The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1986, Volume 32, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Painting Ladies ~ The Artists ~ The Images

b. Massilon, Ohio December 13, 1873
d. Los Angeles, California June 21, 1943

Mary Belle Williams Although one of the most popular women painters in San Diego, surprisingly little is known about the career of Mary Belle Williams. The daughter of Henry Alonzo and Alwilda (Beazel) Williams, both Ohio natives, Mary Belle began her study of art as a child. She moved to San Diego about 1906 with her father and brother, Howard, who owned and operated the Owens gold mine in Julian for many years. Julian was the inspiration for several of her paintings.

The City Directories list her in San Diego at various addresses between 1906 and 1915. During this time, she frequently exhibited with the San Diego Art Association of which she was a member. In 1909 , she had an exhibit of ninety works at the old Carnegie Library in downtown San Diego. She received a silver medal for her work at the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, and a bronze medal for miniatures at the international extension of that exposition the following year.

Portrait of Kate Sessions by Williams There is no listing for Mary Belle in San Diego between 1916 and 1921, and perhaps her successes at the expositions encouraged her to take further study. It is possible that she went to New York, since one source indicates that she studied with artists in that city and attended the Art Students’ League there, but whether this was before or after her initial arrival in San Diego is not known.

Returning to San Diego about 1922, Mary Belle once again became an active member of the local art community. A charter member of the San Diego Art Guild founded in 1915, she resumed her association and frequently exhibited with the group. She specialized in portraits, but also did many landscape and flower pieces. Her portrait of Mrs. Hannah P. Davison, San Diego librarian for many years, was exhibited at the California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego in 1935. A list of her portraits reads like a “who’s who” of San Diego. Her paintings demonstrate a vivid palette and bold color sense.

Mary Belle’s studio was in the basement of an Irving, Gill designed building she owned at Seventh and Beech Streets. For a time in the 1920s, Alfred R. Mitchell rented the upstairs for his home and studio, and painting his well-known Morning on the Bay at that location. Mary Belle remained at this address until the last six months of her life which were spent in a hospital in Los Angeles.

(Ref. Moure; SDU 6-2543 10:7)