Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter

All great people stories start with the birth of the person. And this story is no different. Mary was born April 14th, 1869, in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. An April 14th, birthday makes Mary an Aries. Now, I know you're thinking who really cares about her sign? But I think you'll see where I'm headed with this. Aries is the Ram. Strong willed with big horns. Aries are known to be enthusiastic, independent, impulsive and most of all pioneering. Mary was no exception. A touch of her Irish heritage may have added a little spunk too.

Not only was Mary a go-getter, she was also artistic and intellectual. In fact, she graduated high school at the age of 14. Holding true to her independent nature, Mary left home and headed west for California. There she studied art at the California School of Design in San Francisco and was first exposed to the world of architecture.

Her unprecedented architecture career began in 1902 when Mary was hired as a part time architect and designer for the Fred Harvey Company. You all know Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls, he established hotels and restaurants along the Santa Fe Railways. However, the Railway owned the buildings and the land on which Fred Harvey operated. So, Mary worked and was paid by both the railway and Mr. Harvey. She had to work extra hard keeping both of her bosses happy.

Mary also had a deep interest and appreciation for the Native American Culture. She found the perfect place to combine all her interests and talents by working for Fred Harvey at the Grand Canyon. Throughout her 40-year career, Mary would build 9 different buildings at the Grand Canyon and many are still standing today.

There was something about Mary's…architecture. She had a unique ability to emphasize the natural beauty of her surroundings. Her buildings did not shout out, "Look at me? I'm a building. I'm man made." No, no not all. They whispered, "I blend in. I am one with the environment." This new philosophy in architecture was to be described as "organic" and was in deep contrast to what was happening in European design, which is what most other American architects were following. But not Mary.

The Hopi House was Mary's first work at the Grand Canyon, built in 1905. It was built to be the salesroom for the Fred Harvey Indian Art Collection. Its designs included many terraces, stone steps, and ladders. It was not just a copy of a Hopi Indian building. The Hopi's would never intentionally copy anything. Instead, they designed each and every building with its very own purpose in mind, and with what materials were made available to them. Mary did the same.


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