Mary Lou Mullen

Pete and Mary Lou Mullen
Pete and Mary Lou at the Friends Christmas Gala in 2017

Friends of the Snite Museum Board Member Mary Lou Mullen grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. She and her husband, Pete, moved to South Bend many years ago when her husband accepted a promotion with Sun Oil Company management. The South Bend assignment was their third job and residence relocation in just three years. When the next promotion came along, Mary Lou and Pete decided to remain in South Bend to raise their three children due to the friendliness of the city and area and the cultural assets in town and nearby.

A graduate of Georgetown Visitation Prep School in Washington, D.C., and of Newton College (now part of Boston College) with a Bachelor's degree in Sociology, Mary Lou also earned an M.S.A. in Non-Profit Administration from the University of Notre Dame Business School.

While raising her family, Mary Lou worked for ten years at the YWCA and Madison Center in development positions at both agencies. Mary Lou later worked at Saint Mary's College as the Annual Fund Director and Major Gift Officer for sixteen years, retiring in 2011.

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Portrait of a Lady by William Merritt Chase


Mary Lou’s interest in art and culture is long-standing. She took undergraduate art classes, attended South Bend Pops Orchestra and South Bend Symphony Orchestra concerts, and originally learned about the Snite Museum of Art as an attendee of the Christmas Gala. After retirement, Mary Lou joined the docent program that serves both the Snite Museum of Art and the South Bend Museum of Art (SBMA) in downtown South Bend. She continues her docent work to this day.

Mary Lou shared her most-treasured Snite Museum moment with us in this intriguing story:

During our docent training, Sarah Martin, the Education Curator, asked us to choose a painting at the Museum that appealed to us and to learn about the artist. I was immediately drawn to Portrait of a Lady, painted by William Merritt Chase.

In doing my presentation, I explained that I chose Chase's painting because it reminded me of a large canvas of a young woman painted by my grandmother, Mary Louise Haws Burkhard.  "Momma Lou" was her name and she died when I was very young.  Her painting is not as fine as Mr. Chase's paintings but there seemed to be a unique resemblance to his work.

I brought a photo of her painting, which hangs on a large wall in our home, for my presentation. It was during my talk that the curators asked me about my grandmother. I knew that she had studied art in New York in the early 1900s and, after finishing her studies, returned to her (and my) hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to marry my grandfather. I did not know the name of the art school where she studied, but I did know that the school later became The Parson's School of Design. At this point, the curators exclaimed that William Merritt Chase's School of Art  became Parson's School of Design. They also told me that it was likely that my grandmother studied under Mr. Chase. WOW!  What a moment!!!  

Momma Lou's painting

In looking at my photo, the curators pointed out that the colors of Momma Lou's painting were quite similar to those in Mr. Chase's portrait. The lady in Momma Lou's painting is a musician who is bowing to an audience at the end of her musical performance. The audience has presented the lady with pink roses which are shown at her feet. 

Well, what FUN I had... explaining to my husband and adult children that it was likely "Momma Lou" had studied under the world-class artist, Mr. William Merritt Chase. My family had never really liked the large canvas prominently hanging on our living room wall.  Now, they really like it! 

When traveling and touring art museums, my husband and I always ask about Mr. Chase's Impressionistic pieces. We have seen many of them at the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as at art museums in Austin and San Antonio, Texas.

Juliane Morris, Friends Board of Director

February 2020