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"Her best work seems almost artless in its avoidance of visual drama and effects, in its rigorous dependence upon the basic elements of light, line, surface, and composition..."
-Ben Lifson and Richard Eldridge
Marjorie Content (Toomer), the daughter of a wealthy New York stockbroker, joined the managerial staff and later became a partner in The Sunwise Turn, a Manhattan bookstore devoted to new writing and thought (1919-1921). It was the first bookstore founded and run entirely by women. After the breakup of her first marriage to editor and publisher Harold Loeb, she met and later married Michael Carr, a painter and set designer. While working with Carr as a costume designer for Broadway productions and avant-garde playhouses, she was inspired to take photographs. She produced a body of work that, according to her biographers, "seemed to record not an objective but a poetic truth."
When Carr died of pneumonia in 1927, Content continued her photography, living in New York and occasionally camping across the country to the Southwest with her children and Gordon Grant, a painter who introduced her to various Native American tribes. During one of those summers (1934), she drove from Chicago to New Mexico with Georgia O'Keeffe, a close friend. Her photographs were first published in Photographie magazine in 1932. In 1934, Content was commissioned by the Department of the Interior to photograph Native American life. She married Jean Toomer in New Mexico that year. In 1935 they settled on a farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where a number of interests, including her husband's work and her progressively deepening involvement with the Society of Friends, gradually took her away from her photography.
Marjorie Content, Self-portrait, c. 1928. Silver gelatin print. Image courtesy of Jill Quasha.
Education and Training
Miss Finch's School, New York, New York, 1911-1914
Studied Painting with William and Marguerite Zorach, Greenwich Village, New York, 1914-1915
Teachers and Influences
Alfred Stieglitz, uncle of childhood friend, encouraged photography
William Zorach, painter, gave art lessons
Consuelo Kanaga, photographer, helped her get started in photography
Michael Carr, second husband, artist, set designer, encouraged Marjorie to do costume design
Georgia O'Keeffe, personal friend, travel companion
Jean Toomer, fourth husband, artistic/philosophical influence
Connection to Bucks County
Marjorie Content moved to Mill House Farm in Doylestown with Jean Toomer in 1935, where she lived until her death in 1984. They purchased the farm at the suggestion of Marjorie's friend, the woodworker Wharton Esherick. When Content took her summer trips to the Southwest, she always spent the first night with Esherick in Paoli, Pennsylvania. In her words: "We always admired Bucks County. When Jean wanted to leave New York permanently we began looking around in this area, on Wharton's suggestion. It was as simple as that." She later devoted her energies to supporting her husband's work, and to receiving the community of people who gathered around him. She became a Quaker after moving to Doylestown and was actively involved for many years with the Doylestown Meeting House and Buckingham Friends School. She got involved in the town and county community theater as a character actor.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Jean Toomer; Alfred Stieglitz; Georgia O'Keeffe; Kay Boyle; Lola Ridge; Sherwood Anderson; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Consuelo Kanaga and Wallace Putnam; Maxwell and Margaret Anderson; Wharton Esherick, Marguerite and William Zorach; Henry Varnum Poor and Bessie Breuer; Martha Ryther and Morris Kantor
Major Solo Exhibitions
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia, 1995
Joan Washburn Gallery, New York, 1995
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, 1996
Joan Washburn Gallery, New York, 2001
Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, New York, New York
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
University Art Museum, University of New Mexico, New Mexico
Hallmark Photographic collection, Hallmark Cards Incorporated, Kansas City, Missouri
Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Jill Quasha, New York, New York
Commissioned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (which came under the Department of Interior) to photograph Native American life, 1934.
Photographs published in French Magazine Photographie, 1932, 1935
Jill Quasha, Marjorie Content: Photographs, 1994. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.
Teaching and Professional Appointments:
Joined the managerial staff and later became part-owner of The Sunwise Turn, avant-garde bookstore, 1919-1921
Blue Canyon Rock Form, Summer 1932
Washington Square, New York, ca. 1928
Jean Toomer, 39 West 10th Street, New York, Spring 1934
Susan Loeb, 1930
Washington Square, New York, c. 1928
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