Mary Mahler: Master of Multiple Methods
By Sharon Feissel
“When life throws challenges at me, I take refuge in my studio. Immersed in those processes, whether painting, mixed media, or ceramics, I settle into a calmness and absorption that ultimately extends into the rest of my life, giving it greater clarity.“ This is how Mary Mahler describes the importance of art to her life.
Mary is a master of hand-built and wheel-thrown pottery, whether fully fired and glowing with colorful glazes or scorched-looking and cracked by the raku process. Mary explains, “I love hand-shaped pieces for the spontaneity involved and wheel-thrown for the consistency of the final form. I work with a type of clay called Stoneware and love the raku and pit fired methods, which result in that earthy look of old pottery.”
Mary explains her preferred methods. “Raku is a two-step process. First, the glazed pieces are brought quickly up to temperature to cure the glaze. Then they are removed and
put into a container of combustible material which will flame up--more fanning, more flame. You put the lid on and let the material smoke until the oxygen gets depleted and the fire dies out. Unglazed areas often turn black, gray, or white, which contrasts with the glazed areas. For pit firing, I dig a pit in sand. Unglazed pieces are wrapped in seaweed, banana peels, or whatever and buried in the pit, along with a lot of wood and newspaper kindling. After the fire is lit, the pit is covered and allowed to burn most of the day until it burns itself out. I uncover the pit and let it cool down and then discover what I’ve got! I like these two methods for the unpredictability of the outcome and for the excitement they add to my creative experience. My current pit-fired pieces were done on Dillon Beach.”
Although she loves landscape textures and colors and tries to incorporate their effects into both her ceramics and mixed media paintings, Mary seldom does a standard landscape. “I am much more intrigued by the interior landscape and what might come from my subconscious to populate the surface I have before me. Vintage Bookshelf is a realistic reminder of how comforting and solid and enduring a wall of books can feel. It became a mixed media piece when I added bits of print to the surface. However, works like
my untitled abstract triptych seem to just evolve without any real-world reference point. Don’t ask me how or why they come about. They celebrate form, color, texture, and spatial relationships. Working in layers, I include handmade papers, collage elements, acrylic mediums, odd objects, and sometimes photos I have taken. These pieces give me a lot of creative satisfaction.”
In addition to her main art mediums, Mary also does collage, assemblage, linoleum cuts, and prints. She taught secondary school art and ceramics for over 30 years and still teaches at her studio. Mary’s artwork is shown at Riverfront Art Gallery, 132 Petaluma Blvd. North, in Petaluma.