Thorne Dreyer :
A tribute to Maggie, my mother

‘Maggie’s absolute freedom, her hospitality, big floppy hats and committed heart put the art scene in Houston on the side of human rights and general soul.’ — Mimi Crossley, Houston Post

Margaret Webb Dreyer cropped

Maggie Dreyer at my 30th birthday party, Chaucers, Plaza Hotel, Houston, Texas, August 1, 1975, a little more than a year before she lost her long battle with cancer. Photo by Janice Rubin.

By Thorne Dreyer | The Rag Blog | May 8, 2016

This is a slightly expanded version of an article I published in The Rag Blog in May 2014. I want to share it again on this Mother’s Day. Comments from the original posting are included and I encourage you all to add your own, especially those of you who knew my mother. — TD


MAY 13, 2014 — I dedicated my radio show on Friday, May 9, to my mother, Margaret Webb Dreyer. Since I was two days early for Mother’s Day, I now have no problem being two days late with this tribute! (Ah, fearful symmetry…)

Back in the 1970s, when I was working with KPFT, the Pacifica radio station in Houston, I interviewed my mother one Mother’s Day. I still have a cassette from that show but it is sadly silent. I have decided to tell Maggie’s story here through the words of others — and a few vintage ones of my own. For those of you who didn’t have the very special pleasure of knowing her, I would like to introduce you to Margaret Webb Dreyer.


“I was conceived in Houston during a creative collaboration between a newspaper journalist and an abstract expressionist.” — Thorne Webb Dreyer, Rag Reunion Memoir, September 2005

“Margaret Webb Dreyer (29 September 1911-December 17, 1976) — known to many as ‘Maggie’ Dreyer — was an American painter, muralist, mosaic artist, educator, gallery owner, and political activist who spent most of her career in Houston, Texas. Though she worked in a number of styles and media over the years, she was best known as an abstract expressionist painter. Her work won numerous awards in major juried shows and was exhibited widely in museums and galleries. — “Margaret Webb Dreyer” article, Wikipedia

mother at easel

The artist as a young woman: Margaret Webb Dreyer, 1945.

“Margaret Webb Dreyer began teaching art in the 1940s at Ripley House in Houston where, according to Candice Hughes, writing in Houston Breakthrough, ‘she also directed plays, taught dance, repaired the cabinetry and even called a few square dances.’“ – Wikipedia

“Circa 1940. There I was, fresh from Chicago, checking out this purer, less complicated Houston… I rented a room in [a] basement studio complex… My room featured a cot and battered Underwood typewriter. I was in business. I taught creative writing… Soon marriage pulled me deeper into the arts scene. She was Margaret Lee Webb, tall, dark-haired, amiable, a version of Garbo who didn’t ‘vant to be alone.’” Martin Dreyer, writing in The Houston Review: History and Culture of the Gulf Coast, Spring 1979

Margaret Dreyer “was a moving force in Houston from the 1940s to the 1970s.” Sandra J. Levy, writing in the Archives of American Art Journal, 1982

“She was a leader whose impact was both personal and artistic.” Houston Chronicle Fine Arts Editor Ann Holmes

“Margaret Webb Dreyer (1911-1976), painter” is included in an alphabetical listing of “Texas women who have helped shape the history of Texas.” Great Texas Women, the University of Texas at Austin

“She was a tall woman from whom the grand scale was in order. Her penetrating, dark eyes glowed as she spoke with energy and dramatic gesture… she shone in Houston’s emerging art scene when it took a lot more courage to be unconventional…” Ann Holmes, obituary, Houston Chronicle, 1976

maggie dances balanced 2

Maggie dances at Anderson Fair’s Montrose Block Party in Houston. Photos by Judy Weiser.

“People loved Margaret Webb Dreyer’s…mid-century Saturday night salons …where today’s celebrated art scene may well have been born, and the guest list glittered with anti-Vietnam activists (Jane Fonda) and renegade filmmakers (Robert Altman).” — “The Most Influential Houstonians of All Time,” Houstonia Magazine, 2013

“Maggie’s absolute freedom, her hospitality, big floppy hats and committed heart put the art scene in Houston on the side of human rights and general soul. To a large extent, she made it an art-for-artist’s scene, and set the stage for those of us who walk on it now.” Houston Post art writer Mimi Crossley

“She had a charisma that drew diverse people together, from scruffy artists to federal judges, from social ‘items’ to good-ol’-boys… Her warmth and openness made people feel welcome and important.” Journalist Martin Dreyer, Houston Review, Winter 1983

“Dreyer had perhaps her greatest impact promoting the work of young artists in the Houston area. She ran Dreyer Galleries [during] a period when few Houston galleries exhibited local artists. She showed particular support for African-American and young female artists.” Kendall Curlee, Handbook of Texas Online

maggie, gloger, burford 1. crop

Maggie drew diverse people together: to her left is artist Burford Evans, whose work she exhibited, shaking hands with Leroy Gloger, owner of country station KIKK and a Houston Rodeo vice president. Photo by Blair Pittman / Houston Chronicle.

