women

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

Jill S. Seeber, “Wills, Mary Motz,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 03, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wills-mary-motz.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1995

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