A detail from Mary Petty's September 24, 1955 cover of The New Yorker depicting Mrs. Peabody's maid Fay. The two were the primary characters in Petty's popular 40-cover Peabody Family series which ran for 35 years.
|Died||6 March 1976 (aged 76)|
Mary Petty (April 29, 1899 – March 6, 1976) was an illustrator of books and magazines best remembered for a series of covers done for The New Yorker featuring her invented Peabody family.
Petty met New Yorker cartoonist Alan Dunn around 1925 and he encouraged her to sell her work. Petty published her first drawing on October 22, 1927 in the New Yorker, which was only in its second year of publication. New Yorker publisher, Harold Ross, gave Petty's cartoons his top grade of "AAA."
Petty's style was characterized by her "gentle satirization of New York City's Victorian era society." She portrayed upper-class families in scenes of wealth and privilege. While somewhat satirical, her drawings were also affectionate. One family recurred in her drawings, to which she assigned the name "Peabody."
Petty was a naturally reticent person, and while her work began appearing in the lauded new magazine, Petty herself did not come to The New Yorker offices for some time and thus "for a long time nothing at all was known about her—except that she regularly submitted a new and distinctive kind of drawing." Even after becoming a part of the office scene, few knew her well. James Thurber said all he knew of her background was that she "was born in a brownstone house on West End Avenue. Her father was a professor. She did not have a particularly happy childhood. That's all, brother." Petty contributed to the New Yorker for thirty-nine years, publishing 273 drawings and 38 covers. Her last New Yorker cover was published on March 19, 1966 and showed elderly "Mrs. Peabody" pulling on a broken calling cord.
Petty illustrated several books, including one of her New Yorker cartoons, published in 1945.
Petty rarely took ideas from outside sources (only twice, according to Thurber).
Later life & death
Petty was assaulted and beaten by a mugger on December 1, 1971 and was found three days after the incident on Ward's Island. She never wholly recovered and died five years later at the Pine Rest Nursing Home in Paramus, New Jersey.
- Wepman, Dennis (July 9, 2008). "Mary Petty". American National Biography Online. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-07-08. Retrieved 2008-12-20.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Artist bio by Domenic J. Iacono for the Mary Petty Exhibit at Syracuse University
- "Mary Petty and Her Drawings" by James Thurber. Originally appeared in This Petty Pace by Mary Petty (Knopf) and later republished in the Thurber collection Credos and Curios (Harper & Row).
- "Mary Petty and Her Drawings"
- Alan Dunn and Mary Petty Papers 1907-1972 at Syracuse University (primary source material)