‘While Margaret Webb Dreyer was an award-winning artist herself, her impact on the city’s art scene went beyond her own work. For fifteen years Dreyer owned and operated a gallery where she exhibited not only recognized artists but also young ones who needed encouragement as well as a place to show their works.” — Betty Trapp Chapman, Houston Women: Invisible Threads in the Tapestry (2000)

“Dreyer frequently offered financial stipends to young artists, hired them to work at her gallery, and bought paintings from their shows, sometimes anonymously. There was often an artist living rent-free in a converted kitchen at the gallery, and a portrait artist from Uruguay lived there for months, adapting an old bathtub into a bed.” –- Wikipedia

“[Arthur] Turner was 19 and attending North Texas when he met Houston gallery owner Margaret Dreyer. He was clutching his portfolio. ‘Darlin’, come in, would you like a drink?’ he remembers her greeting him. ‘Three hours later, I had a show.'” — “Students line up for beloved artist and art teacher Arthur Turner,” by Claudia Feldman, Houston Chronicle, November 2011

“Playing a key role in making Houston a happening place were noted painter Margaret Webb Dreyer, a peace activist and a prime mover in the Houston art scene, and her journalist husband, Martin. (Full disclosure: they also doubled as my parents.) Their Dreyer Galleries had, since the 50’s, been a gathering spot for Houston’s arts, literary, and academic types… and [later] it became a center for the burgeoning peace movement.” — Thorne Dreyer in Boys From Houston by Vicki Welch Ayo (2013)

“The Saturday night ‘salons’ at the gallery were an important part of Houston’s emerging art scene. Houston Chronicle Fine Arts Editor Ann Holmes

“Once Jane Fonda came [to Dreyer Galleries] to speak in support of antiwar GI’s. She climbed up on a chair in the main gallery room and gave her pitch to assorted folks packed around the pre-Columbian sculptures and other obstacles d’art.” Martin Dreyer writing in The Houston Review, Winter 1983

“In addition to being a champion of the arts in a city which valued materialism above cultural things, [Margaret Dreyer] was also an ardent supporter of liberal causes and a passionate critic of the Vietnam War.” Robert V. Haynes, editor, The Houston Review

“She just didn’t believe in people killing each other. She had an acute sense of the value and beauty of human life. All of my own politics stem from that sense she imparted to me.” Thorne Dreyer, quoted by Candice Hughes, Houston Breakthrough, March 1977

“I feed the birds and worry if they have water. Sometimes I’ll take some dog food and drive around the block looking for strays to feed.” Margaret Webb Dreyer, quoted by David D. Dolin, “The Midnight Alchemy of Maggie Dreyer,” Houston Chronicle, July 1970

dreyer rats 2

The KKK’s Rat Sheet called us “the infamous Dreyer Rats.” Another
thing to be proud of! Photo by Victoria Smith.

“Margaret and Martin Dreyer played a prominent and very public role in social and progressive political causes, most notably the movement against the War in Vietnam, and their activities made them a prime target for an increasingly militant Ku Klux Klan group. One night riders shot a bullet through a glass pane in the gallery’s front door and the bullet lodged in a mosaic wall in the entry. Maggie refused to repair the damage, considering it an emblem of honor.” Wikipedia

“The hearty denizens of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan threw a concussion grenade into the Space City! [underground newspaper] office…and shot up my mother’s art gallery… My father — a reporter for the Houston Chronicle — joined by my peacenik mom, and heavily hirsute me, responded by storming downtown to rail at — and be ignored by — the Houston City Council.” — Thorne Dreyer, The Rag Blog, February 2009

“Her paintings, carefully executed, but bursting with her own energy, won prize after prize.” – Ann Holmes, Houston Chronicle, April 28, 1977

“Most of her compositions give a cheerful feeling, as if she looks at the world through a prism of flashing lights. In many works, blotches of color are applied in mosaic-like patterns worked into the chiaroscuro.” – Editors, Houston Scene

