Tribute: Mollie Michala Lyman

'Not One, But Many Lives'

By Mary Loftus

Mollie Michala Lyman

Courtesy the Lyman family

Mollie Michala Lyman was a model, an artist, and a founder of Emory’s Studio Art Program, where she taught for more than two decades. A mother of six—four of whom attended Emory—she was a painter, collagist, printmaker, and mixed-media and performance artist, with exhibits of her work in cities from Atlanta to Paris to Milan. Lyman died April 13, 2013, in Illinois, at eighty-seven.

“My mother was unconventional, carving her own path,” says Francesca Lyman, who attended Emory in 1972 but graduated from Bennington College. “She saw life as chapters filled with new challenges, so she lived not one but many lives.”

Born in Chicago, Lyman worked as a clothed model for art and fashion-design classes to help pay for her education. She studied fine arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and in 1948 won the Art Institute’s Ryerson Travel Fellowship to study painting in Paris. There she met Tom Lyman, who was studying at the Sorbonne. They hitchhiked across Europe and were married in Florence.

In 1952, the couple returned to Chicago. Mollie modeled for A+ Agency in ads for Marshall Field’s, Look, Life, and other national magazines; Tom famously portrayed “Mr. Playboy” for Hugh Heffner’s magazine and growing empire. Modeling, says their daughter, was a “way to add to their living, rather than a career goal.”

Tom earned a PhD in art history from the University of Chicago, and Mollie, a master’s of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1966.

The couple moved to Atlanta in 1967, when Tom took a job as an art history professor at Emory. He taught thousands of students during twenty-five years and took hundreds of them to Europe—a legacy that continues with the Thomas Lyman Fund for Graduate Student Travel. Mollie taught at the Atlanta School of Art in the late 1960s and, in 1974, cofounded Emory’s Studio Art Program in the Department of Art History, where she taught for twenty-two years.

“Her inventive drawing and painting classes had students creating works in adventurous ways,” Art History Professor Emeritus Clark Poling told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “With glamorous pizazz, she contributed to the high spirits.”

In addition to Francesca, Mollie Lyman is survived by daughters Mela Lyman, Stephany Lyman 76C, Sophia van der Meer 89C; son, Michael Lyman; and seven grandchildren. Another daughter, Marea Thomas 78OX, died in 2012.

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