Mary Augusta Mullikin

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Mary Augusta Mullikin (born 1874 in Ohio; died 1964) was an American painter who spent almost 30 years in China from 1920 to the end of World War II. Member of the American Federation of Art. Joint author with Anna Hotchkis, also a painter, of two books of their travels in China, illustrated by themselves, entitled Buddhist Sculptures of the Yun Kang Caves (Librairie française, Peiping, 1935) and The Nine Sacred Mountains of China (Vetch and Lee, Hong Kong, 1973). She also contributed to the National Geographic Magazine a number of articles accompanied by her drawings, including "China's Great Wall of Sculpture" in the March 1938 National Geographic (pp 313–348) on the earliest Buddhist sculptures in what were known as the Yun Kang caves, and "Tài Shan, Sacred Mountain of the East" in June 1945. Her paintings and drawings were also featured in exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. and at the Philadelphia Academy, as well as in the Brook Street Galleries in London[1] and numerous exhibitions in China.

Early life[edit]

Mary Mullikin's formal art training was at the Cincinnati Art Academy, followed by studies in Paris under James Whistler and London under Walter Crane. In 1920 she left Boston for a six months visit with her elder sister Katherine and Katherine's husband, Edward Kingston Lowry, an export-import merchant and property manager affiliated with the Methodist Mission, in the Lowries' home at 397 Elgin Avenue, Tianjin, China. The son of an American missionary couple, Edward had lived in China all his life. Tianjin was an important trade location at the time, serving as headquarters for a number of major American and European firms. Mullikin's six months stay in Tianjin eventually extended to 26 years.

Travels in China[edit]

She was fascinated with the variety of subjects available in China and travelled widely in the country and to Korea and Japan with her friend Anna Hotchkis and other friends. In 1931 she made the first of two visits to the Yungang caves in Shanxi province in the west of China, and returned there the following year with Anna. Together they prepared their small book on the early Buddhist sculptures of the caves. After failing to find publishers in the UK and the US, the book was finally published by the Librairie française, a Peking publishing firm owned by Henri Vetch. It was Vetch who suggested the subject of a second, much more ambitious, book about the sacred Daoist and Buddhist mountains, which would involve visiting nine mountains in all corners of China. Despite their advanced years the two artists leapt at the chance, and in two journeys in the autumn of 1935 and the spring and summer of 1936 visited seven of the nine mountains, travelling an estimated 10,000 kilometres by train, boat, donkey, sedan chair and on foot. They had previously been to the other two sacred mountains, Mount Tai in Shandong (which Mullikin visited nine times in all) and the island-mountain of Putuoshan off the east coast.[2][original research?]


In the course of the last trip in 1936 Mullikin suffered from symptoms of a weak heart and though not seriously affected did not travel again in China. In the following year, Katherine suffered a stroke and was bed-ridden. Mary devoted herself to the care of her sister. In July 1937 the Japanese occupation began, and Mullikin and the Lowries were trapped in Tianjin until the end of World War II. Just one month before Pearl Harbor, the Lowries' daughter Lesbia, and her husband Robert M. Taylor, who was in the US Consular Service, left China and took a number of Mullikin’s paintings and the Yungang drawings with them. The Lowries and Mary were first placed under house arrest in their home by the Japanese, but received no ration books. Mullikin lived with her sister and her husband during this time, until Katherine suffered another stroke, this time fatal, in 1942 and Edward died of a heart attack in 1943. Turned out of her home, Mullikin survived by staying with British friends, and by painting pictures of Chinese ancestors from old photographs, and by selling property. She later said that her survival was immensely aided by help from Chinese friends and friends who were citizens of neutral nations. She was finally repatriated in 1946, via Southhampton, England with 1200 other former prisoners on a ship designed to accommodate 150 persons.

She sold a number of her paintings to members of the International community located in Tianjin, between 1920 and the start of World War II.

Later life[edit]

Mullikin safely made her way to her niece and nephew at the United States Embassy in Paris, after she arrived in England. From there, she returned with them to the United States. And in 1947 they set off for Africa, where Mr. Taylor served as consul general in Nairobi, Kenya Colony, East Africa. After two years he transferred back to Washington, so Mullikin, now 75, accompanied her niece and nephew-in-law to make her home in America. Her arrival was chronicled by an article in the Christian Science Monitor of August 29, 1949, together with a staff photo which made the mistake of spelling her last name “Millikin”.

She did considerable landscape painting in the Nairobi area and despite difficulty getting indigenous people to pose, she also did some figures. These paintings have seemed to vanish, although we know she received them in the US. However, as far as we can determine, they have never appeared on the market.(Her family still holds most of those paintings) She had a policy of firmly noting her complete name on most canvases. Some were signed MM with a date, mostly in the interim between the end of the war and her departure for England, so it is unlikely that they would not be identifiable.[3]

Mullikin died in Austin, Texas in February 1964 and was buried in Cincinnati.[4]

After her death Anna Hotchkis undertook to see to the publication of their book The Nine Sacred Mountains of China. Their publisher, Henri Vetch, had moved to Hong Kong during the war and was preoccupied with publishing books for the Hong Kong University. However the book finally appeared under his imprint in 1973.[5]


  • “The Buddhist Sculptures at the Yun Kang Caves”, The Studio, vol cviii, no 497, August 1934;
  • “An Artists’ Party in China”, The Studio, vol cx, no 512, November 1935;
  • “China’s Great Wall of Sculpture” (Wu Tai Shan), National Geographic Magazine, March 1938;
  • “Tai Shan, Sacred Mountain of the East”, National Geographic Magazine, lxxxvii, June 1945;
  • “Tai Shan, most revered of the Five Sacred Mountains of China", Illustrated London News, October 1945, 423-425.
With Anna Hotchkis
  • Buddhist Sculptures of the Yun Kang Caves (Henri Vetch, Peking, 1935)
  • The Nine Sacred Mountains of China (Vetch & Lee, Hong Kong, 1973)


  1. ^ Notice in The Times, 15 April 1933
  2. ^ The basic source of Mary's time in China 1932-1941 are letters to her friend Leila Mechlen in the Archives of American Art, held by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
  3. ^ Arndt, Jesse Ash (August 29, 1949) “American Artist ’Painted’ Way in China”, Christian Science Monitor - Women Today.
  4. ^ Funeral notice in Cincinnati Inquirer, 14 February 1964.
  5. ^ Brief biographical articles are in Peter H Falk, Who was Who in American Art (1999) and Chris Petteys, Dictionary of American Artists (1985)