Parsons, Betty Pierson (1900–1982)

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Parsons, Betty Pierson (1900–1982)

American artist and art promoter. Born in New York City on January 31, 1900; died in 1982; daughter of J. Fred Pierson and Suzanne (Miles) Pierson; educated privately; married Schuyler Livingston Parsons, on May 8, 1919 (divorced 1923); no children.

Dubbed the "midwife of the New York School," Betty Parsons gained renown as a promoter of the New York abstractionists of the 1940s, and was instrumental in the careers of well-known artists such as Lee Krasner, Perle Fine , Jackson Pollock, Anne Ryan , Mark Rothko, and Irene Rice Pereira . Parsons also enjoyed some success as a painter and sculptor in her own right.

Born in 1900 and raised among the New York aristocracy, Parsons turned down a spot on the U.S. Olympic tennis team to pursue an art career. Married in 1919 and divorced in 1923, she spent the next ten years studying sculpture and working in Paris, where she moved in an elite literary and artistic circle that included Gertrude Stein , Man Ray, and Alexander Calder. Her own talent was such that she had a solo show in 1927. In 1933, a victim of the stock-market crash, Parsons was forced to return to the United States. She spent three years teaching in Santa Barbara, California, before returned to New York City.

While continuing to enjoy considerable success with her own watercolors, which she exhibited at the Midtown Gallery, Parsons took a job in the gallery of Mary Sullivan , where she began learning the business side of art. From 1941 to 1945, she held increasingly responsible gallery positions, and in 1946 she opened her own enterprise. The Parsons Gallery soon became popular with the New York abstractionists, who enjoyed the freedom within its walls to design their own exhibitions. Parsons, whose own art was now moving into the abstract, never showed her work at her own gallery, but continued to exhibit at other galleries in New York throughout the '40s, '50s, and '60s. Betty Parsons eventually moved to Long Island, New York, setting up a studio on a cliff overlooking the ocean. She continued to produce abstract paintings and sculptures until late into her 70s.


Bailey, Brooke. The Remarkable Lives of 100 Women Artists. Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams, 1994.

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Parsons, Betty Pierson (1900–1982)

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