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Mary L. Seward-Miller was a noted Baltimore watercolorist who was known for her cityscapes, whimsical country scenes, winterscapes, Maine seascapes and still lifes.
Mary L. Seward-Miller was a noted Baltimore watercolorist who was known for her cityscapes, whimsical country scenes, winterscapes, Maine seascapes and still lifes. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Mary L. Seward-Miller, a noted Baltimore watercolorist who was known for her cityscapes, whimsical country scenes, winterscapes, Maine seascapes and still lifes, died Jan. 29 at Stella Maris Hospice of complications from a fall. She was 86.

"She had been my student, and I considered her the best student I ever had and I told her that. It's a story of how the student soon became a master," said Frederic "Fritz" Schuler Briggs, a Baltimore artist who teaches at the Schuler School of Fine Arts. "She was extremely creative and took off and did all kinds of amazing things. She was a watercolorist but also combined pastels and drawings in her work."

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The daughter of Samuel Henry Bartlett, a Chicago & Northwestern Railway accountant, and Marie Philamin LaRoy Bartlett, Mary Louise Bartlett was born and raised in Chicago, where she graduated from St. Benedict High School.

Her interest in art began when she was a child, and she received her early training at the Art Institute of Chicago. She continued her art studies at what is now Siena Heights University in Adrian, Mich., which she attended on a full scholarship.

After her marriage in 1950 to Robert Powell Seward, a Baltimore native who was working in Chicago as a bond salesman, the couple returned to the city and settled in a home in Hamilton.

They lived for a time in Original Northwood before moving to an 80-acre horse farm in Monkton, which provided Mrs. Seward-Miller with inspiration for many of her watercolors of barns, houses, fields and country life.

After her divorce from Mr. Seward in 1973, she moved into an apartment, and in 1977 purchased a 150-year-old rowhouse formerly owned by a dockworker on Harden Court in Federal Hill, which she completely renovated. She converted a third-floor room into her studio.

"It was love at first sight," she told The Baltimore Sun in a 1981 interview. "I saw it and said, 'That's where I want to live.' It must have been a moment of insanity."

Mrs. Seward-Miller decorated the walls of her home with her artwork.

"The light, airy pictures repeat the themes and shapes found in 'old master' works and show the relationship of people to animals," observed the newspaper. "The paintings are large, but they work well in the little room and enhance rather than overpower it."

Mrs. Seward-Miller was working as a commercial artist when she settled in Federal Hill, and was also an agent with the Equitable Life Assurance Society.

She lived in Federal Hill for 15 years and rather than painting bucolic country scenes began painting cityscapes that she observed from the windows of her studio.

Through the years, she exhibited her art in juried and invitational art shows in Baltimore, some of which included the 26th Street Art Galleries, Morris Mechanic Theatre, Baltimore City Hall, Katzenstein Gallery, Baltimore Life Insurance Gallery, University of Baltimore Gallery and Gallery 30 in Gettysburg, Pa.

"Louise Seward-Miller's watercolors portray the usual scenes — tugboats in the harbor, Mount Vernon Place, Fells Point," wrote Sun art critic John Dorsey in 1987 of an exhibit at the Eubie Blake Museum.

"She is at her best when her subject is not one of the major landmarks, such as Mount Vernon Place, but is an anonymous corner of the city," wrote Mr. Dorsey. "In 'Summer, South Baltimore,' for instance, she captures the tumbled, picturesque charm of sloping roofs and backyards."

Mrs. Seward-Miller once explained that she embraced the plein-air style of painting and that watercolors "were a perfect medium to capture the thrill of being there."

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"Her watercolors were just phenomenal, and there was just so much joy in her work," said Mr. Briggs.

She was in her 40s when she decided to return to college and earn her degree. In 1975, she was a summa cum laude graduate of Towson University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in studio art.

"It wasn't easy," she told The Sun in a 1980 interview, "but I had a sense of purpose."

Mrs. Seward-Miller's work earned her national recognition, such as when the National Wildlife Foundation reproduced renditions of wildlife. She also created a Christmas card for the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg.

Her work was featured in American Artist Magazine, Color Magazine and in The Sun, and some of the clients to whom she sold reproduction rights of her work included the Federal Reserve Bank, National Wildlife Federation and Barton-Cotton Inc., a Baltimore graphics and printing company.

Additional honors included the Watercolor Award from the Three Arts Club of Homeland, Katzenstein Gallery Award for her painting of the Pride of Baltimore II, and the Holbein Award from the Baltimore Watercolor Society, of which she was a member.

In 1990, she became the first woman to join the Charcoal Club, which had been an all-male bastion since its founding in 1883 by artists who wanted to draw using nude models. She later served as vice president of the club.

"I brought her into the Charcoal Club where she contributed a great deal," said Bob Brown, an artist and teacher, who counted Mrs. Seward-Miller among his students. "She had a strong personality and was such a joy and a wonderful friend for 50 years."

"Joining the Charcoal Club was quite an honor for her," said Mr. Briggs. "She was a great raconteur and wonderful to be around. She had such a bubbly personality."

In 1983, she married James "Bing" Miller, a jazz musician and drummer, who died in 1998.

In 2003, Mrs. Seward-Miller moved to the Homewood at Plum Creek retirement community in Hanover, Pa., where she was a member of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church.

In recent years, Mrs. Seward-Miller was forced to give up painting because of macular degeneration.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Isaac Jogues Roman Catholic Church, 9215 Old Harford Road, Baltimore.

She is survived by three sons, Bart Seward of Fallston, Ben Seward of New Freedom, Pa., and Bruce Seward of Perry Hall; two daughters, Mary Ellen McLewee of Sparks and Melinda Leckrone of Stewartstown, Pa.; three stepsons, Gary Miller and Wesley Miller, both of Glen Burnie, and Jay Miller of Lafayette, Colo.; a stepdaughter, Lori Miller of Carrboro, N.C.; 16 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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