Ethel Mars was born in 1876 in Springfield, Illiniois. She sought an education at the Cincinnati Art Academy in the academic year of 1892 - 1893 when she was only 17 years old. After the first year, Mars was unable to attend school for two more years, most likely because of financial difficulties. She enrolled again in the 1894 - 1895 school year with financial assistance. It is there that Mars met Maud Squire, and from 1895 on, they remained together for the rest of their lives, and devoted their professional careers to art. Among the first artworks they exhibited were oil painting portraits they did of each other.
Upon graduation they relocated to New York City and were immediately hired as book illustrators by the publisher R.H. Russell. By 1902 they traveled in Europe to study old master paintings in museums. In 1903, the Cincinnati Art Museum gave them a joint exhibition, showing their published children’s book illustrations, and again in 1904, focusing on their paintings, drawings and color prints. Sometime after September 1905 and before April 1906 Mars and Squire moved to Paris. They settled permanently in France from then on, except for time in the US during World War I. Their imagery prior to 1906 reflected their lives in New York as well as their travels to Chioggia, Brittany, and Germany. After re-locating to France, their imagery centered on their lives in Paris along with their continued travels throughout Europe. From 1907 on both their careers ascended and they were able to make a living from their art. Simultaneously they became part of Gertrude Stein’s avant garde circle. In 1909, Mars was listed in honored company, described as “one of a group of famous American women both at home and abroad.”
Prior to World War I, Mars concentrated on paintings and woodblock prints, as well as drawing. The enormous amount of color woodblock prints that she made between 1903 and 1914 continue to stand out for their modernity, original design, color and technique.
In Provincetown, during World War I, when they were in their forties, Mars and Squire depicted people against the backdrop of this seaport village, concentrating on color woodblock prints which have brought them fame. Their actual production was minimal. Their international reputation and their participation may have helped the Provincetown Printers as a group receive more attention and press than the group would have otherwise.
After World War II, Mars continued to draw portrait sketches in watercolor, colored pencil, and graphite almost daily, creating a great quantity of drawings that captured the variety of people she encountered along the harbors of the Riviera.
Both artists died at home in France. Ethel Mars died in 1959.
[Excerpts from Catherine Ryan, "Tres Complementaires"]