We are sorry to report that metalsmith, designer, educator, and Penland’s great friend Mary Ann Scherr died at her home in Raleigh, NC on March 1. Mary Ann, who famously never looked her age, was 94 years old.
She first taught at Penland in 1968 and went on to teach at the school at least 37 times. She served on the board of trustees and contributed to every benefit auction. Her broad knowledge of metalsmithing and design made it possible for her to teach students of almost any skill level or area of interest. She pioneered the use of exotic metals in adornment and received international attention for her development of decorative electronic body monitors. She was known for her work combining drawing and metals, and she had extensive experience in product design and production work. She was able to incorporate all of these interests into her teaching.
Mary Ann was trained at the Cleveland Institute of Art, The University of Akron, Kent State University, The New School, and Durham Tech Computer Center. She served as head of the product design department at Parsons School of Design, and was on the faculty of Duke University, Meredith College, and North Carolina State University. She also taught at Arrowmont and Haystack and led dozens of workshops at universities across the country.
Her work is found in many permanent collections, including The Vatican Museum of Art in Rome, The Metropolitan Museum, The Museum of Arts and Design, The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Smithsonian Institution-Medical Division, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Her work is also in a number of well-known private collections including Liz Claiborne, Helen Drutt, the Knapp Jewelry Collection, U.S. Steel Corporation, and the Alcoa Company.
In addition to her metalsmithing and jewelry design, Mary Ann worked at Ford Motor Company, designing hubcaps, hood ornaments, and instrument panels; she and her late husband, Sam, ran an industrial design firm that produced designs for Tappan, Hoover, and Rubbermaid; she made illustrations for children’s books; and a cookie jar she designed found its way into Andy Warhol’s private collection and then onto the front page of the New York Times when it sold for $19,000 at Sotheby’s.
Her list of awards includes an honorary doctorate from Defiance College in Ohio, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Distinguished Women of North Carolina Award, the North Carolina Governor’s Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of North American Goldsmiths, and she was a fellow of the American Craft Council. In 2008, she was honored as a Penland School of Crafts Outstanding Artist Educator.
Penland has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of Mary Ann’s knowledge and generosity. And for her, the connection was a very personal one. In an interview several years ago she said, “For more than forty years, Penland has remained positively important in my life. As the world moves, so does Penland in its own way, and it offers me an opportunity to grow with it. Each time I go back, I find new ways of thinking.”
Mary Ann was predeceased by Sam Scherr, her husband of 54 years, and is survived by a daughter, Sydney, who lives in Malaysia, two sons, Randy, and Scott, daughter-in-law, Debora, and grandson Dylan, all from Raleigh.
The family asks that memorial contributions be directed to the Gregg Museum of Art & Design (516 Brickhaven Dr Suite 200, Raleigh, NC 27606) or to Penland School (PO Box 37, Penland, NC, 28765) where The Mary Ann Scherr Metals Scholarship has been created in her honor. (You can also contribute to that fund here; just put “Mary Ann Scherr Scholarship” in the “additional gift information” field.)