At 90 years old, Mary's exhibit will display a wide array of artistic styles and mediums.Among them: a watercolor Mary painted as a young girl of "Sniffles," her pet rat, and a homestead overlooking Sheridan, with an enormous moon behind it. "This is what she was painting when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon," said Mary's daughter, Heather Plank Heather continues: "Mother paints what's going on in the world and in her life. Her paintings are a reflection of important events…it's a means of communication."
Mary expresses herself through a breadth and depth of mediums and artistic genres. When asked about her wide-ranging styles, Mary said, "I was free to paint as I wished because I didn't have to worry about selling art for my supper. That's why I could delve into so many styles. Bernard Thomas once told me, ‘Mary, you have to settle into one style.’ ‘No, I don't,’” she smiled conspiratorially.
Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Mary traveled the world with her family as a girl, her ports of call as diverse as the paintings in this retrospective. Discouraged from studying art or music in college, Mary majored in history at the University of Michigan, during which time she met Henry Burgess. After WWII, they married and started their family, moving to his hometown of Sheridan when Henry finished law school. Mary drew landscapes and scenes of ranch life in rare moments of free time.
When painter Rupert Conrad gave a Saturday workshop, Mary and their young son, Sheridan, attended. "Sheridan was intrigued, but decided “painting's just for a rainy day,” and he galloped off on his horse." Mary was more than intrigued; she attended many workshops by Quang Ho and Chen Chi, among others, as well as "every class Dick Martinsen taught at Sheridan College."
She began painting with local artists, including: Bunny Connell, Margie Newman (who taught the brushstrokes of Sume-i), Alice Fuller, Neltje, and Liz Howell. Mary became a member of the Sheridan Artist's Guild (now SAGE), the Wyoming Artists Association (where she served as president), the National Sume-i Society, which honored Mary with a national award, and the National Pastel Society. Her work garnered national acclaim when in the sixties, one of Mary's paintings hung in Congressional Office of Agriculture in Washington D.C.
Paintings in this exhibition correspond to phases in Mary's remarkable life. Mary has also written her autobiography, Both Sides of the Canvas, which will be available at Sheridan Stationary. Today Mary still paints with local artists, and serves as a role model for young artists, telling them, “Be true to yourself and paint in the way that best communicates and expresses what you feel.”
Approximately 90 of Mary Burgess' works will grace the front and member galleries, lobby and hall of the Sagebrush Community Art Center through the month of December. The Opening Reception will take place December 1st, from 4-7 pm at the Historic Train Depot.