Mary Erickson: April Artist of the Month

Port Clyde, Maine
Eight Bells as seen from the field above it. Port Clyde, Maine

Let’s get to know Mary Erickson, beyond the CV!

It’s a new month which means a new artist to highlight. This month we are highlighting Mary Erickson. For over a decade, Mary has delighted our visitors with her light filled paintings of shorebirds as well as her thoughtful landscapes and images of her travels to distant and not so distanct locations (she went to Hawaii recently and I am patiently waiting for paintings from that fantastic trip). Mary’s paintings radiate JOY.

Shem Creek, Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
Shem Creek, Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

Mary Erickson was born in White Plains, N.Y. but moved to Connecticut when she was five years old. Here she made her first sale at the age of thirteen. “My Godmother invited me to show a painting at the Stamford Women’s Club art show in Stamford, CT. It was a seascape/lighthouse oil painting, which sold to the now defunct office of Gulf + Western Industries. I often wonder where that ended up!” Anyone with connections to Gulf + Western? From there she moved to Florida with her mother and continued to pursue painting. “From a child, I painted in oils. When I moved to Florida I started painting in watercolors. I brought one into the frame shop where I worked, and the owner suggested I put it out for sale. It sold that day.  The next day, I did the same thing, it sold! I stayed at the gallery for seven years, slowly decreasing my hours down to part time, before going full time as a professional artist. In later years, one of my collectors was surprised to learn that I had done the watercolors she bought in the frame shop. I was the salesperson there, but did not tell them that I was the artist.  I wanted the art to stand on its own, to prove to myself that a career was viable for me. I sold over 500 watercolors before I left the gallery. When I started studying with Seerey-Lester, he transitioned me into acrylics, but I eventually returned to my first love, oils.”

I often ask our artists if there was an A-ha moment– a point at which they realized that they were on the right path or realized that they could make a career out of a passion. Some respond that there was not really a particular moment, others have a very definite time they remember. For Mary it came gradually, but we are so glad it arrived. “In 1987, I was fortunate enough to have taken my first painting workshop with John Seerey-Lester, a well known international wildlife artist, that lived near me in Venice, FL. I became friends with his family, and he mentored me for about five years at the beginning of my career. He invited me to his studio to paint whenever he had a class and he would critique my work whenever I asked. In fact, I credit him for giving me the confidence and knowledge to pursue my dream of painting full time, and I am grateful for his mentorship.  “In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Provence, France
Roses and lavender shutters, Provence, France
Tennant's Harbor, Maine
Boats at anchor, Tenant’s Harbor, Maine

How does travel influence your work?   “Tremendously. Every location I visit inspires me in a different way, the way it smells, the way the breezes feel, the sounds of the environment all impact how I portray a scene. I recently traveled to Kauai, and all I wanted to paint were the beautiful colors of the Pacific. For an East Coast girl, the hues of the aqua and blue ocean were magical! When I travel to different areas, different environments, I really have to study and absorb the place to be able to re-present it. It requires from me a high level of attention. It may be a day or two of sketching before I actually start to paint. I like to get to know an area, to feel my surroundings so that I can convey what the experience felt like. When someone looks at a painting of mine and tells me they can feel the warmth of the sand, smell the scent of the breeze, then have I done what I set out to do. ”  Twelve years ago Mary began hosting an artist retreat in Port Clyde, Maine. The Nanatuck Group was born from a desire to share the beauty of ‘Wyeth Country’ with other artists. The retreat was held steadily until 2020 when she had to take a break. In 2021 she hosted close to 50 folks over the course of a month while holding weekly art shows and coordinating the comings and goings of up to 14 people a week! It is a wonder that she even had time to paint. During the course of these retreats, Mary has come to know many of the locals and developed strong relationships with making her time there almost like a homecoming. And of course, everyone gets their fill of lobster.

In what ways do you relate to your art? “It is my life. It is never simply a career. Being a creative person is following a passion that fills your days and nights. I dream of painting. Every day I don’t get to paint is a day I can never get back.  The artist’s life, to me, is a way of life, a lifestyle which includes a spiritual journey. I feel closest to God when I am out on location painting, so much so that I have been moved to tears by the splendor of my surroundings. To be able to share that beauty through my art is why I am here, and I am so grateful.”  “All that is beautiful leads to God.” Pope Francis 2015

As an artist, one of the things Mary Erickson is most grateful for is sharing “the magnificence of Nature with my art, that I can use my art to raise funds for things that I believe in, and I can leave my property in North Carolina (High Ridge Gardens)  as a bird sanctuary.  “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” -Winston Churchill

“That I can give people pleasure with my art, and show them the often overlooked beauty around them. I was once told by Frank Jennings, deceased, a watercolorist, “If your painting does not transcend its source, it’s not worth painting at all.” It is a great compliment for someone to say to me “You make it look better than it is,” because that tells me that I am painting how I see the subject, and showing its beauty. I once had someone stop in front of a painting at a show, exclaim excitedly “OMG, I pass that spot every day and never noticed how beautiful it was. I’ll never look at it the same.” I told her that then, I had done my job. Our natural world is so precious and exquisite. “If man does not love Nature, he will not work to save it.”- John Muir

Egrets flying across the marsh
Egrets flying across and enchanted marsh

Join us in the month of April while we celebrate the work of Mary Erickson and continue to share more of her story beyond the resume.

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