Remembering: Mary Ann Scherr

Remembering: Mary Ann Scherr

Mary Ann Scherr

Mary Ann Scherr in an undated photograph from the ACC archives. 

It is with great sadness that we share news of the death of legendary jewelry artist Mary Ann Scherr. A longtime Fellow of the American Craft Council, Scherr was known for her innovative designs, including her body monitoring jewelry, and her influence as an educator to students the world over. She was 94 years old.

Born in Akron, Ohio, on August 3, 1921, Scherr trained at the Cleveland Institute of Art, the University of Akron, and Kent State University. In the years following her graduation, Scherr worked as a cartographer and illustrator for the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation and later for the Ford Motor Company, where she was the first woman to be hired in the automotive division. She also worked as a toy and games designer, children's book illustrator, clothing designer, graphic designer, and silversmith for companies including Reed and Barton, Perry Ellis Inc., and the Aluminum Company of America. In 1963, the United States Steel Company commissioned Scherr to design a collection of jewelry in stainless steel as part of its program to affect the switch from silver to stainless steel coins in the US. Scherr would go on to receive recognition from the scientific field for her research and development of electronic body monitors.

Scherr was an associate professor of metals at Kent State University from 1967 until 1978, when she moved to New York City to become the chair of the product design department at Parsons School of Design. In 1986, Scherr resigned from her chair position and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where she opened a gallery and studio and continued to teach courses at the Penland School of Crafts, where she had been a seasonal instructor since 1968. In total, she taught for 48 years at Penland, her longest tenure as an educator. Late into life Scherr continued to experiment in her own studio with the use of exotic metals and pioneering design techniques.

A sought after and beloved instructor, Scherr taught numerous workshops and gave demonstrations at craft schools and universities throughout the US and abroad. The artist also served on the boards of many organizations, including the Gregg Museum, Raleigh Fine Arts, Visual Arts Exchange, the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) and the Penland School of Crafts. Throughout her lifetime she received numerous awards in addition to being named a 1983 Fellow of the ACC, including a National Medal of Honor Award from SNAG, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the North Carolina Medal of Arts Award, and the North Carolina Governor's Achievement in Fine Arts Award. In 2014 she was a nominee for Cooper-Hewitt's Lifetime Achievement Award.

The work of Scherr can be found in museums around the globe, including the Vatican Museum of Art in Rome, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Renwick Gallery in Washington DC, the Yale Museum of Art in New Haven, Connecticut, Goldsmith Hall in London, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, to name a few.

Scherr was preceded by her husband of 54 years, designer Sam Scherr, who died in 2002. She is survived by her daughter, Sydney, and sons Randy and Scott.

For more on the life and work of Mary Ann Scherr, please check out the oral history interview with the artist conducted by curator Mary Douglas for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America. For information on services and memorial contributions, see the obituary published in The News & Observer.