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Mary Hackney Wicker
1868 - 1942  Class of 2006  Visual Arts
Mary Hackney Wicker was born in 1868 to a prominent family from Aurora, Illinois. Her father, Benjamin Hackney, an early settler of the fledgling river town, had arrived in 1843. He was involved in land development, banking, and in developing the railroad that linked Aurora to Chicago.

Mary Hackney attended East Aurora High School, pursuing art, music, and literature. As her interest in painting grew, she studied with two local artists, Howard Bagg, and also Wells M. Sawyer, who later established an international reputation as a landscape painter.

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After high school, Mary moved to Chicago where she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. She met and married Charles Gustavus Wicker Jr., a land developer, who was one of the first leaders to fight for public access to the lakefront in Chicago. Wicker developed land in the Loop, held several public offices, served on the Chicago City Council, and donated the park land in the neighborhood on the northwest side still known today as Wicker Park.

In 1906, with the support of her husband, Mary traveled to Paris with her son, Walter, to study at the Academie Julian, a private art school that was popular with Americans. Mary thrived at the Julian, despite being charged twice the fee as male students were for half the instruction. She continued to develop traditional skills while becoming familiar with the impressionist style first exhibited in France in the 1870s. “Charlie” joined her and together the family toured Holland, North Africa, and Spain. Mary recorded these travels with her camera, sketchbook, and paint, and these studies inspired some of her finest paintings.

In 1909, Charlie Wicker was tragically killed in a sailing accident. Writing about her grandmother’s life during this time, granddaughter Nancy Wicker stated, “She may not have been able to paint very much during those years as she was a deeply grieving, widowed mother of a young son…I can only imagine how very lonely and difficult that time must have been for her.” Slowly, though, Mary returned to her painting.

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Beginning in 1922, when she felt her art was worthy, Mary Hackney Wicker began exhibiting in many venues, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Professional Members of the Arts Club, Chicago; the Annual Exhibition of the Allied Artists of America, New York; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; and the Annual Exhibition of the National Academy of Design, a traveling exhibit.

Interestingly, Mary’s work was exhibited in the 1928 Women’s World’s Fair Annual Exhibition in Chicago, along with that of Ruth Van Sickle Ford, another artist born in Aurora and a charter inductee of the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame in 2002. Mary earlier received an Honorable Mention at the 36th Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture, at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1923.

Mary’s paintings were on display at the 28th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity in 1924, when she won first prizes from the Rogers Park Women’s Club and the Englewood Women’s Club, and on display again in 1933 for the 36th Annual Exhibition.

Of these years, Nancy Wicker wrote, “When I knew her during the 1930s, she was beautiful, reserved, elegant, and intensely and utterly involved in her work.” Mary Hackney Wicker died in 1942. Her paintings, some one hundred pieces that she had created over a lifetime, were bequeathed to her granddaughter.

According to Rena Church, Director/Curator of the Aurora Public Art Commission, “Mary Hackney Wicker was a fine painter and a strong, determined and independent woman. She spent years honing her skills as an impressionist, and showed her work in many prestigious venues.”
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 Impressionist, studied at the Academie Julian in Paris