Contact Mary | Home

I was born in Darby, Pennsylvania on the outskirts of Philadelphia and lived in Lansdowne until, fortunately, the family moved to southern California. I was a fairly solitary kid, read a lot, wasn't much of a student, but I can always remember being able to draw. I drew horses and fashion models. Drawing helped me through public school and through 24 years of teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Unpleasant events can be the springboard to positive experiences; it is an irony that what seemed to be misfortune has brought about the happiest changes in my life. Closing doors circumstances brought my father, mother, sister and me to California in 1953, but the move brought my first art scholarship, to the legendary Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. A kind, prophetic art teacher at South Pasadena High School, Hester Lauman, sent me to Saturday morning figure drawing classes. I took the bus, then the trolley out 7th Street, and walked into my first nude figure class. The group was adult, quiet, serious. I didn't realize it, but that figure drawing class was right where I was supposed to be and where I would always be at my best. Nothing has changed in these 30-odd years. I don't sculpt or paint; I draw the face and figure. It is an inexhaustible quest and though I love the richness of oil paint I seem to be destined to line, volume, and value.

After two years at Pasadena City College, a friend took me to meet Joe Mugnaini. Joe taught structural, anatomical drawing with skeletons, charts of muscles in reference to comparative anatomy. He was enthusiastic, skeptical, vulgar, exhortative, Italian, dedicated. He had a great following, produced many fine students and some great books on drawing. The drawing lab was cavernous, with huge studio easels. We drew standing up using big sheets of bond paper; drawing big threw us physically as well as emotionally and intellectually into the act of drawing.

Otis, in 1960, was a hot bed of extravagant individualism, romanticism, rebellion, bohemianism, both in the character of the faculty and the students. Rent was cheap, cars and gas were cheap; one could go to school forever. Otis was a wild place for a middle-classed Catholic girl. My classmates were graduating with MFA'S, but there were no jobs available, except for teaching.

My father marched me into Cal State Los Angeles where I reluctantly but doggedly completed my bachelor's degree and special secondary credential in art. I entered my first high school classroom at 22, just seven years older than my students, and that, other than summer school and sabbaticals, was the end of my art aspirations until one magical summer.

My perception of myself as an artist may seem self effacing or to lag behind my accomplishments, but that's okay and here's why: A greater part of my life was spent as the beleaguered and bemused art teacher and servant of the homeboys, homegirls, Bloods, Crips, O.G. gangsters and disaffiliated white kids of the Los Angeles Harbor area. The hectic years in the classroom, in the faculty room, laughing to keep sane, are more real to me than a quiet studio in the pines, as real as the identity of Artist accorded to me here in Cambria.

In 1986, despite many bright spots in my career, and many wonderful kids, I was exhausted, fed up. I decided to take a semester off, and what better place to come than to Cambria, the closest place to Highway 1 and the dreamscape of Big Sur.

"Second Chances".
What is often called a "mid-life crisis" may be a profound call to rediscover a passion of one's youth, something put aside or stifled by practical considerations and the need to make a living. How many of us bury the dream, unable or unwilling to take the risks that are necessary to explore one's potential? The leap into the unknown may be a leap of faith or an act of desperation. Becoming an artist at last was not my intention when I fled north that foggy summer. In the Pinedorado Art Show of 1986, both of my drawings sold before the opening. I sold more drawings, bought a little house, but never acknowledged that my life had changed. I kept extending my leave from the dubious security of the L.A.U.S.D., ever reluctant to trust fate.

The men in my life. . .
Many have been the objects of crushes and romantic dreams, requited or unrequited love. Some, like Charles White and Joe Mugnaini, have inspired and assisted me and some have been. and are, dutch uncles and guardian angels. In 1966 on a sabbatical, I first encountered the passionate, articulate draughtsman and teacher, Charles White, the limner of the black American. I have never experienced anything as precise, impassioned, and powerful as his drawing demonstrations. I haven't yet touched what he knew and imparted, but having seen the best, have something to aim for.

Guardian angels?
The outrageously funny, astute, cynical friend and critic, Bob Bailey, the woodshop teacher who helped and heckled me for 11 years at Cooper High. "Bailey" as the kids called him, would creak back in his broken swivel chair, face wrinkled humorously with the ravages of booze, cigarettes, and 30 years of teaching everything from severely retarded kids to Samoan Crips, and say, "Lover, you oughtta take your easel and paint box out of here and go to Mexico. . .put on a big straw hat like Deborah Kerr in Night of the Iguana, and sketch portraits on a street corner. Here in Cambria, Jim Scharingson has been my guardian angel.

My father died, too young, in 1972. Bob Bailey died, loading his brand new mobile home for a trip, two years after retiring. I wish they could know that I've gotten this far.

After 25 years of regimentation, I have a hard time with the solitude and discipline necessary to produce these drawings. I don't wait for inspiration; it goes like this: I take an 8 X 10 photograph, plant my feet in front of the big easel, invoke Charlie's memory and just start in, no preparatory sketches. About an hour later. . . I may feel that I can't ever do it again; I don't know enough; and who cares anyway! I go back, hit it again, and at some point it begins to take shape, and there's something in the face worth keeping. If it really goes well, and I've given it the best I have to give, a feeling of well-being, even euphoria, sets in.

I've done at lot of ethnic women and children. Perhaps it's in the women's faces: Enduring, expressive, vulnerable, charming. . . also I love costume. I spent 15 years looking into children's faces, and a lot of them were black or Hispanic. Lately, I have been drawing from very old photographs and from the Old Masters. I'm venturing into oil paint, which is a challenge to keep me busy for the rest of my life.

My career aspirations are modest. I don't enter competitions, advertise, or exhibit in galleries. I just look for subject matter that appeals to me, struggle through the drawings, and sell them to some very nice people. My idols are Michaelangelo, Rembrandt, and countless masters through the centuries. In the 20th century, Rico and LeBrun and Nicolai Fechin.

My love and appreciation to my mother, who lived long enough to see her late-bloomer succeed, and to all my friends.

About Mary | Contact Mary | Home

Mary is available for Commission Artwork




©2003-2017 - All rights reserved. Images/Designs may not be reproduced in any form without the written permission of Nancy McKarney -