Mary B. Kelly, join us for an interview. If you aren't familiar with her work, be sure to check out her other goddess art here. (Be sure to look for the life-sized painting from the cover of For the Love of Strangers by Jacqueline Horsfall.) And Mary has graciously allowed us to post one of her recent paintings.
Mary's pen-and-ink drawings grace the pages of the book as well. We'll be giving some sneak peeks of them as well.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
I have been an artist since I was small and never wondered what I would become. I always knew. But what I didn't know is that I would fall in love with folk art and eventually write books about it...that came later.
What is your first memory of reading/books? Of illustrations?
As a child, I had a wonderful illustrated book about the Greek gods and goddesses and I read it again and again. I knew all their names and stories and can still remember a lot of them today.
Were you always an illustrator?
I guess I was always an illustrator since my mother saved some of my early drawings. I used to make pictures of girls dressed in different costumes from other countries and when my mother wrote a book, she asked me to illustrate it, I was about 10 at the time. I did, but the publisher wanted something more ' adult.’ I still have those illustrations, however.
When did you first fall in love with art and why?
What I first loved about art was that you could shade and make things look round. I remember in 3rd grade, our teacher wanted us to color some cherries for Washington's birthday and after I made them red, I added some darker shading to one side so that they looked round. Got some good marks for that, and I still love it when I can make a painting come up off the page and look alive!
What was the most challenging job (art or otherwise) you’ve ever had?
The most challenging thing that ever happened to me was a faculty exchange grant to live in Russia for a year when it was still the "evil empire," as President Reagan called it. I had to leave my family, my sheep farm, and my teaching job for a year. At the time, there were only three phone lines out of Moscow for everybody, so I was only able to call home once, mail went out through Finland in the diplomatic pouch, and getting food at the market was quite an experience...but I survived. I even got to shake hands with Reagan when he visited Moscow University that year, 1980. But I learned so much that I began to write books about the folk art when I returned - and I am still writing.
Of all your work, what are you the most proud of doing?
In the 1960's I visited New York City and saw "Sister Chapel" in an art gallery. A group of lifesize paintings of famous women were exhibited in a circle with one open space. When you stood there, you completed the circle and joined them. When I got home, I created "Goddess Chapel," a series of 8 lifesize oil paintings. The cover of "For the Love of Strangers" is one of them. Later I kept working on this, extending it to include "Shrine of the Black Virgins" and "Women With Wings." They were all exhibited many times over the years at galleries in New York and in colleges. I am still working on these and just finished a painting of the Chinese goddess, Guan Yin.
What were some of the challenges or surprises you had with illustrating a book for Leap?
I completely misunderstood what kind of illustrations they wanted and did a very realistic drawing. Soon though, I realized that they wanted something symbolic and evocative. But once I 'got' it, things went smoothly and the whole experience was great!
Without thinking, what are the first three things that leap to mind when you're asked to list what you love most about being an illustrator for Leap Books? Quick!
The people, the enthusiasm, the final results. I can't wait to see the book illustrations in color.
Your plane just crashed on a deserted island. You have 30 seconds to grab a few items from your bag. What would you grab first?
Passport, warm sweater, eyeglasses.
What is the first piece of advice you'd give to an aspiring artist?
Believe in yourself and be independent. Be curious, don't believe in negative criticism and if you want to do something, just DO it.
If by drawing, you could change the world, what would you draw?
A new symbol of peace.
Thanks so much for joining us, Mary! Here's Mary's art for the cover of the book and a bit more information about her.
ARTIST, PROFESSOR of ART and AUTHOR, Mary B. Kelly has painted from childhood. Kelly holds a BFA degree in painting from St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana, an MA degree from Rhode Island School of Design, and an MFA from Syracuse University. As a Full Professor of art, she taught painting for twenty-five years at Tompkins-Cortland Community College in Dryden, NY, an affiliate of the State University of New York. Since retiring to Hilton Head Island, SC, Kelly also teaches painting and drawing at the Hilton Head Art League Art Academy. She paints regularly with the art group, The Apple Pie Painters, and exhibited with them in the Greer Gallery of the Art Center of Coastal Carolina in April 2006 and at the Coastal Discovery Museum in the fall of 2005 and 2008.
Kelly has exhibited her paintings in more than 20 one-artist shows in commercial and university galleries and museums. She has been a featured artist in Mexico and in St. Petersburg, Russia. Currently she is represented by the Hilton Head Art League Gallery, where she has had two one-artist shows. A large retrospective show of her work, titled “Russian Reflections,” featured four series of her Russian paintings from February to May 2004 at the Roberson Museum in Binghamton, NY.