Born in Astoria, Illinois in 1875 Mayhew was trained as a painter and muralist at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Illinois, Champaign Urbana. Moving to Los Angeles in 1908 as a single woman she became a faculty member at the University of Southern California’s College of Fine Arts. Exhibiting alongside major local aritsts Hanson Puthuff, Elmer Wachtel, and Edgar Payne – she established herself in a circle of nationally renouned artists.
Heralded by Los Angeles art critics, Mayhew became recognized for her provacative use of color and unrefined lines. Critics were engaged by the vitality and life of her pieces -- whether it be the simplistic but vivacious lines of a tree or the delicate outline of a flower. With a distinctly lyrical quality, her ‘paintings on paper’ radiated a somewhat spiritual nature.
Heavily influenced by Japonisme – Mayhew was known to imitate the traditional Japanese columnar style. Printing her etchings on vertical paper, Mayhew depicts scenes of nature with high horizon lines– a style exemplary of the Japanese printmaking aesthetic.
As a divorced, single parent working during the Depression,
and a woman in an art world established by men, Nell Brooker
Mayhew faced numerous difficulties. She somehow overcame such
challenges, establishing herself as a remarkable artist of extraordinary
character. She did not live the life of most women -- moving
across the country to support herself as an artist. She became
a faculty member at a prominent university, divorced her husband,
and raised two children as a single parent. With her innovative
color etching technique and extensive formal training, her work
came to symbolize a specific period of artistic evolution in
California. Mayhew became a progressive woman artist in the
Los Angeles art community.