Updated: Jul 16
By Mara Soloway,
I Start Wondering Columnist
The courageous act of pursuing a BFA in Studio Art at Sam Houston State University at age 53 set Mary Lynch’s life on a path of travel, teaching, and unpredicted artistic success. Taking this path into the unknown reflects Mary’s philosophy of witnessing what she calls the “marvelous joy of faith in action.” Don’t preplan to the nth degree; instead, appreciate what will be manifested through your words and actions, and – specific to Mary, who is now 79 – abundant creative energy.
“Isn’t it great we can be creative every day?” she’s fond of saying.
Mary’s home is filled with her 2D and 3D creations, including the diptych Dancing in the Wind, ink on canvas
As a young woman, Mary enjoyed dancing and music but didn’t consider herself an artist. Gradually, she began to consider the idea of who she is as an artist – which led her to further her education. “Since high school, I felt that one could only be called an artist if they could draw realistically,” she explained. “I never thought about becoming a visual artist until my mid-50s when I saw the value of returning to school to explore this more deeply.”
Taking classes where she worked in the various media excited Mary. “I discovered my love for all types of media.”
Her professor, sculptor James Searle, taught her the idea that less is more. She also faced the challenge of knowing when to stop, when something was finished.
Other professors and artists told her that she would ultimately have to choose one focus area to become an accomplished artist. Trusting the universe, Mary had faith that the medium would reveal itself when she was ready.
She graduated magna cum laude in 1999 at age 58 and moved with her late husband David Lynch to Woodbridge, VA. “He was my biggest supporter – he’s the one that made this possible,” she said in her home gallery. “I still thank him every day for loving me.”
Starting a New Chapter
She quickly found a job teaching high school art in Manassas. “I couldn’t believe how lucky I was! I think this was part of my whole cosmic journey that the universe found a place for me. I spent seven years learning how to teach, which is the hardest job I ever had,” Mary said.
She also loved changing young minds. “It was so exciting to be with that age group and tell them, ‘Yes, you can do this.’ I didn’t know how because I was never taught,” she explained. “You can do anything you want to if you’re willing to take the steps to make it happen.”
She taught them that there are no mistakes in art – that the word doesn’t occur to anyone in the art field. Her own art changes direction from start to finish because she doesn’t plan the result. “If their clay piece wasn’t the same as their thumbnail sketch, I told them, ‘This is your initial idea transcending to what it wants to be.’ That’s the surprise, that’s the excitement – you have not ruined it,” the artist said. “Just keep working on it, and let it become what you and your hands, mind, and heart want it to be.”
After seven years of teaching, the recently widowed Mary opted to retire in 2007. One of her sons invited her to visit him and his family in Arizona. She thought she might stay for a short visit; she stayed 11 years.
“Isn’t it odd how things fall in place when you have no preconceived notion of what’s taking place and opening up?” she said. “Since I was by myself, I was totally free to concentrate on what I wanted to do, what I needed to do.”
The epiphany about which art she would solely focus on manifested itself when she attended her first Arizona Fine Arts Expo. Inside a large tent were 100 artists exhibiting in various media. She was so excited by Joseph Woodford’s ceramic work as he threw his large pots and fired them on site. “I couldn’t believe it – I felt that this is where I’m going to develop,” Mary recalls.
She talked with Woodford and soon experimented with some clay. The field of ceramics soon had its newest student.
The lesson on choosing one medium to explore artistically – and how much learning is involved – became clear. With ceramics, it’s part creativity, part chemistry, part engineering, and part sense of adventure.
While living in Arizona from 2007 to 2018, Mary explored the tactile aspects of working of clay and began creating her body of work – Nature, Contemporary, and Rock Form. Her Nature series grew out of the centerpieces she made for her 50th high school reunion in California. She used red iron oxide to give the pieces the look of old wood.
Into her fourth year of working with clay, she began her Contemporary phase. What looks like ribbons give the pieces a sense of motion. Several of her pieces made of thin layers of paper clay have pressed-relief patterns from doilies created by her grandmother. “I wanted to record her artwork and honor a generation of women whose artwork was their knitting and crocheting.”
Pieces in her Rock Form series are unglazed and made with black, red, and white clay. Cutting off sections and kneading the colors creates color patterns reminiscent of layers of rock. With just the colors of nature and no glaze, Mary gives credit where she feels it’s due: “Mother Nature makes this.”
Taking Her Place
After seven years of exploring ceramics, Mary’s efforts came full circle when she exhibited her works at the 2015 and the 2016 Arizona Fine Arts Expo in Scottsdale, the same event that inspired her years earlier. “I really felt I had arrived – this was so exciting for me,” she says.
Mary transitioned to the Houston area in 2018 and is now active with the Art League of Fort Bend and its gallery, the Fort Bend Art Center in Rosenberg. Her ceramics on display there captured the attention of Art Museum TX Director Ana Villaronga, who invited Mary to show her work at the museum’s opening exhibition in 2020.
During the lockdown, with her kiln not connected and ceramic studios closed, Mary does what she does so well – she picked up some ink and started drawing on big sheets of paper. “This freedom to allow the form, the lines, to take shape without planning is the same way I work with clay. I also love the relationship between positive and negative space. I see it as a beautiful interchange.”
With the art world full of options, it would take many lifetimes to explore all the different media of interest. Take a cue from Mary – don’t let that stop you from beginning your discovery. “It’s so interesting to see what’s inside of us if we just give it a chance to reveal itself,” Mary says.
What courageous move have you made and how did that change your life in ways you didn’t expect?
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See Mary discuss her work here.
Visit Mary’s website to see more of her ceramic works.
The art in this column is the property of the artist and cannot be reproduced without her express written permission.