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Mary King Swayzee: Artist And Art Critic

photo of Mary Swayzee

Mary King Swayzee, an artist and a former art critic of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, died Saturday of cancer at the Mari de Villa retirement community in Chesterfield. She was 84 years old, and before her illness lived in Ladue, where she maintained her residence and studio. 

Mrs. Swayzee was reared in St. Louis, attended Mary Institute (now MICDS) in St. Louis, graduated from the Master’s School, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., in 1947, and in 1951 from Barnard College in New York City, where she majored in art history. 

After college, she remained for a time in New York, and studied with a number of influential artists and in respected studios of artists such as Hans Hofmann and Stanley William Hayter. She reveled in the heady mid-century artistic atmosphere of downtown Manhattan, where she became acquainted with artists whose work earned them reputations as 20th century masters. 

Her own work in the visual arts was recognized in one woman exhibitions and group shows in New York and St. Louis, and as time went on she experimented and worked in a number of mediums, and presented proposals for large scale public works. In 2001, she was one of three finalists in a national competition for a design for a pedestrian bridge in Wildwood.

Her principal professional recognition locally came, however, from her prolific, sophisticated and occasionally acerbic work as a critic. She joined the staff of the Post-Dispatch in 1964, and her reviews of exhibitions mounted here and in feature stories on artists, collectors and their work appeared both in the pages of the daily Post-Dispatch and on its Sunday Music and Arts page. She resigned her position in 1983. She also was a correspondent for many years for ARTnews Magazine. 

She was married twice, first to the Norwegian engineer and designer Carl C. Ulstrup, who designed the Poplar Street Bridge over the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Mr. Ulstrup died in 1999. Her second husband was Cleon O. Swayzee II, a Post-Dispatch editor called Skip, who died in 2008. He was celebrated for his speed and intelligence as a rewrite man. Both of Mrs. Swayzee’s marriages ended in divorce. She had no children. 

She is survived by her brother, Philo Rockwell King Jr. (Patricia), Worcester, Mass.; a niece, Catherine Foote Fish, Atlanta, Ga.; a nephew, Douglas G. Foote Jr., Nashville, Tenn., as well as by five grandnephews and by four stepdaughters.

A memorial service will be Saturday, Dec. 21 at 2:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 600 North Euclid Ave. A reception will follow at the church.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Saint Louis Art Museum Docent Program, 1 Fine Arts Drive, St. Louis, Mo., 63110-1308, or to Trinity Church, 600 North Euclid, St. Louis, Mo. 63108.