Review Me: Mary Taylor: Wildlife Spirit
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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Mary Taylor: Wildlife Spirit

Mary, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions about your art career and your exquisitely crafted sculptures, despite your busy schedule. Now, tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?

My parents were a vital influence on my sculpture career, specializing in wildlife. They were avid bird watchers. They traveled the avian world and were well known in birding societies.
My path as a sculptor started in 1970 in Fairfax, California. In college, I was an art major and appreciated all my art classes, especially ceramics. After my marriage in 1967, my husband's brother had welding tanks set up in our garage where he was working on sculptures with a steel rod and steel sheet metal. I was intrigued with the rods and asked him to teach me how to weld. I loved it instantly. We moved to a new home in Fairfax where I set up my own welding equipment. We visited my brother in Los Angeles, and while walking with him, I was inspired to make a full-sized Eagle. After its completion, I knew that this welding style and technique, allowing light to shine through the steel rods, was what I wanted to develop, henceforth.

Many people and many opportunities may come our way. It is we who decide to use them and elevate our path of life and goals or ignore them. You started with your parents' knowledge of birds and combined it with your brother-in-law's art, and you went on to add creativity to it. Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?

In the mid-80's, having a welding studio as well as working at a tile manufacturing company, I accepted a commission to paint a mural on the lobby wall of a nearby nature preserve. After completing this mural which took several months working alone, and being completely immersed and thrilled, I seriously considered discontinuing welding. The famous muralist, Alfred Bierstadt was my hero. However, practicality won out. I returned to welding sculpture and am so glad I did. My reputation as a sculptor was growing, and the resulting income was welcome.
In the late 90's, there was a time when my pieces were not selling. I thought a change in employment would be prudent and helpful. Being concerned with our need for alternative energy, I took an online course in Solar Energy. I appreciated the intricacies of the profession, but this time out from sculpture came to an end. I had a renewed appreciation for the meditative focus required in welding. My sense of well-being and inner strength returned.

Sometimes there are ups and downs in the path of artists, and the important thing is that their great interest and passion for art never leave them, and they always return to their art. What is your daily routine when working in your studio?

Being a very disciplined person, the daily sculpting routine has helped me tremendously. I am 73 and have been welding for over 50 years. Ninety-five percent of those years have been conducted with my going to the studio in the morning during the work-week and welding for 3-4 hours without interruption. Having this structured time has been very valuable in terms of finishing projects and having a heartfelt feeling of accomplishment and a sense of well-being. This schedule leaves my afternoons free to work on the administrative aspect of my profession, and fulfilling household matters.

Now, take us through your process of making your artworks.

I am struck! The “beautiful” and “unique” in a bird or animal will strike my fancy. In starting a steel bird sculpture, I research it through reading and photographs. Depending on the final size, I will use mainly 1/16” to 3/8” rods, mild or stainless steel. A basic three-dimensional steel outline is made. This is the most challenging stage, as it will include expression, attitude, and balance. In the second stage, I fill the spaces created in the first stage, by welding straight rods closely together, leaving a bit of space so that light can shine through. This is the very unique aspect of my sculpture, for when the work is complete, tiny twinkling light shines through the whole piece.
The third stage is comprised of making feathers, or fur. The quills are straight rods, followed by short diagonal side rods, attached to the quill. Depending on the size of the bird, a sparrow, or an eagle, the feather sizes vary, from a 1/2” long to 24” long. Fur is created by attaching 3/8” long rods to the second stage body.
The final stage is painting close to its authentic coloration. At last, the sculpture is covered with an automotive clear coat.

Great job, Mary. The subject of most of your artworks is birds and wildlife in nature. Is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

Nature is the connecting concept in all my sculptures. The appreciation, respect and understanding of Nature is vital for all human beings. All my sculptures are unique, one-of-a-kind creations. I do not make duplicates. For the first twenty years welding sculptures, I focussed on birds only and left the steel in its natural state on completion. Henceforth and to the present day, I began creating animals as well as birds and I use paint, as the finishing touch, to enhance and emphasize their beauty.

As you mentioned, everything that exists in nature is our heritage. With your sculptures, you warn about the extinction of animal species in nature and compare it with the fragility of humans. How do you want viewers to receive these messages? Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

I like to have my audience garner their own interpretation of my sculpture and also let them know my philosophy expressed through my statement below. I weld nature’s creatures in mild and stainless steel to enhance our connection to and our understanding of the grand forces of nature and the movement and growth so inherent for our imaginations to flourish and reach out towards our dreams. Over the last 40 years, I have constructed interior and exterior sculptures of wildlife. Employing steel rods, I render unique and intricate patterns of realistic animation with a strength of spirit and intensity of aliveness. My sculpture is an announcement, a reminder, and a heralding of our natural heritage. This is a poignant, crucial time in the light of extinction. There are basic philosophical questions encompassing the juncture of life and death, beauty and harmony of not only our endangered species but also of our own fragile selves.

