TRIPTYCH ANCHORS PLEIN AIR SHOW
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Some 25 years ago, when she was Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce executive director, Polly Renckens held a meeting of people with space to spare in their homes.
“We have tourists,” Polly told the gathering. “We need some place to put them. If you have space for a B&B, consider it.”
Mary Nolan, who had been doing art as long as she can remember, received a call from a friend whose mother had a farm in the countryside around Fly Creek. “Would you like to manage a B&B?”
Nolan, who had vacationed in Cooperstown and liked it here, said yes.
In B&Bs, there are busy times and less busy times, and in the less busy times Mary took her paints and easel behind the house and began to paint the nature she saw – plein air, out of doors.
“Around here, it’s beautiful,” she said in an interview after The Fenimore Art Museum announced that “Water As Muse: Paintings by Mary Nolan,” will be this summer’s local exhibition.
Nolan’s works will appear among that of such notables as photographer Ansel Adams and the featured show, “Keith Haring: Radiant Vision,” containing more than 100 works of the celebrated
“With rich colors and deep textures,” The Fenimore reports on its website, “her work is layered onto the canvas, creating densely pigmented impressions of the area’s storybook geography.”
Since her Fly Creek B&B days, Mary’s paintings have become staples of every local art show around here, from the Cooperstown Art Association to The Fenimore’s annual “Art on the Lake” every July, which features plein air work.
She also teaches. “You do better when you paint with a group,” she said. “The group teaches each other.”
Nolan was born into a big family in the Boston area. Her father was a school teacher; her mother, while raising eight children, taught piano.
She began drawing in high school, attended the Vesper George School of Art in her hometown, then went on for a master’s in art therapy.
She lived in California and Tennessee and, on developing an interest in basketry, moved to New Mexico to pursue that art form for a while. While living in Vermont, she experimented with abstract, multi-material paintings.
At one point, Nolan took her easel on a vacation in Cape Cod, and painted “a very simple sky-and-ocean pairing.”
It quickly sold, and that prompted her to do more Cape Cod scenes. In Cooperstown, she began painting Otsego Lake, likewise popular, and not just locally. At one point, she had six galleries carrying her art throughout the Northeast, from Natick, Mass., to Rumson, N.J.
Her sister Ann and brother-in-law, Ron Bishop, a SUNY Oneonta biology professor, also live in Otsego County.
And when her mother, Phyllis, moved into Otsego Manor, other family members followed, and remained: Dr. Francis J. Nolan, an ER doctor at Fox Hospital, and John Nolan, a physician’s assistant at Fox and Bassett hospitals.
(Mary also has sisters on the Cape and in Maine, and two more brothers in Vermont.)
Lately she’s sharing a studio on Railroad Avenue with May-Britt Joyce and Maria Tripp, both also well-known locally.
In the new studio, Nolan said she’s producing dozens of canvases a year, but says – self-deprecatingly – “the paintings I like, nobody’s interested in,” as she added a touch of color to “River Bed, Low Tide,” a 36-by-36 canvas now on her easel.
“She’s a professional,” May-Britt said simply.
When Mary heard she’d been selected for the local show – if you’re interested in being chosen, ask, she said; that’s what she did – she had a concept of what should hang there.
Curators Chris Rossi and James Matson had other ideas and took matters into their own hands, building the snow around a 10-foot-long triptych.
Nolan’s as curious as anyone as to how the show will look when it opens Thursday, April 1. (A reception is planned for later this summer, TBA.)