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Molly Luce Papers

An inventory of her papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: DH
Date: Jun 1984

Biographical History

Marian S. Burroughs, known professionally as Molly Luce, was born on December 18, 1896, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and in Plainfield and Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and spent summers with her grandparents in Kinsville, Ohio. Upon completing high school in 1914, Molly Luce began further studies at Wheaton College, where she earned an associate's degree. Beginning in 1916, at the Art Student's League in New York, Ms. Luce studied under, along with other distinguished faculty, Kenneth Hayes Miller. In addition to teaching his students to paint, Molly Luce writes that Miller "taught, first of all respect for painting as an occupation and appreciation of the place held by professional artists." In her unpublished autobiography, Ms. Luce expresses frequently the concern that artists be taken seriously as professionals and speaks especially of the difficulties encountered by women working in the fine arts. In 1922, she began a tour of Europe which took her through France, Switzerland and Italy. Molly Luce developed into an important painter of 'The American Scene' and D. Roger Howlett, of Childs Gallery in Boston, feels that the time she spent in Italy "helped to bring together her training and consciousness of 'place' that were to stay with her for her career." While her contemporaries were heading in more abstract directions, at an artist's colony in St. Paul du Var and in Paris Molly Luce began to solidify her commitment to "realistic as opposed to abstract art." Shortly after returning to the United States in 1924, her first publicly exhibited painting was hung in the Whitney Studio Club, New York; her first one-woman show opened at the Club later the same year. From then until 1950 her paintings were featured in prominent museums and galleries all over the United States.

In 1966 twenty Luce paintings were featured at a one-woman show celebrating the 50th anniversary of the graduation of the class of 1916 (A) from Wheaton College, and a major traveling retrospective of paintings from 1917-1980 was organized by the Childs Gallery, Boston, in 1980.

In 1926 Molly Luce married Alan Burroughs, painter and art historian, associated with the Fogg Museum at Harvard. Mr. Burroughs pioneered in the use of X-ray technology in the examination of art works and archeological artifacts. They lived in the Boston area during the early years of their marriage and spent summers, beginning in the thirties, in Little Compton, Rhode Island. In 1942 the lure of life in Little Compton drew them full-time and Molly Luce lives there to this day. Alan Burroughs died in 1965. The name of Molly's stepson, Bruce Burroughs, appears once, on a family card and there is a brother, Clark, some of whose letters appear in the collection. Other than these two names, no other family information could be found.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Molly Luce Collection is divided into sections as follows: Biographical material, Clippings, Correspondence, Exhibition catalogs, Photographs of Molly Luce paintings, Printed reproductions of Molly Luce paintings, Writings and Miscellanea.

There are four Biographical items: three issues of the Wheaton College Alumni Quarterly (May '34, May '42 & Fall '65) and an issue of The Arts (August '25). The purchase of a Molly Luce painting ("Beach at high tide") in 1934 by the Metropolitan Museum caused a substantial stir in art circles because it was most unusual for such a prestigious institution to purchase (1) an American work, (2) by a woman artist. The 1934 issue of the Wheaton Quarterly reports on this event. There is an interview with the artist in the '42 issue and a photo and brief biographical sketch in the '65 issue. The August, 1925 issue of The Arts ran an enthusiastic review of Mrs. Luce's work by Alan Burroughs, written a year after the artist's first one-woman show at the Whitney Club. Luce and Burroughs were married a year later.

Four folders of newspaper Clippings span five decades of activity, with an emphasis on the years between 1927 and 1945, and consist of exhibition announcements and critical comment by reviewers.

Correspondence consists of a series of letters written by the artist to Alan Burroughs while on a trip to California in 1939, valuable for the insight they offer into Molly Luce's personality and her relationship with her husband. From 1965 there are letters of condolence from friends and associates on the death of Mr. Burroughs. The rest of the correspondence is chiefly letters from a friend, Poddie (Mrs. Philip Souers) and her Brother, Clark, reporting on family news.

The folder of Exhibition catalogs offers a chronological overview of the artist's life and work. Some of them, most notably the 1980 Childs Gallery catalog, contain biographical information in a condensed format, along with stylistic analysis. Her unpublished autobiography is quoted extensively.

There are sixty-two black-and-white 8 x 10 Photographs of Molly Luce paintings, six of which have smaller color photos attached to them. Each large photo carries the title of the work, the size, date of completion and sometimes the price it sold for and to whom. It is very unfortunate that the collection has so few color reproductions of Molly Luce's work.

Molly Luce's paintings have appeared as Reproductions in a wide variety of media. The next folder contains seven examples: a Christmas card, illustrations for four magazine articles, a book jacket and a small printed reproduction. Some are in color, helpful in gaining an idea of painter's preferred palette.

The backbone of the collection -- found in Writings -- is Molly Luce's autobiography, offering in-depth background information on every aspect of the artist's life, training and philosophy. An Artist's Angle is divided into three parts: Student painter, Intermission in productivity and Artist painter. Following a brief sketch of her background and early childhood, Ms. Luce concentrates on her educational experiences at Wheaton and the Art Student's League. H. Roger Howlett points out in the 1980 Childs Gallery exhibition catalog that it is significant, considering how Molly Luce's style developed, that she spent her summers so happily in the peaceful countryside in Ohio. Critical commentary is offered on the education and training of Fine Artists and on some of her own teachers. Further along, the autobiography articulates clearly some of the obstacles she encountered as a woman trying to make her way in a male dominated field in the 1920's, 30's and 40's.

Molly Luce exhibited her first one-woman show at the Whitney Club in November of 1924, and immediately thereafter "fell into an artistic depression." Her progress through this slump and the directions her career took when the misery lifted comprise the second and third sections of the book. The depression did lift and the balance of her book details the paths her career took and the lines along which her feelings developed concerning the whole world of Fine Arts.

A small amount of Miscellany completes the collection.

Arrangement of the Collection

Clippings and correspondence are arranged chronologically. Other material is arranged alphabetically by title or topic.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Burroughs, Alan, 1897-1965.
Luce, Molly, 1896-

Associated Titles

An artist's angle.


Art, American -- 20th century.
Art, American.
Painters -- United States.
Painting, American -- 20th century.
Painting, American.
Women artists -- United States.
Women painters -- United States.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Exhibition catalogs.
Manuscripts for publication.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Molly Luce Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Molly Luce, 1965.

Table of Contents

Biographical material



Exhibition catalogues

Photographs of Molly Luce Paintings

Printed reproductions of Molly Luce Paintings