(Click on thumbnails to open images)
Unlike most of the other single-pseudonym artists on this site, we know who Maio was (thanks largely to a contributor at
). Born November 23, 1925 (or 1924), the artist known as Maio was born
Margaret Eugenia Stewart. Her first husband was photographer Mario Vincent Toti (1921-2009); her second was Wayne E. Thomis. (I don't know how long each marriage lasted.)
Hence, she has both of her married surnames on her gravestone, pictured at right. She died on December 10, 1987, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetary in Santa Monica.
Ms. Stewart (known to friends as 'Jean') and Toti had a daughter, Sherrie, whose godfather was none other than actor Clark Gable! (See above photos.)
Harlequins in Ruins
Maio is probably best known to the general public for one or more of the works shown above, which I call the 'harlequins in ruins' (because it shows, um, girls dressed as
harlequins standing in vaguely European ruins). These were turned into popular wall hangings and turn up pretty regularly on the aftermarket.
Likewise these next three appear to be from the same 'series,' more or less. These were also turned into mass-market prints.
This tag was taken from the back of the third image above, and gives us at least the title to that image, 'Harlequin With Poodle.' We can see that it was sold by the Turner
Manufacturing Co., which were located in Chicago. They specialized in low-cost home decorations that sold through various department stores and five-and-dimes. We know this print
dates to before 1975, because that year was when the company went out of business. (Too bad we don't have a price - it would be interesting to know how much these pieces went for
back in the day.)
Here are a few more long vertical works that were turned into mass-market prints. (Note that although a few of these are shown in pairs, they did not necessarily sell that way
originally). The last pair shows a couple of African-American children; this was apparently uncommon in Big Eye art.
Here we have a painting that fits in easily with the vertical harlequins, but of course is horizontal. Not that many Big Eye art pieces are horizontal, which is odd, because
it seems that art buyers would demand a healthy share of horizontal works to fit over the sofa, or simply to cover such an empty spot on a wall.
Note: The above image was taken from a Facebook group
devoted to Maio. I have no idea who owns
it, but check out the wall to the right in the photo: this person owns two more classic Maio paintings as well! I'm infinitely jealous.
Small Girl Portraits
These three works go together, it seems to me, because they represent small portraits of girls; the first two are both 8x10", and only show the girls' faces and shoulders; the third
(titled Easter Bonnet) is 12x16" and gives a slightly fuller view of the subject. But to me they all represent the same type, so I'm grouping them together here.
Mother and Child
I call the above works 'Mother and Child' for obvious reasons; Ms. Toti-Thomas's love for her own daughter clearly shows in these works. These certainly don't fall into the
Big Eye category, and I doubt that prints were made from most of them (although the one on the far right seems to have been reproduced); but then, there are other types of paintings
that the artist did which might be considered more in line with 'mainstream' art.
Three more Verticals
These are three more elongated works, all of which have been made into prints. The first one, showing a female Spanish dancer, has a male counterpart, but I don't yet have a good
scan to show here.
These next works, which are signed 'Maio' and are apparently genuine, would suggest that at some point the artist was asked to produce one or more items that resembled those of
the artist known as Eden, and did an admirable job copying the style. These two seem to be variations on the same image.
Presented here are two different works; the one on the left is by Maio, while the one on the right is by Eden. One is obviously a copy of the other. So... which came first? My
guess is that the Eden image existed first, and Maio was asked to copy it. There is little evidence to support my theory, but upon examination it appears that the Maio painting is
a looser than most of her other works, while the Eden appears to fit in precisely with most of that artist's other works. Also, I can attest that at least the frame to the Eden
dates from 1963; it is in my possession. It is safe to assume that the painting was custom-framed, which would date the work to that date also. I believe Maio must have done most
of her Big Eye work somewhat later than that. In any case, I am investigating this and hope to have more information in the future.
These two prints - which must not have been widely available, as these are the only copies I've seen - are called 'Pianist' and 'Vocalist' (as seen in the white space of the prints
on the images). This pair of images is a slight departure for the artist and are a nice variation.
This is a miscellaneous grouping of various characteristic pieces. The second piece in the first row above was titled 'Mardi Gras Girl' and appears to have been
marketed in the same manner as the 'Fantastic Four' images of the artist Eden (see her page for details).
The first and second pieces in the second row we know to be titled 'Sunbonnet Sue' and 'Serenade in Blue'. These were turned into various size prints. Not sure if the third one
has a similar title.
Maio didn't just do Big Eye works, as noted above. She did a variety of different types of art, some of it downright abstract. Unfortunately I don't have good clear images of
these other than the above painting of flowers. But I know that she also did at least a handful of landscapes, a cityscape (skyscrapers along a horizontal horizon), and possibly
Like Eden, Gig, and other Big Eye artists, Maio's licensed works often ended up being used on various merchandise. In the first image here we have a vintage jewelry box which contains a copy of the
popular Harlequin in Ruins image, third from the left, near the top of this page. But, notice: it's not an exact duplicate of that image. As we have seen with Eden, the Big Eye
artists often made copies of their own works for whatever reason.
The second item is much more interesting: it's a paint-by-number set that allowed home hobbyists to copy the 'world famous artist' Maio's style. There seems to have been about a dozen
different sets of these pbn kits, that is, several different images to paint, all based on works by Maio. This appears to have been available for sale in the late 60's - early 70's.
I'm not sure where this leaflet came from - whether it was a flyer for a gallery show, or came bundled with a print. In any case, at least it provides a bit more information
about the artist:
Maio's work has been widely reproduced and sold on the "popular art" market and is particularly well known for appealing children of varied ethnic characteristics.
However, the work of Maio demonstrates a much wider range of accomplishment and includes paintings in oils and other media, some of these most unusual and innovative.
For Maio, a Chicago artist with a California background, formal study began at Chouinard's Art Institute in Los Angeles. Afterward Maio worked under Tibor Jankay of Budapest,
in Rome, and the Julien academy in Paris. Maio's work has universal appeal and establishes an intimate and immediate communication with the viewer.
(Page updated Nov. 14, 2012)
Note: As more images are discovered or donated, I will continue updating this page.