Welcome to the Mary Holmes Fireside Lounge!

Mary Holmes was an influential founding faculty member, one of only three women professors at Cowell College in its inaugural year. Holmes’ art history lectures drew crowds of students, some of whom visited her ‘Holmestead’ in Happy Valley where she spent time caring for her animals and painting. She completed her crowning artistic achievement at age 84: The Chapel behind her studio which she designed to thematically display her paintings. The Mary Holmes Fireside Lounge carries on her legacy today by displaying her work:

Portrait of Page Smith

Page Smith, oil on canvas 1970

In 1970, Cowell students commissioned Holmes to paint a portrait of Cowell’s first provost, Page Smith, which now hangs beside the entrance to the lounge. Before UCSC was conceived, Page Smith and his wife, Eloise Pickard Smith, the namesake of the gallery next door, were friends with Holmes in Los Angeles where she lectured at UCLA, taught a credited television course, and lived in a castle in the Agora Hills. In the early 1960s, Smith was charged with assembling UCSC’s vibrant founding faculty. He insisted that Holmes join him in the great experiment which characterized the first years of UCSC history. Smith and Holmes went on to connect with the greater Santa Cruz community through The William James Association and Penny University.

photograph of Smith and Holmes at a Cowell contruction site ca. 1966

The Return of Aquarius

In 1974 Holmes painted the panels which are still installed in the gable above the lounge today. She chose to depict The Return of Aquarius, a fitting theme for the counterculture movement of the 60s and 70s which many associated with the astrological “Age of Aquarius” characterized by liberation, enlightenment, and technological advancement. According to Holmes, her installation, meant to be read from right to left, uses mythic imagery to capture a spiritual dimension of human history and our place within it. She draws imagery from astrology, tarot, alchemy, mythology, and the bible. Holmes describes the work in her lecture below. Further explanation of the work can be found in an illustrated essay by Gideon Rappaport.


  1. Latin translates: “O most blessed light, fill the inmost heart of your faithful.”
  2. Age of Taurus & Aries: Man at Home in Nature
  3. Age of Pisces: Despair (waters of the spirit poured onto dry ground)
  4. Age of Aquarius Begins: Sacrifice of the Virgin & Rebirth
  5. Aquarius as Water-bearer: Transformation (pouring waters of the spirit)
  6. Virgin and Unicorn
  7. Three aspects of woman (Mother, Virgin, and Prophetess) raise the water of the spirit
  8. World Reborn: New Adam and New Eve in the Tree of Knowledge
  9. Latin translates: “Without your divine spirit, nothing is in man, nothing is innocent.”