This month’s profile features Mary Ann Crago, whose work reflects her strong intuition and courage in pushing herself out of her comfort zone as an artist. In doing so, her work has evolved from primarily two-dimensional, abstract landscape paintings, to exquisite mixed-media assemblages that have a dreamy quality and represent her love of nature and collecting strange and beautiful things that strike her fancy. As Crago explains in her ColumbusArts.com online profile, these newer works “explore the beauty of objects whose histories are muddled, hidden and lost. Things that are old, dusty and weathered, handwritten words in forgotten volumes and stoic faces peering out from frozen snapshots.”
GCAC: I see from your website that you got your degree from the Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD). What was your focus of study? Did college bring you to Columbus or are you a native?
MAC: I was a fine arts painting major although I also enjoyed drawing and printmaking. I am a Columbus native. I took Saturday morning art classes at CCAD throughout high school and I knew that’s where I wanted to go. I won’t tell you how many schools I applied to as the list is very tiny. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a couple of scholarships that helped get me started. I would not trade my education for anything. I was also fortunate to meet many people who helped guide me to where I am today. It absolutely blows my mind to see how that campus has changed over the years!
GCAC: Have you always been interested in creating things with your hands? When did you first realize you had a passion and a gift for it? Did you have encouragement from family, friends or any mentors?
MAC: I remember being obsessed with drawing things and writing from a very young age. All my books from childhood are covered with my writing (kind of funny as I’m now a librarian…a.k.a. caretaker of books when I’m not creating).
I remember drawing as a child. I remember coloring with my grandmother. Her coloring skills were superb. My sister was an artist as well. I fondly remember scouring over her sketchbooks filled with charcoal drawings of horses. Of course, I drew lots of horses as a child. I have always been supported by my family. I realize how lucky I am in that. My high school art teacher, Mrs. Clay, was also amazing. She saw something in me and fostered my gift. I am grateful to have had her in my life at the crazy age of 16.
GCAC: Back in 2009, a painting of yours, After Winter, was chosen for the Arts Council’s Community Arts Partnership program – and was given as part of the award to one of the business honorees. It was a lovely, almost abstract landscape. Your bio then described you as a “landscape painter.” Your work now is incredibly different, though still highly influenced by the natural world. Can you describe the style of your current work? What inspires you in creating each piece?
MAC: I collect things and I make art and at some point the two came together. My art happens when I combine found objects, paint, text and hand sculpted elements. Birds, wings and words are reoccurring themes in most of my work. I also have a small compulsion to collect every antique photo I can find. I’m inspired by nature, good art, old stuff and friends.
GCAC: Were you always interested in multi-media sculpture or was this a big shift in your work? If yes, was it a gradual shift? Do you still work in 2D these days?
MAC: It was a fairly big shift for me but a shift that happened gradually over time. Although I appreciate all kinds of art, I wouldn’t say that I’ve always been drawn to mixed media sculpture. It’s like I stumbled across it when I was searching for a creative spark. It’s what I needed at that time in my life. I was reading books on creativity and many of the books spotlighted artists who have thrown all caution to the wind and who create inspired and without worry. Collage artists, textile artists, jewelry artists, mixed media artists. I was drawn to their passion and honest, raw art. I was instantly hooked. A couple of my favorite books from that time are Living the Creative Life: Ideas and Inspiration from Working Artists by Rice Freeman, Creative Pilgrimage by Jenny Doh and Art Making: Collections and Obsessions by Lynne Perrella.
As I attempted to throw out my own worry surrounding my own art, I allowed myself the freedom to start experimenting and enjoy. I experimented with cut paper, punching and drilling holes in canvases and panels, adding grommets, adding 2D pieces to boxes, adding 3D parts to 2D pieces. It was exciting and led me exactly to this place where I currently reside.
Yes, on occasion I still paint and I love it. It’s like visiting an old friend.
GCAC: I read on your blog that you are about to embark on a big project – to convert your garage into an art studio. That’s exciting! Tell us a bit about that.
MAC: Yes! My blog has been a bit neglected over the last year so actually the garage studio project is well underway and nearing the move in stage. I’ve always coveted the dedicated studio spaces of my friends. Years ago I converted the spare bedroom into a studio (a couple tables, storage for supplies and walls filled with art) and it was great having a dedicated space for art. I liked having a space where I had to simply open a door to get to my art. Slowly over the years I pushed that
space to its limits as my work changed and my collection of stuff grew. About a year ago (time of post per neglected blog) I had an idea, a little money and the courage to commit. Project garage studio was born.
A contractor friend is doing all the work, replacing doors, adding windows, updating electricity. Insulating! The project has been completely funded by work I’ve sold over the last year and much like my other studio, the new space will be filled with a couple tables, storage for supplies and walls filled art. The new space will just be a little big bigger and a few more steps away. I hope to hope to officially be ‘in’ by the end of the year.
GCAC: Are you doing any shows for the holidays? Where can folks find you?
MAC: Yes! The Pop Up Holiday Art Sale at Oakland Nursery (1156 Oakland Park Ave) on Saturday, December 20 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. I will be in very good company (Lisa McLymont, Lisa Horkin, Cathy Bell Smith, Allison Buenger, Devon Palmer to name a few). I will also have work in a CAW group exhibition titled Woman As_____ at Tacocat (937 Burrell Ave, Grandview Heights) from December 4-January 18. Opening reception will be December 4, 6-9 p.m.
GCAC: What do you like most about being a part of the independent artist community in Columbus?
MAC: I feel loved in this community. I have had so many chances to learn, connect, see, show, sell, support, be involved and make a difference. And the really cool thing is that it’s only been on a part time basis. I can’t imagine what my life will be like when this is my full time gig.
My colleagues have inspired me to find my creative self and to jump in with both feet. Columbus’ independent art community is strong, smart and driven. It’s full of people who are passionate about what they do and passionate about raising it up. This town boasts some of the most supportive people I’ve known who have provided me with an entirely different, although just as valuable, education when it comes to doing this art thing. I love this place.
GCAC: Where can people go to learn more about your work? Are you represented by any local galleries or do you sell your work online or in local shops?
MAC: I have been represented by two different galleries over the years and it was always the right thing at the time but more recently I like being in charge of my own destiny. I like engaging in the process of showing and selling. I like talking to and knowing the caregivers of my pieces. I like that connection. Columbus has a vibrant art scene full of opportunities for independent creatives and I’ve found a niche that seems to be working for me at the moment. Those interested in my work can visit www.maryanncrago.com, follow me on Instagram (maryann0094) or contact me for a private studio visit.
Interview by Jennifer Sadler. You can also learn more about Crago’s work by visiting her ColumbusArts.com artist profile. Are you an artist from the Columbus area? Check out our directory and create your own free profile today!