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Picture Stories Carved in Wood

The self-taught art of Mary Michael Shelley

by Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder

"I call my artwork my picture stories. Each piece is first low relief carved in pine - then painted with acrylics, gold leafed, and sealed front and back with protective varnish. My goal is to produce a quality-crafted product that will survive long past my lifetime."
-Mary Michael Shelley

Mary Michael Shelley was born in Doylestown, Pa. in 1950. Her father was a commercial artist and her grandmother was from Pennsylvania Dutch stock, and always had a multitude of art projects going. It was the influence of these two well-loved people that would determine Mary's future.

From an early age Mary knew that she wanted to be an artist but she felt that she did not have the talent. Instead, she went to College and became a writer. Then, at age 23, her father sent her a painted low-relief woodcarving... a piece of art that he had created for Mary when she was a young girl.

Seeing this carving changed Mary's life as she was reminded of pleasant memories of her early years on the farm. Soon after, she began to carve and paint. At first it was just a way to relax after writing, but the response to her work was so overwhelmingly positive that within a year, Mary was no longer writing. The art had taken over.

Over the next twenty-six years, Mary created over 500 carved and painted wood reliefs - each one telling a personal picture story.

To look at Mary's work is like stepping into her life. Each piece is part of an adventure, like the Outdoors Series where Mary takes us along on vacation to Cape Cod, Puerto Rico, and the Adirondacks. You are there with Mary, canoeing home to the campsite.

Mary's Farm Scenes depict tranquil life - full of color and expectations. Again we travel with her back to the farm that was part of her youth.

In the Diner Series, Mary again gives you the feeling of being there, in a warm place were friends can come together... a place for the everyday person, where you receive sustenance for the body as well as the soul.

I was deeply moved by Mary's Dreaming Series where the images depict life, the struggle to cope with the death of a friend, and our inability to prevent the inevitable.

From her studio in Ithaca, NY. Mary gives us much more than pictures. She gives us the opportunity to stop, look, and see what is truly important.

Text © Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder; Photos Reprinted with Permission

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