Renowned artist and William Peace University Alumna: Mabel Pugh

June 5, 2023

Mabel Pugh, one of William Peace University’s most notable alumni, is widely known as a major player in the 20th-century art world. 

With a portfolio of over 250 paintings, she is most remembered for her works in oils, watercolors, gouache, pastels, charcoal, and pen and ink. Her distinctive wooden block paintings hang in the University archives alongside her most famous work of art, The North Carolina Map for Nature Lovers.

In May, 14 relatives of Mabel traveled from across the country to admire her artwork at WPU.

“It was so moving to see all the great art Mabel Pugh created at Peace,” said Rosemary Pugh, Mabel’s great-grandniece. “They had set up all these books, block prints, yearbooks and paintings of hers. She was brought to life for us through these items.” 

Along with visiting Peace to learn more about her, the relatives visited Mabel’s house in Morrisville and saw 65 of her prints at the North Carolina Museum of Art.  

Mabel was a 1914 graduate of what was then Peace Institute. While a student at Peace, she was chosen to illustrate Jerome Stockard’s book of poetry, titled “Poems” which can be found in the Univeristy’s archives.

Her paintings have also graced the walls of the Smithsonian Institute, the North Carolina Governor’s Mansion, and the legislature buildings in D.C. Additionally, she is referenced in the publications Discovering North Carolina, Who’s Who in American Art and Who’s Who Among American Women.

During her time at Peace, Mabel studied art under Mrs. Ruth Huntington Moore and was involved in the school’s Arts Student League. After Peace, she went on to study at Columbia University and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where, in 1919, she was awarded the prestigious Cresson Traveling Scholarship to fund studies abroad in Europe.

She then moved to New York City to establish herself as an artist. Her illustrations gained notoriety across the states and began to be featured in magazines, novels, and children’s books.

After a decade in New York, Mabel returned to her hometown, Morrisville, North Carolina. In 1933, she became Morrisville’s first female author when she wrote and illustrated her book, Little Carolina Bluebonnet. The book is an autobiography of her childhood in Morrisville.

She returned to Peace in 1938 and served as the head of the Art Department and as an art professor until 1960. The 1940 Lotus yearbook was dedicated to her.

During her tenure, she served on the Memorial North Carolina Art Society, the College Art Association, the North Carolina Symphony Society and the Raleigh Civic Music Club boards.

When Mabel passed away in 1986, her art had been recognized worldwide. In honor of her time at Peace, her family donated several of Mabel’s drawings to be auctioned off at the annual Peace Vintage Sale during Alumnae Weekend. Along with that, in 1987 the Mabel Pugh Art Award was created in memory of her and her beloved art teacher, Ms. Moore. 

Mabel continues to impact the lives of others through her art. Her great-grandniece Jeannette Stevenson is a professional potter and ceramic artist. Stevenson was a high school art teacher for more than 22 years and now works as an instructor at Sertoma Arts Center in Raleigh. 

She remembers growing up visiting her great-great aunt and seeing her art pieces. She loved hearing stories about Mabel’s travels abroad and her time as a teacher. 

“Mabel was a woman of small stature, but large in artistic talent and personality,” she said. “She had the gift to teach others to push their creativity and love art as much as she did, including me.”