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From painter to writer and paving new paths for children's books

Stories for children have been around since antiquity and the oldest known that is in print is Aesop’s Fables. The topic of the stories remained the same but have been told in different ways, depending on the writer and what section of the world they lived in. Most of them have good morals and positive endings to teach children messages they need to learn as they grow into adults. Some give information about people, places, flora, fauna, and many other topics. One Ohio woman drew from her interests and wrote stories about Native Americans. Her name is Mary Marsh Buff.

Mary Marsh was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1890 and according to documentation, she loved to write poetry and paint. Marsh attended the Cincinnati Art Academy as well as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and afterwards she made her way across the country, working as a teacher in Idaho before moving on to California. After arriving in Los Angeles she worked as an assistant curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Except for a mention of Marsh’s painting of Native American subjects, there is little more known until she meets Conrad Buff and marries him in 1922.

Conrad Buff was born in Switzerland and came to America in the early 1900s. Not able to speak English when he arrived he worked on a farm owned by a family who also came from Switzerland. From there he went to Los Angeles and eventually met, and married, Mary Marsh. Both of them continued painting, Conrad traveled and painted landscapes, while Mary’s favorite subject, as mentioned earlier, was Native American’s or Indians as they were called in that time period. When the depression began and jobs were lost, Mary Marsh Buff and her husband began a venture combining their talents.

Even though Mary herself was a painter, having been a member of several California painting clubs, she quit painting and turned to her next love of writing. Together they started a career in children’s books with Mary writing the story and Conrad providing the illustration. Mary wrote stories about nature and her favorite topic of Native American’s. Conrad, pulling from his travels and ventures, painted images from the Native American’s life, mainly from the Navajo culture, and from the many different landscapes he’s seen during his travels across country. Their combined creativity allowed them to write and illustrate 14 books for children.

Their first book was written in 1937 and titled Dancing Cloud. Their last book, titled Colorado, River of Mystery, was written in 1968. Their individual and combined travels across America gave them the information they needed to create their books. Mary and Conrad had two sons who both grew up to become well known in their own rights, one being an architect, who designed their last home, and the other working in film and even winning an award for his work on the 1998 version of Titanic. Mary passed away in 1970, two years after their last book, and Conrad lived until 1975.

Here are links to more information:

List of Mary's Books

Mary and Conrad Buff Papers

Mary and Conrad Buff Structures

Article from UK

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