Manahan’s whimsical folk paintings were inspired by the artist’s country upbringing in Hardin County, Ohio. She was born in the small town of McGuffey, which was named after her ancestor. She lived there until she married and moved to Columbus. While she dabbled in art in her younger days, she had no formal training, and did not take up painting in earnest until her forties. Over the next 30+ years, she painted more than 80 works in oil on artist board that can best be described as folk genre pictures: depictions of daily life, in a naïve and humorous way, and all rooted in Manahan’s memory (and typically with an added hint of social satire).
Manahan was often compared to Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses (1860-1961), but beyond their contemporaneous lives and shared inspiration rooted in rural memory, the two artists and their works are quite different. Moses focused on the New England landscape, while Manahan’s works typically depict interior views, or perhaps exterior views, but in a much more intimate manner. She filled her paintings with so many details that it typically takes multiple viewings to fully appreciate them all. When asked about being compared to Grandma Moses, McGuffey said somewhat testily, “People like to compare me to Grandma Moses; I simply don’t have the broad brush strokes she used. We paint differently.”
Manahan’s style is primitive but focused, and for the keen observer, there is an edginess in both her content and her execution. Her paintings form a continuous narrative that emphasizes the importance of the role women played in rural American life.
During her life, Manahan was well-known and widely exhibited throughout Ohio and beyond, and even received a commendation from then Lt. Gov. Richard Celeste. However, she never achieved the fame that other folk artists enjoyed. When asked if she regretted not being discovered, she quipped, “Discovered? I never knew I was lost.” Indeed, she was not lost—her heart and soul have forever remained in McGuffey, Ohio.
Although she received regular offers, Manahan refused to sell her work. Upon her death, the exhibitions ceased and her entire body of work remained in private hands until now. To our knowledge, this is the first time any works by this exceptional Ohio folk artist have been offered for public sale.