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Mary Ronin - A celebration of diversity

Updated: May 24, 2020

In the golden days of cartography, women played an important, but usually little noticed role: They etched and colored maps, that were almost all made by and for men. But from the 19th century on, women more and more claimed their rightful position in cartography. Will C. van den Hoonaard wrote a very interesting book on this topic: Map Worlds: A History of Women in Cartography. The book includes stories on how the back side of the moon was mapped, how the theory of continental drift was born, but also how cartography was used to highlight social inequality.

This map, made by Mary Ronin, may be a good example of a map with equality and diversity as its main theme, drawn by a woman. It was made as a souvenir gift map for visitors of the American Pavilion at the 1958 World Exhibition in Brussels.

I will discuss this map in detail in a future post, but it is a wonderful map, with a message that seems as important today as it was back then. It states:

"It is a country of great diversity in its land and its people. The people are the most varied off all for they stem from countries and national origins throughout the world. But in their differences they share certain great traditions of America - freedom, equality, individual rights - taught in the home, the church, and the schools."

But I would like to focus on the artist who made this map. Mary Ronin. I tried to find out a little more on her art and life, but must admit I was not able to find a lot. And what I was able to find, was almost all related to a famous lover she once had. And that poses a dilemma. I intended to write a blog to celebrate a female artist, and most information available is on her private life instead of her professional life. That feels quite a bit like occupational sexism. I mean, we never read anything about the love life of Mercator or Blaeu, do we?

Well, the famous lover was a woman: Patricia Highsmith. Details on their lives are recorded in two biographies of Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith, by Joan Schenkar and Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, by Andrew Wilson.

Most information on the professional life of Mary Ronin can be found in Wilson's book. Ronin was born in Illinois in 1912. She studied art at Omaha University, and in 1938 she started at the advertising art department of Bloomingdales in New York. In 1953 she became a freelance illustrator. Her love affair with Patricia Highsmith started in 1957. It is therefore possible, that the work on the United States map took place during this period. I also found a reference to Mary Ronin in a 2017 issue of The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide: "Mary Ronin—a graphic artist at Young & Rubicon, a watercolorist, and a lesbian—created a documentary style film of Cherry Grove social events that was screened at the Community House in 1949." But that was it.

I was not able to find more on Mary Ronin, but will try to deepen the search in the future. I hope there is more information to find on this artist, because I am quite confident we will discover a woman who earns it to be defined by the art she has made, and not by the lovers she had.



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