Levine, Marilyn

Chemist, Sculptor, Artist, Professor
1935-2005

At first glance, the field of chemistry and the field of art would seem to have nothing in common. One is science and one is art. But these two elements came together in the art and life of one woman: Marilyn Levine.

Levine was an internationally acclaimed sculptor and artist who worked with ceramics to create hyper-realistic art that looks like leather or canvas. Levine did much of her work while studying and teaching at the University of Regina for 2 decades.

Marilyn Levine was born in 1935 in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Her parents were interested in art and design, but Levine studied chemistry at the University of Alberta, receiving her Bachelor of Science in the subject in 1957 and her Master of Science there in 1959. She relocated to Regina in 1961 with her husband Sidney, but could not find work as a chemist here. Instead, she returned to a childhood interest in painting and sculpture, taking courses in drawing, painting, art history and pottery at the Regina campus of the University of Saskatchewan. She was a non-credit student who studied in between jobs as a chemistry teacher at Campion College in Regina.

By 1964 Levine gave up chemistry and became a full-time fine arts student at the Regina campus of the University of Saskatchewan. Her first solo show was in 1966 at a local craft shop. She never looked back from that point on. Levine moved to Berkeley in 1969 to join the Graduate Sculpture Program at the University of California, eventually receiving a Master of Arts in 1970 and a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture in 1971.

Marilyn Levine’s chemistry background probably came in handy in 1969 when she created a process that added chopped nylon fibre to a stoneware body. This gave the ceramic pieces she created an authentic leathery look. Her pieces were created in the trompe-l’oeil style, a hyper-realistic style. Her chosen subject matter was leather objects, primarily handbags, briefcases and jackets. Her “leather” boots look almost real enough to wear.

In 1971 Levine returned to the University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus, where she taught ceramics and pottery. Her return to the city was short-lived, however and by 1973 she took a position with the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. She also taught at the University of California, Berkeley and California State University, Hayward before leaving academia to pursue her art full-time.

Levine’s pieces have been shown in art galleries all over the world, from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (British Columbia), to the Dallas Museum of Art (Texas), to the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago). Even galleries in Tokyo, Australia and Taiwan have displayed her pieces. In 1998 the MacKenzie Art Gallery held a retrospective of her work.

Levine passed away in 2005 in Oakland, California.