Contributed by Elizabeth McDermott
Violette de Mazia was ahead of her time as a female intellectual of the modernist era. Her association with Dr. Barnes and the Barnes Foundation beginning in 1925 led to her becoming the driving force behind their art education program. For over 50 years she taught her students about the aesthetic principles of paintings…and of life as well. In addition to teaching, Ms. de Mazia co-authored four books with Dr. Barnes and wrote numerous essays.
The Violette de Mazia Foundation was founded to teach art and aesthetic appreciation and was funded from the proceeds of her estate. Our Archival Collection has only recently begun to be catalogued and is expanding our understanding of the creative life of Violette de Mazia.
For over a year and a half, volunteer interns have worked under the guidance of collection management consultant, Susan Duhl to process and interpret the materials in the collection, to re-house them for permanent storage, and to eventually make them accessible to researchers and scholars. The archive consists of approximately 130 linear feet of personal papers and manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, audio recordings and moving images, printed ephemera, and personal objects pertaining to Miss de Mazia’s research, career and affiliations, as well as portions of her private collection of paintings, works on paper, furniture, and material culture.
The collection as a whole reveals her tireless dedication to art appreciation and to the cultivation of a sound philosophical theory and method for understanding the aesthetic component of perception. She was a prolific writer until the very end, and her life’s work is still being utilized by the educators of Violette de Mazia Foundation today.
Among the most notable discoveries are the numerous letters that shed light on her engagement to Joseph Katz, a pilot of the Royal Air Force and an early freedom fighter for the founding of a Jewish State in Palestine, who tragically died in a plane crash in Cairo, Egypt in 1923—soon before their planned wedding. Her loss led her to move to the United States and create a new life for herself. The correspondence reveals not only her Jewish heritage, but also the remarkable character of her fiancé. The following is an excerpt from his obituary given by Vladimir Jabotinsky who was a Zionist leader, author, poet, orator, soldier, and founder of the Jewish Self-Defense Organization.
“On the 17th of December (1923) there has passed away in Egypt, the Flying Officer Joseph Katz; the Airoplane fell down and Katz was killed. He was a faithful friend and comrade of mine, my right hand in the difficult adventures of the last four years; and…I loved this youth as a father loveth his son. But these lines I write not because the lamented was dear to me. Joseph Katz deserves to be recorded in the annuals of Israel…because…he was almost an ideal type of the modern youth whom our people need so badly.”
There is still much to be learned of Ms. de Mazia’s past. Born in France in 1896 with Russian citizenship, she emigrated from Belgium to England in 1914, and after the untimely death of her fiancé, she moved to America in 1924. Perhaps Ms. de Mazia’s intellectual journey mirrors what Virginia Woolf meant when she said, “As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”
More information about the Violette de Mazia Foundation can be found at http://demazia.org/
The interns working on the project are Elizabeth McDermott, Joanna Hurd, Gregory McCoy, and George Stradtman. Serena Shanken Skwersky is currently working on a biography of Violette de Mazia.