It’s very likely that you’ve never heard of the Iowa artist – Harriet P. Macy of Des Moines. Living in the same time frame as Iowa City artist Mildred Pelzer, and Iowa’s own Grant Wood, Harriet Macy was a gifted art teacher for 38 years at East High School in Des Moines. But, as you’ll see here on this page, she accomplished so much more!
Harriet Macy was born in Des Moines on June 21, 1883, one of three children born to Iowa pioneer settlers – William P. Macy of Indiana and Agusta C. Arnold Macy of New York. The Macys moved from Oskaloosa to Des Moines in 1879, and were part of the founding team of instructors for Drake University (1881). W.P. taught natural science and Mrs. Macy taught drawing and painting.
Harriet grew up loving the arts and studied art at Drake, the Charles Cumming School of Art in Des Moines, the Art Students League in New York, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Art.
Ms. Macy taught art and inspired many students at Des Moines East High School for 38 years. As one biographer put it…
Some of Harriet Macy’s students became professional easel artists, some pursued other avenues of art expression, but all were introduced to a special way of seeing the world they live in.
A woman with Quaker roots, Macy saw the face of God in every aspect of creation – particularly in the faces of diversity. In 1908, Harriet provided beautiful illustrations for a series of children’s books by Emilie Blackmore Stapp, including The Trail of the Go-Hawks, published by C. M. Clark Publishing of Boston. The books were very unique for its time – featuring Harriet’s artwork that included numerous people of color – a taste of diversity rarely found in books of this era.
In an article from The Des Moines Tribune, her students discussed Macy’s love of diversity…
While an amazing art teacher for 38 years, Harriet Macy was so much more. As a charter member of the Iowa Art Guild (see above), she maintained a lifelong active interest in the group, painting and exhibiting her art well into her 84th year.
Over the years, she exhibited her art at the New York Watercolor Club; the American Watercolor Society in New York; the Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D. C.; the Baltimore Gallery; the Rotary Exhibition, American Federation of Arts; the Chicago Art Institute and in regional and local exhibitions where she received many prizes and honors.
Taos Mountain (below left), The Old Stone House (below right)
Macy traveled widely to paint in cities in the United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico and Hawai, and was listed in “Who’s Who in Art in America,” “The American Art Annual,” and “The First Hundred Years of Iowa Art.” Well-known locally for her paintings of Des Moines churches, Harriet was the art chairman of the Des Moines Women’s Club, and past president of both the Professional Women’s League and the Des Moines Association for Art Education. Several of her paintings are in the Des Moines Women’s Club collection (see above & below)…
Long Shadows – Union Park (below left), Peonies (below right)
Over the years, Harriet – who loved Iowa history – traveled throughout the state – particularly the eastern section – sketching many historic sites. Before she died in June 1968, she was gathering many of these sketches and hoped to publish them in one volume. While she never was able to complete that project, her friends – including many of her students from over the years – pulled the project together, and in 1969, the Iowa Art Guild published 500 copies of a beautiful hardcover book entitled – Sketches of Historic Iowa.
The book has 46 sketches from the pen of Harriet P Macy and each sketch has a corresponding informational page that gives the historic background of the building. In closing, allow us to show you just a handful of Harriet’s masterpieces…
From Dubuque – The First Log Cabin, Julien Dubuque’s Gravesite…
From Amana – The Overseer’s House, Doorway To Amana Home, Porch With Vines
Harriet P. Macy, age 84, died on June 18, 1968, and is buried at Woodland Cemetery in Des Moines. Here’s a big thank you to one great art teacher who left her mark on so very many. Godspeed!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.