“She did figurative abstractions bursting with life and used the techniques of impasto and glazing with a skillful hand.” — Candice Hughes, Houston Breakthrough

“I work with ideas, breaking the space around the surfaces and rejoicing in color… What I am painting today are the joys and the heartbreaks and there seem to be more of the latter.” — Margaret Webb Dreyer, quoted by David D. Dolin, Houston Chronicle, July 1970

“Margaret Dreyer died of cancer on December 17, 1976. She was eulogized for her contributions to the Houston art community in a service at the Rothko Chapel, and her last series, Maggie’s Songs, was exhibited at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, shortly after her death. In 1979 the University of St. Thomas mounted a retrospective of her paintings. — Kendall Curlee, Handbook of Texas Online

posthumous show

With my father at the posthumous exhibit of her last works, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, April 1977. Photo
by Janice Rubin.

“Maggie’s last songs were lyrical, jeweled, many-dimensional, complex, allusive… The rounded organic shapes and the surface strokes may be Kandinsky-reminiscent; the organization of the vertical rectangles into two or three pane sections may go back to Rothko. But the textures and the colors — fuchsias, confetti greens, orange and yellow of these separate works are perfectly, clearly, Margaret Webb Dreyer getting it all together with her very own kind of inquiry and sophistication.” — Ann Holmes, Houston Chronicle, April 28, 1977

“In her last works she seemed to have gained a fresh impetus and focus to her work that came from a close attention to what was going on around her and within her. It was as though Maggie was taking her cues from the shapes of the cell, the basic unit of life and also what was attacking her.” David Parsons, Rice University

“During her final stay in the hospital, alone with her husband, Maggie suddenly and distinctly said, as though addressing a roomful of friends, ‘I was just getting to be a really good artist when this happened to me.’” — Candice Hughes, Houston Breakthrough, March 1977

“Many [of those eulogizing Maggie at the Rothko Chapel] were artists like Bob Riegel who told how ‘she completely changed my life one afternoon.’ As a youth living in our neighborhood, he was shooting mockingbirds with his new slingshot. Suddenly he felt a disapproving presence hovering over him. It was my bird-loving wife who, said Bob, ‘took me in right then and gave me my first art lesson.’” Martin Dreyer, writing in The Houston Review

“I guess she thought this was a real case of misdirected energy; before I knew it, I was wielding a paintbrush instead of a slingshot.” Artist Bob Riegel, eulogy at Rothko Chapel

“There are some people who by only living their lives enrich the lives of everyone around them.” Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz, eulogy at Rothko Chapel, December 20, 1976

[Rag Blog editor and Rag Radio host Thorne Dreyer was born to Margaret Webb Dreyer and Martin Dreyer on August 1, 1945, in Houston, Texas. Dreyer can be contacted at editor@theragblog.com]

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19 Responses to Thorne Dreyer :
A tribute to Maggie, my mother

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nicely done…you were a fortunate son

  2. Fred Jinkins says:

    Margaret Dreyer was a gallery owner and an artist. She invited me to show my paintings in her gallery and some of them were sold there. She was very kind to me. Margaret introduced me to my wife, Marion. We have been married 52 years.

  3. Kerry Awn says:

    Wonderful tribute. I was lucky enough to “work” for Maggie at her gallery ’68-69ish. I was the greeter at the gallery which basically meant I kept her company while she regaled me with her stories. I also spent a lot of time washing her dishes and picking up after her little dog but she fed me, entertained me, counseled me and utmost always encouraged me. She let me be an artist. She actually got me my first mural painting jobs. One at a head shop and one at a bar but hey, I was painting. I loved her and I think she loved me too. People like that come into your life for a reason. Thanks Thorne.

  4. SVH says:

    Thank you for this lovely tribute to your mom, Thorne. My partner and I were just in Houston this weekend for the Art Car Parade and we certainly could see and feel the creative vibe that exists in Houston. It is wonderful to learn more about the role your family has played in that, and how the arts and the defense of human rights are so entwined.

  5. rochelle brackman says:

    i remember margaret… and the gallery… and the times then. being one of houston’s small group of anti-vietnam war actiists then, i was more than once in the gallery for meetings and events. i remember the kkk throwing red paint over margaret’s car and the front of the gallery one nite, if i’m not mistaken. it always felt reassuring to have margaret and martin and some of the other “big” personalities in our midst as our scraggly group tried to work for peace in the inhospitable and downright dangerous atmosphere in houston in those years. i remember being involved all together with The Underground Railroad head shop and alternative meeting place in old market square downtown also. those were great times, good people, heart-warming memories. thanks for posting these stories about your mom.

