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Mary Reynolds

Sepia-toned photograph of Mary Reynolds. She sits in 3/4 view. Her hair is pulled back away from her face. She wears a dark, loose-fitting jacket and dangly earrings.

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky). Mary Reynolds, around 1919/50. Gift of Frank B. Hubachek. © 2018 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Also known as
Mary Louise Reynolds
Date of birth
Date of death

Mary Reynolds, an American active in avant-garde movements of early 20th-century Paris, made transformative contributions to the art of bookbinding. Often choosing texts authored by colleagues in the Surrealist movement, she used unconventional binding materials such as shards of pottery, corset stays, glass thermometers, and toad skins to allude to the literary and poetic content within. 

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Reynolds moved to France in 1921 and joined its vibrant literary and visual arts community, establishing a close personal and artistic relationship with Marcel Duchamp. In 1929 Reynolds trained at the studio of Pierre Legrain, an influential bookbinder who favored geometry and abstraction over the ornate flourishes common to French fine binding of the time. Reynolds adapted Legrain’s approach, creating books that serve as visual and tactile embodiments of the experimental writing within. 

During the German occupation of Paris in the early 1940s, Reynolds was active in the French Resistance, helping those fleeing persecution find safe harbor. Reynolds herself escaped on foot over the Pyrenees Mountains to Spain in 1942, later traveling to New York City, where she remained for the duration of World War II. Reynolds returned to Paris in 1945, renewing her binding practice and working as the Paris representative for View magazine. 

After her death in 1950 Reynolds’s brother, Art Institute of Chicago Trustee Frank Brookes Hubachek, worked closely with Duchamp to place her bindings and collection of books and papers at the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries of the Art Institute of Chicago. The collection is routinely exhibited and available for consultation at the libraries, providing visitors with a rich resource on 20th-century American and European avant-garde movements.

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