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Mary Ellen McNaughton exhibits at DCM | Arts & Culture

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Mary Ellen McNaughton exhibits at DCM
Mary Ellen McNaughton exhibits at DCM

Enjoy seeing retrospective artwork by artist Mary Ellen McNaughton, now on display in the Dominican Center at Marywood.

The show features lively, colorful and often whimsical drawings, paintings, mosaics and sculptures. Art, spirituality and nature are McNaughton's passions, which are all on display in this exhibit. Most of the 34 works are available for purchase through the Dominican Center front desk.

McNaughton was born in Nurenberg, Germany, on October 14, 1952. She resided in several countries in her youth: Frankfort, Moscow, Zagreb, Vienna and Versouix. She now lives in Grand Rapids.  When not creating art, McNaugton enjoys organic gardening, reading and walking her dog, Lorca. She is deeply interested in ancient and contemporary folk arts, religions and cultures. Since 1981, her focus has been on clay, primarily low-fired, brightly glazed handbuilt sculptures.  McNaughton also has ongoing experiments in primitive and raku firing, mosaics and mixed media work. She has many painting and mixed media that are the result of a desire to express inner visions and symbolic, archetypal images.

McNaughton earned a bachelor's degree of philosophy at Thomas Jefferson College and a teaching certificate with an art major and biology minor at Aquinas College. She also attended Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. She has presented at least nine solo exhibitions and she has been a part of more than 35 group exhibitions throughout Michigan and Illinois. In her own words [see below], her journey is sure to inspire the dreamer and artist in all of us.

Visionary Odyssey

If making art makes an artist, then an artistic journey is documented by the works of Mary Ellen McNaughton from the time she was little until the present. She remembers the thrill on a sunny afternoon of picking up a pencil as a toddler and drawing “chickens,” which looked more like chicken scratch.

At five, McNaughton recalls declaring to herself the wish to become an artist when grown up. Alone in her room she would play with modeling clay, rolling it into many shapes. Being in Germany exposed her to many wonderful sights and impressions as did all the different countries she lived in, especially taken with bright and colorful folk arts.

At age eight living in Moscow, USSR, she would return home from school and practice drawing, making pictures and small paper dolls. Her diplomat father asked to put up her colored drawings of fantastic monsters for a party he hosted in the next door vacated apartment; this was her first exhibit.

Art continued to be a dedicated hobby throughout McNaughton's childhood and her parents were happy she could so readily and happily occupy herself. Little did they know how she was preparing herself for a lifetime of creativity. Visiting in Washington, D.C., she went with her childhood friend across the alley into a potter's studio where students were working on their own projects. She made a small seal which unfortunately exploded when fired.  Little did she know how that memory would inspire her years later.

As a young teenager in Zagreb (former Yugoslavia) she spent hours drawing, painting and sculpting in paper mache. Visits to the zoo were opportunities to sketch and she once joined adult artists for a plein aire (in the open air) painting session out in the countryside.

Back in the U.S., she sold her first work at age 17 in an inclusive exhibit at the Department of State, Washington, D.C., before heading off to college. She struggled to follow the directions of her art professor, and with a sense of general disillusionment, left for an alternative school--Thomas Jefferson College, here in West Michigan, where experimentation and self-direction were encouraged.

She continued to paint, mostly images that pertained to the nebulous and spiritual visions, only to become the collector of her own works. Diverging from painting, she felt drawn to creating in three dimensions in clay and so signed up for an adult ceramics class. She flourished under the instruction of June Gorman, becoming her assistant to load the kiln. Even though her first work exploded (again!), she eagerly learned from her mistakes and successes. Those first creations found their way to the John Ball Park Art Fair and sold (but not the paintings). Soon she borrowed a glass blower's kiln and set up a studio in her home. More classes followed, an adult pottery class and one at Grand Rapids Community College, but her true direction was hand building: coil, slab and pinch pot.

Her clay sculptures continued to evolve and began to receive awards in competitions. That is when Bergsma Gallery decided to represent her. One thing led to another, as is the way of life, and after a stint working for the Race Street Gallery, she was invited by Ron Pedersen to teach at Aquinas College where she had been a student. For five engaging years, McNaughton was a ceramics instructor, teaching and creating on that beautiful campus.

The next adventure was renting a storefront on Michigan Street to show and sell art in the "public eye," where being both a creator and a seller was often demanding with many rewards and remarkable experiences, ending when the building went up for sale seven years later. During this era, many clay children came out of McNaughton's hands, including wedding cake tops, non-smoking ashtrays, fantasy creatures and mosaics. Her mosaic "Har(e)binger" was one of the Grand Rabbits displayed at the John Ball Park Zoo.

And so the studio came home. McNaughton ventured forth every spring to work with Very Special Arts students, whose enthusiasm and creativity were inspiring. Her sculptures found their way into various galleries around Michigan; of particular note, the former Vesuvius in Glenn, the recent Art Beat in Grand Rapids and the Tamarack Gallery in Omena. Over the years, she has also exhibited at Fountain Street Church and at Celebration, First United Methodist Church.

Now she finds herself in the vortex of her home/studio, making art in the midst of creative chaos. She has participated in ArtPrize 2010 and 2012 and has many projects underway, with some completed for the (current) Dominican Center showing, thanks to Sister Francetta McCann.

When she is not "doing art," McNaughton is organic gardening or walking her dog Lorca -- both these activities keep her connected to Nature and the Divine. She observes all the beauty around her and marvels at God's artistry. Then she returns home, inspired anew.

Being an artist is a challenging path and it has brought her many interesting experiences and awarenesses. McNaughton is grateful indeed for all the many friends and family members that throughout the years have helped with their support to make this sojourn so fascinating. And, she adds, "Thank you for coming to see the show [at the Dominican Center]!"

McNaughton will be exhibiting from September 3 through October 30, 2013.The public is invited to meet and greet the artist at a public reception on October 13 at Dominican Center.

For map of DCM Parking lot area, CLICK HERE

Francetta McCann, OP, is the gallery curator.
If you are a West Michigan artist interested in exhibiting your work at DCM, please email: fmccann@grdominicans.org .

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