Maria Hart: A life woven with art, travel and triumph over adversity

This month we’re profiling a variety of Northwest women who look back on a lifetime of experience for a first hand view of the changing roles of women.

Maria Hart admits that she has “seen it all.” Maria Hart is a textile designer, painter, and jewelry maker – just to name a few talents of this 70-year-old artist. Hart has led an interesting life, to say the least. She’s had famed Philadelphia model Gia Carangi model one of her evening gowns, had tapestries she’s made hung up in the U.S. embassy in Syria, and on a more local note, is an active supporter of the Mt. Airy Arts Garage.

Born in Washington D.C., her family eventually settled in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy section. Today, the Germantown resident is an advocate for art in her neighborhood.

Hart attended the University of the Arts where she majored in weaving and textile design. She has been featured at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and her fabrics have been sent all over the world from Africa to Belgium. Her influences include Victor Vasarely (best known for Optical Art) and Pablo Picasso (best known for Cubism) as well as Asian art.

Tales of adversity:

Hart says she usually surprised the people she interviewed with for jobs because she didn’t market herself as a black artist.

“I wasn’t doing Afro-centric things,” said Hart, “I worked for people that, well, it’s funny how they would respond to me. Being a woman was the same as being black or Jewish, and I wasn’t going to let that get to me. It was exhausting, just to make it. I think it was Arthur Ashe who said it’s a shame that we have to spend half our lives just trying to prove that we are capable.”

In what seems like a scene from Mad Men, a TV show set in the 1960s, Hart had an interview with a man who was regarded as a “high-society-playboy of sorts.” When his attention became inappropriate she said she “firmly shook his hand” to show she wasn’t interested. “I had no problems from there,” said Hart.

Hart, who married a white man, said she faced further adversity upon divorce from her husband, when many people told her “it wouldn’t have lasted anyway” on the basis that it was a mixed marriage. “Men back then had a strange attitude,” said Hart, “I always felt like I was different than everyone else, and I think that the good-old-boy network is always there. They had this idea that women can’t be artist’s – they would be dismissive of you.”

Her artwork and travels:

Hart has worked as a needlepoint design developer in Haiti where she spoke to the young workers there with some of the French language that she knew. At one point, she traveled to Africa to teach the American version of crafts in the villages.

She has also worked as a contributing editor for the Ladies Home Journal and produced needlecraft designs including clothing, lace and knitting. “I actually had a pretty famous Philadelphia model wear one of my evening gown designs – Gia Carangi,” said Hart.

One of Hart’s many talents is hand-painting furniture, on which she paints “unusual” designs. She also hand-crafts jewelry with materials such as layered paper and antique metals to make “Tiffany-like” bracelets. Hart describes her paintings as being “collage-like,” and they include pieces of lace and other textiles.

Hart today:

After receiving encouragement from her neighbors, she says she’s stopped “hiding out,” and is involved with the Mt. Airy Arts Garage. “It’s a fascinating place because you get to introduce yourself and meet a lot of people,” said Hart.

Hart believes in the work of the Garage, saying: “I’m just amazed at the people – how fabulous the work is – there’s no ego there.”

Today, Hart continues to participate in local art activities throughout the area.

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