Art was a passion more than a career for Marilynn Dwyer Mason. She was an incredible painter, sure, and she made a living at it, but money was not her driving force.
“I think she painted because she had to,” says her son, Doug Mason. “These were inside her and she had to get them out.”
Growing up in the house of an artist wasn’t always easy for Doug and his siblings. They were often poor, in part because of Marilynn’s big heart. She was known for giving original works away at a fraction of their worth, and she was also known for painting what she was compelled to paint instead of what was trending in the art market.
“She could have made fifty times as much money in her lifetime if she painted what people wanted, but instead she painted what was in her heart,” says Doug.
One of her favorite subjects was Native American culture. Doug’s childhood home was always covered in images of Native Americans.
“We were Irish Catholics from Butte, Montana, but my mom felt very connected to the Native American people,” says Doug.
Naturally, living in Montana and appreciating Native culture made Marilynn a fan of Charlie Russell. It was a big deal when the family got to drive from Dillon to Great Falls for Marilynn to participate in the C.M. Russell Show and Auction. In one of her first showings, Marilynn’s painting of a Native American girl won Best of Show.
“She didn’t sell it. She made no prints. There was no money off it. She gave it away to my grandparents,” Doug laughs. “That’s how she was.”
Though Marilynn had difficulty capitalizing on her talent, she was not without commercial success. Her series of paintings featuring bears on vacation became—and remain— incredibly popular.
“The bears are what she’s know for, but I can’t even ballpark how many original paintings she made in her lifetime. Five thousand? Six thousand? She painted up until the day before she passed away,” Doug remembers.
Today, Doug owns and operates Dwyer Mason Art, and his brother Tim does the framing. Someday, Doug hopes to pass the business on to his daughter.
“It needs to stay out there,” he explains. “At the end, one thing that gave my mom comfort was that her art was in homes around the world. She’d left something that could be passed on to the next generation.”
Marilynn Dwyer Mason passed away on January 26, 2022, but her work remains for sale through Dwyer Mason Art. Visitors to the Great Western Show during Western Art Week can find her paintings there, and perhaps in viewing them, find some comfort as well.
To learn more, visit dwyermasonart.com.