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Mary Mowbray-Clarke (1874-1962)

Mary (Horgan) Mowbray-Clarke was a landscape architect, advocate of the arts, and protector of the environment. She spent her life helping to keep the world around her beautiful for future generations. She is best known for creating Dutch Gardens, alongside the Rockland County Courthouse in New City. She and her husband, John, were also the first resident of the artists’ colony on South Mountain Road, and she helped to save High Tor Mountain. She died in 1962 at age eighty-eight. Daniel Newman, an artist who lived on her property, had fond memories of her: “I will always see her disregarding stiff and aching legs, supported by her canes, walking in the woods, summer and winter, going out of the house that was so much a part of her, to see, to be in the world.”

          The Mowbray-Clarkes and Arthur B. Davies, a well-known Rockland artist, put up their homes as security to create the famous Armory Show in 1913. It was the first major exhibition of modern art in the United States, featuring the works of Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh, and others. The great collectors whose paintings would later form the nucleus of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City bought their first Matisses and Cezannes from Mowbray-Clarke at that exhibition.

          In the early part of the twentieth century, Mary Mowbray-Clarke also co-owned and operated the Sunwise Turn, a bookshop on 31stStreet in New York City, with her business partner, Madge Jemison. It became a place for good reading and stimulating conversation, and a gathering place for future world-famous writers such as Eugene O’Neill, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Ernest Hemingway. The Sunwise Turn also hosted several art exhibits, featuring some of Rockland’s greatest artists.

          In 1943, Mowbray-Clarke and three friends—Isabelle Savell, Maxwell Anderson, and Henry Varnum Poor—assembled a traveling exhibition of oils, watercolors, and prints of High Tor Mountain by Rockland County artists. She displayed the show throughout the county, speaking thirty-six times in just five weeks to 3,000 people. The goal was to raise enough money to buy the mountain and the land surrounding it, and the fundraising effort was successful. High Tor is now part of the Palisades Interstate Park system and is protected against quarrying.