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Tue, 02.10.1942

Mary Lovelace O’Neal, Artist born

Mary Lovelace O'Neal

*Mary Lovelace O'Neal was born on this date in 1942. She is a Black artist and arts educator. Mary Lovelace was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and credits her father for nurturing her love of the arts. During her childhood and adolescence, O'Neal's father, Ariel Lovelace, was the choir director and professor of music at Tougaloo College and the University of Arkansas.

She attended Howard University from 1960 to 1964. Lovelace studied with David Driskell, Lois Mailou Jones, and James A. Porter. While there, she attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine during the summer of 1963. She received her BFA in 1964. At Howard University, O'Neal became active in the American Civil Rights Movement and mentored many influential leaders, including Stokely Carmichael, Jacob Lawrence, and his wife, painter Gwendolyn Lawrence.

She worked briefly at the Free Southern Theater (FST) with one of the theatre founders, her first husband, John O'Neal. O'Neal continued her fine arts education at Columbia University and became involved in the Black Art Movement in New York City, further influencing her work. She received her MFA from Columbia University in 1969. 


Her paintings have progressed through different phases over her career, beginning with loose forms and evolving to more precise patterns. O'Neal has received numerous awards and exhibited in many national and international exhibitions. She was invited as a resident artist to participate in the international arts festival in Morocco in 1983. O'Neal curated an exhibition for the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago, Chile, "17 Artistas Latino y Afro Americanos en USA," in 1991.

She received the Artist En France Award sponsored by the French government and Moet & Chandon two years later. In 2005, she represented Mississippi in the Committees Exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

O'Neal's involvement with civil rights and how they are represented in her art cannot be fully understood without mentioning the influence of Stokley Carmichael. In an interview with Bomb Magazine, O'Neal recalls how a chance encounter living in Morocco with other printmakers and creatives inspired her famous 1984 series Panthers In My Father's Palace, a likely homage to her experience being a Mississippi native. Akin to O'Neal's experience with abstract layering, she began collecting torn sheets of paper from printmaking studios in the early 1990s, breathing new life into another man's trash- reconstructing waste into experimental collage paintings.

O'Neal started teaching full-time at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1978. In 1985 she became the first Black artist to receive tenure in the department. She was appointed in 1999 as the Chair of the Department of Art Practice until her retirement in 2006. She has taught at several institutions in the US and internationally.


In February 2020, Mnuchin Gallery held O'Neal's first solo exhibition in New York since 1993, which surveyed over five decades of her work, from the late 1960s through the 2000s. Her work "insists on the aesthetic integration of experiences and styles once construed to be mutually exclusive." 

Public collections

Her work is in various permanent art collections, including the Oakland Museum of California, and the National Museum of Fine Arts, Santiago, Chile.  In 1983, O'Neal met the Chilean painter Patricio Moreno Toro; eventually, she remarried. She lives and works in Oakland, California, and maintains a studio in Chile.

To become a jeweler, seamstress, textile/fine artist
To be an Artist


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