Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (1869 – 1958)

In the years following the American Civil War, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter traveled with her family throughout frontier Minnesota, Colorado and Texas.  After her father died, Mary attended the California School of Design in San Fransisco and was hired as an Interior Designer by the Fred Harvey Company in 1901.  By 1910 she was an architect with the same company.  She worked for the next 30 years in the rugged west and southwest, completing a series of landmark hotels, lodges, and most notably, structures along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Mary Colter designed Hopi House (1905), the observatory Lookout Studio (1914), Hermit’s Rest (1914), Desert View Watchtower (1932), and Bright Angel Lodge. Her work conveyed an understanding of archeology and a sense of history.  Many of the installations were designed and constructed with the assistance of Hopi tribe members.  She set an important precedent for future National Park Service architecture throughout the country that responds to its natural and cultural context and emphasizes the use of on-site materials.

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  1. She also designed the La Posada hotel in Winslow, AZ. Definitely a hidden gem. If you are ever driving across the desert and have a chance to stop it will be worth it. It used to be a stop on the rail line from Los Angeles.

  2. Regarding photo #2 (Lookout Studio in Winter), I love how it’s hard to tell where nature ends and where man-made begins. It nestles perfectly into the scenery.

  3. If you want to learn more…Mary Colter, Architect of the Southwest by Arnold Berke, Princeton Architectural Press, NY 2002

  4. Mary Colter also designed china; we own a set of her plates. This description comes from the Chile Shop in Santa Fe which carries her line of china:

    Classic dining car china introduced in 1936, the golden age of the Santa Fe Railway. These authorized reproductions are of the same excellent quality and classic style of the originals. Available in burgundy and gray as featured on the Super Chief,
    and also in the contemporary look of black and gray.

    Mimbreño China was designed in the mid 30’s by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter for use on the Super Chief. She worked jointly for the Santa Fe Railway and the Fred Harvey Company for more than forty years designing and supervising the construction of Santa Fe Rail Stations, Fred Harvey Hotels and classic lodges like the Bright Angel in Grand Canyon. Inspiration for this China came from the pottery of the Mimbres Indians of Southwestern New Mexico. This ancient artistic culture that disappeared circa 1100 was rediscovered by archeologist friends as Ms. Colter was designing china for the Super Chief.

    Colter synthesized these ancient designs with great sensitivity creating a classic line of china as appreciated today as then.

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