Born in San Antonio, Texas, Bonnie MacLeary (1890-1971) studied with William-Adolph Bouguereau in Paris at the Academy Julien. After briefly trying her hand at miniature painting in Siena, Italy she returned to New York and began studies at the Art Students League under sculptor James Earle Fraser (1876-1953). This formative experience led her to believe that sculpture would be her medium and, in 1921, she launched her career as a sculptor, opening her first studio in MacDougal Alley in New York, an enclave of painters and sculptors and other creative types (MacLeary’s sister Sarita, a writer, occupied the adjoining studio).
MacLeary exhibited at the National Academy of Design, showing a bronze female figure titled Aspiration (1921), which was acquired a few years later by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That acquisition so early in her career no doubt significantly enhanced her reputation as a sculptor. Like many women sculptors of her generation, MacLeary recognized the growing demand for garden and fountain sculpture and began to create bronze sculptures designed for that market. One of the most inspired of these works was Ouch (1923) a lifesize figure of a young girl who has innocently picked up a crab, only to be bitten. The strongly reactive body language of the child as she tries to shake off the crab, combined with her startled expression immediately engage the viewer. Cleverly composed, the spiral composition formed by the girl’s outstretched arms, turned head, and raised knee allows the viewer to enjoy the work from nearly every direction.