Maxine Merlino Biography

Maxine Merlino




Maxine Ollie Seelbinder Merlino was born in Portland, Oregon on July 25, 1912, where she grew up and attended the Museum Art School for three years as a scholarship student, studying with. She trained at the Portland Art Museum School before venturing to New York City upon winning a national scholarship to the Art Student's League, where she studied with, among others, Will Barnet, Anton Refregier, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, and Harry Sternberg. She married Dante Merlino in 1936, they divorced in 1970. 

Maxine Merlino worked in New York from 1936 to 1943 as a free-lance illustrator, muralist, and theatrical set designer. She was commissioned to do three murals for the Section of Fine Arts, one of which hangs in the Record of Deeds Building in Washington, D.C., one of seven murals in the building celebrating the contributions of African Americans.

Relocating to Long Beach, California in 1943, she worked as a scientific illustrator for the Army Air Force during the Second World War and subsequently as set and costume designer for theater and film producer Preston Sturges. When Long Beach State University opened in 1949, Maxine changed the course of her interest from the professional world to the academic world becoming one of the original 165 students who comprised the first student body completing her MA in 1952. Following this, Maxine joined the art faculty and simultaneously worked as the first technical director. In 1961, she obtained her doctorate at USC and in 1972 returned to Cal State University Long Beach as the Dean of the School of Fine Arts until she retired in 1976. In recognition of Dr. Merlino's contributions to the department, the university dedicated an art gallery in her name, in February 2003.


As a swimmer, Maxine Merlino luckily attended the only elementary school in Portland that had a swimming pool. By the age of 12, she was swimming and from that time on she was “hooked”. She began her competitive career at the age of 13, swimming for the Multnomah Athletic Club under the direction of Hall of Fame coach Jack Cody. She held a Pacific Coast record in backstroke for seven years until it was broken by Esther Williams.


In 1971 at the age of 59, while teaching her grand daughter to swim, a Masters enthusiast asked Maxine to join the Masters swim team. At the age of 60 in 1972 she swam in her first meet. In 1983 at the age of 70 and in 1988 at the age of 75, she set national records for short course yards in every event and at every distance (with one only exception) in her age group. She has set 59 world age group records, competed in two World Championships, set 193 National records and won 19 USMS National championships. Maxine Merlino is an Honor Master Swimmer of the International Swimmers Hall of Fame.


Maxine Merlino died in Madrid, Spain on November 3, 2013.