  6. Chris Tebow Smith says:

    I was lucky enough to meet your mother at your parents’ gallery / home. She was warm, vivacious, and threw a great party. Even shy, goofy, tongue-tied little girls such as myself were made to feel at home. It was the first time I’d ever eaten caviar, so exotic! I remember – with sadness – trooping to MD Anderson with others to donate plasma for her during her illness. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, Thorne.

  7. William Michael Hanks says:

    Maggie Dreyer is a wonderful, mystical, and inspiring spirit. I say “is” because I still feel her presence in my life. There are few enough who give us true encouragement and a sense of unlimited hope but Maggie gave it in spades. She called forth the better and brighter angels of our spirit and she still does for those fortunate enough to have known her and shared her light. I always wanted to reach a little higher and be a little better because of her.

  8. Bob Simmons says:

    The Fred Hofheinz statement is something we should all wish we could do. You were blessed to have a mom like that Thorne.

  9. Fontaine says:

    She sounds like someone I would have love to have spent time with. You Houstonites are lucky to have known her.

  10. James McEnteer says:

    Thorne, You were blessed with am amazing heritage. Your Mother’s Day tribute to your mom is touching and inspiring. Congratulations. Have you considered expanding your appreciation into a full-fledged biography, with your mother;s life set in as much of the Houston cultural context as possible? And putting yourself into the picture as well? Could be a fascinating two-generation journey for you and your readers

  11. joe manning says:

    Margaret Dreyer’s unique political aesthetics showed that there’s no difference between art for art’s sake and art for “the people’s” sake.

  12. Russ Noland says:

    Thorne,
    To describe Martin and Maggie Dreyer as unique would be a massive understatement. The way they bridged the art and activist worlds was in itself a work of art. They were gracious and kind,well spoken and outspoken. They did a lot of good which I suppose is the greatest accolade you can hang on someones legacy.

  13. She was a wonderful and gorgeous woman, an inspiration to many, and I feel so fortunate that I had a chance to meet her, if only very briefly — I think I must have “imprinted” her a bit, like a baby bird; I admired her strength and self-assurance greatly!
    Well done, Thorne!

  14. melissa noble says:

    Thorne, It is so nice to read about your mom and who she was for many in this community..Sorry I did not know her..I think I would have loved her as well

  15. David MacBryde says:

    Fine post, Thorne! I am a little slow in catching up on my Rag Blog reading — but glad to have seen this. It also helps me understand you more. Good going !

  16. Jim Baldauf says:

    Very nice, Thorne … made me recall such wonderful things … your father whom I knew from the old Houston Press Club in the Rice Hotel, your mother of course from everywhere … Anderson Fair in Montrose, and La Carafe in downtown Houston’s Market Square.

    One day after a party I threw overflowing my small apartment, your mother called to say she thought she had lost a piece of jewelry during the revelry and could I please look around for it … a pre-colombian silver pendant in the form of a Thunderbird … I was so happy when I found it under a piece of furrniture … I immediately called her back took it to an address she gave me … her home I guess it was, somewhere in Third Ward, I seem to recall.

  17. Ellard Yow says:

    I wish I had known you and your family when I was growing up. Houston was filled with so many money hungry people.
    Fortunately, my father taught me the values he learned from his Quaker mother. They have been very important in my life.We ought not to allow conservative hypocrites claim a monopoly on moral values.

  18. Sara Lindner says:

    Hello there…I was doing an inventory of some artwork from my late Grandmother – Reba Gloger – and noticed your mother’s name on the back of a small abstract. I just googled her name and came across this beautiful tribute to her and was stunned/delighted to find a picture of my Grandfather Leroy Gloger…what a treat! I believe the painting is one she did because I have another with the name Dreyer Galleries along with the name of the artist and series.Anyway, thanks for making my day 🙂

  19. Nancy Gayle Simpson says:

    Thorne, I remember your magnificent mother Maggie with awe and respect. She was a queen in her gallery and the art opening I attended there was memorable. The upstairs living quarters was an extension of the gallery. ART was the reigning spirit of your home. I had never met a mother like yours and she was boldly living her life outside the norm and inside her own belief system. She was lovely and fearsome at the same time.

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