We appreciate what you do, Mary. You have taken on a very heavy, and at the same time consequential, responsibility, so you need strong motivation and inspiration. How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

I find inspiration when I’m feeling relaxed. That is a time when I feel comfortable within myself and can look outward to take in our beautiful world. So many aspects of Nature inspire me, in all the four seasons that I encounter in upstate New York. It could be a small Titmouse sitting on a snow-covered branch against a gray sky. It could be the flash of bright yellow Goldfinch swooping to the feeder or hearing a Meadowlark sing in the field in May. I see wild Turkeys strutting under amber leaves in the Fall. I have such an appreciation for the warm sun after a frigid winter, the singing of the birds, the world turning green, flowers blushing out. It’s miraculous! Through observation of Nature, I find myself adding another bird or animal to the top of my “Have to make this!” list. Commissions are lovely too, as I enjoy partnering with the buyer to decide what would be the best project for them.

What do your subjects come from? How do you select your artworks subjects?

The subjects for my artworks come mainly from focussing on the bird and animal worlds. My delight and curiosity will be sparked by the activity, posture, and/or beauty of a particular species. Usually, they are native to the United States. I will research the subject in books and online and pick out a position that is intriguing and catches the eye. My pieces are one-of-a-kind. The final decision on what to create depends on how large the work will be and how much time is involved in making it.
Is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for? Of course, I know, for you and about your sculptures, this is a difficult question! It is difficult to pick out sculptures that I would like to be remembered for. They are all like my children. However, certain works do stand out. Some sculptures remind me of a particular person or the buyer. Others stand out because of the attitude they are emitting.
The She-Wolf - 1993 This piece at the very moment of departure to its buyer, made me cry. I wrapped my arms around the scruff of its neck and thought of my father who had died a year before. I remembered his love, his fierceness, and his protection of me. Also, I realized that those characteristics were part of myself.
Imminence - 2014 This Panther was born out of the fact that it was seriously endangered in the Everglades National Park in Florida. I tried to emphasize its fearsomeness. It is threatening as its existence in Nature. It is threatened by humans who indiscriminately shoot them for sport.
Jack - 2021
I love the wildness, size, and speed of the Jack Rabbit. Its long ears and legs. This piece is cantilevered, balanced on one paw to emphasize its swiftness.
Veteran’s Memorial Eagle - 2012
This Eagle, with a 10’ wingspan, was in the planning stages with Monroe County for five years. I am proud of being chosen to create this memorial. It is thrilling to see it aloft on boulders set against the sky.

Mary, our readers feel the same way when they see your sculptures and the size of some of them. A sense of glory, joy, beauty, and even in some of them, a feeling of respect and protection of the important and beautiful species that exist in the world. So, they are waiting for your future artwork. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

I have the opportunity to make a Cardinal for St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York. The Cardinal is its mascot for their football team. The Cardinal will have a 5’ measurement from beak to tail and will stand atop a fabricated steel base symbolizing a mountain. A group of alumni from 1981 joined together to create a memorial for their fellow teammate who was injured in a game, and has been paralyzed ever since. The injured player henceforth encouraged and supported his teammates to two championships at the end of that season. I am honored to be a part of their appreciation.

Good news. We look forward to, Mary. Ok, what are your art influences?

Alfred Bierstadt and N.C. Wyeth are both grand muralists. Beirstadt’s huge and majestic Nature scapes and Wyeth’s depictions of human drama and adventure are so enthralling. They take my breath away. Throughout my career, they inspire me to go “big” and allow myself to be fully immersed in my subject. Through their influence, I try to bring both authenticities of the animal/bird and human emotion into my sculpture.

And, if you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?

Richard Diebenkorn
I met Richard Diebenkorn in the late 80’s. I was invited to a foursome dinner with him and his wife, Phyllis. He was very kind and relaxed. I told him about my dismay with the local art society’s Artist Tours. He replied, “Don’t do it…” I was surprised and relieved. Phyliss admitted their disappointment when buyers would put Richard’s paintings in a closet, only for an investment, rather than placing it on a wall where it could be enjoyed. A few days after the dinner, Richard appeared in my studio unannounced. He said it’d been a long time since he’d been in another artist’s studio. I was carving a Snowy Owl in marble at the time. He left with me a pamphlet of one of his sketchbooks.

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