Mavis Iona Pusey Biography

Mavis Iona Pusey




Mavis Iona Pusey, painter, printmaker, and teacher, was born in Kingston, Jamaica on 17 September, 1928 but grew up in the small rural village of Retreat. Her aunt taught her to sew and, by the age of nine years old, she began fabricating her own clothes. Pusey left Jamaica at the age of eighteen in the hopes of studying at the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York but found the costs were prohibitive despite being employed as a seamstress for a couture wedding gown company.

Between 1961 and 1965, Pusey studied at the Art Students League in New York and received a Byron Browne Memorial Scholarship in 1963 and a Ford Foundation Grant in 1964 to assist her with tuition. At the League, she studied both painting and printmaking under Will Barnet who encouraged her study of modern art. After four years of immersion in the ASL, immigration officers informed Pusey that her student visa had expired. She therefore moved to London where she lived with her brothers, worked as a pattern maker for Singer, and studied at the Birgit Skiöld Print Workshop on Charlotte Street.

Pusey traveled to Paris in 1968 to continue her studies and she was given her first solo exhibition at the Galerie Louis Soulanges. She returned to the U.S. in 1969 and enrolled in Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, receiving her B.A. Pusey worked at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop between 1969 and 1972 and at the New School for Social Research in New York in 1974, 1976, and 1987. She exhibited with Curwen Gallery in London and Associated American Artists in New York. In 1971, Pusey was included in the seminal show Contemporary Black Artists in America at the Whitney Museum of American Art and in 1986 at the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Progressions: A Cultural Legacy. In 2018, her work was featured in the Kemper Museum's traveling exhibition, Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today.


Pusey received a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant for $5,000.00 in 1972 and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Purchase Award in 1974. She was given the International Women’s Year Award in 1976 in recognition of outstanding cultural contribution and dedication to women and art; and in 1999, Pusey was given a Visual Arts Grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. She also received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation award. Pusey served on the advisory committee of the Elizabeth Foundation of the Arts, New York; and was an Area IV Advisory Panelist for the Virginia Commission for the Arts in 1997.

In 1988, after sixteen years and a determined but losing battle to keep her loft in New York, Pusey found herself adrift. She instructed her real estate agent to find her a home “about two hours outside of Washington.” She settled on a cottage in Orange County, Virginia. “My friends thought I was nutty. I left New York to go live in the bush.”

Pusey taught at the State University of New York, Stony Brook; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Rutgers State University, New Jersey; the New York State Summer School of the Arts; Drew University, Madison, New Jersey; the New School for Social Research, New York; and Woodberry Forest School, Orange, Virginia. She was affiliated with Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors in New York, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Visual Artists and Galleries Association.


Mavis Pusey’s work is represented in the collections of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; the Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois, Champaign; the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; the Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan; the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Michigan; the Studio Museum, Harlem, New York; the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri; the Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska, Lincoln; the Museum of Modern Art, and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, New York; the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, Massachusetts; the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Smithsonian African-American Museum, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.


Mavis Iona Pusey died in Falmouth, Virginia on 20 April 2019.