Maxine Ollie Seelbinder Merlino was born in Portland, Oregon in 1912. She trained at the Portland Art Museum School before venturing to New York City where she took classes at the Art Students' League with, among others, Will Barnet, Anton Refregier, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, and Harry Sternberg. Maxine Merlino worked in New York from 1936 to 1943 as a free-lance illustrator, muralist, and theatrical set designer.
In 1940 and 1942, Merlino won mural commissions for the United States Department of Interior Section of Fine Arts program. She designed and executed murals for the S.S. Garfield, and painted a mural that graced the Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington, D.C., one of seven murals in the building celebrating the contributions of African Americans.
Relocating to Long Beach, California in 1943, she worked as a scientific illustrator for the Army Air Force during the Second World War and subsequently as a stage, set and costume designer for theater and film producer Preston Sturges. From the early 1950s until her retirement in 1976, she was affiliated with California State University, Long Beach where she served as a Professor of Art and Theater Design and then as Dean of the Art Department. In recognition of Dr. Merlino's contributions to the department, the university dedicated an art gallery in her name, in February 2003.