FREE SPEECH ZONE | Meet Seward Artist Mary Stiff


Name: Mary Stiff

Occupation: Administrative support for local law-firm (including go to jewelry repair person)

Activities: Artist: Painter and jeweler, Board Member/Treasurer of the Vine Arts Center

Seward Connection: Lives just across the tracks from Seward for the past 21 years / Shares an art studio in the Ivy Building for almost 4 years.

Art Exhibition:

Mary Stiff: “What I’ve Seen -Travel Memories” (Members’ Gallery)
August 14 – September 25, 2010
Vine Arts Center
2637 27th Ave South
Minneapolis, MN 55406


How did you become an artist?

I started out singing and did that, I think, until my mid-fifties. I didn’t see a future there or a way to progress, or something so I stopped.  Painting is a later in life endeavor for me – I’m one of the “I can’t draw crowd”.  I find I actually can draw, but it takes a while.  Then I saw some art classes that didn’t seem too daunting in the U of M’s Split Rock Arts program. I took a drawing class which led to painting classes and here I am today.  I am compelled by painting – I have no expectations of doing anything “good”, but sometimes, something happens and I get drawn into the work

I love working in oil – I can be specific, work fast, but mostly, I can mix on the canvas and mush stuff around and all of a sudden, something is there. I do abstracts in acrylic, just because it’s faster for me and more immediate.

My art education is totally informal through classes with two wonderful women, Sally Brown and Sally Nystrom, who have a teaching studio in the Casket Building, in NE Minneapolis.  Although they share a lot of knowledge of the work of various artists and technique, I admit to being a woefully uneducated artist.

How did you become involved with the Vine Arts Center (VAC)?

My studio mates and I rented our studio just before the Seward Art Festival and were able to join in (this was before it’s most recent renovation into studio spaces).  After the event, there was a meeting of participants who had spaces in the building.  They thought the building was ripe for a gallery. The owner agreed and allowed us to build a gallery, now the Vine Arts Center. Somehow, I just involved myself.  I am a founding member, and am on the Board serving as Treasurer.

The VAC looks for community involvement in art projects, high level art showings and a place for artists to congregate.  Along with a lot of hard work – this is a member run gallery – it has been a great learning experience.  We’re running a business and we have faced many of the challenges of running a business and continue to grow.

Tell us about your upcoming show at the Vine Arts Center.

I will be showing my paintings in the Member’s Gallery of the Vine Arts Center along with Michael Bigger who will be featuring his sculpture and photography in the Main Gallery.

The paintings reflect on places I have traveled to over the years. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited some very interesting and very different places.  I’ve always traveled as a tourist. I’m not much of an adventure traveler. I have always taken a lot of pictures – mostly of landscapes and animals.  Then I would store the pictures away. When I needed projects for my art classes I decided to paint from my travel pictures.  The process really took me back to those places.  I decided that would be my main theme in painting – the places I’ve been and how those lands, countries, people, affected me. 

Dragons on Dragon

Eventually, my focus changed a little to include portraits and abstracts.  The portraits, for me, reflect on the life of one person living in an entirely different world from mine, but in the same world.  The abstracts have most to do with the relationship of water and land and some include the affect of volcanic action.

Masai girl

This is the largest venue for me so far and I’m excited to see my work filling a room.  Then I just have to let it go and not worry about reactions to it.

What do you like about being an artist in the Seward Neighborhood?

Seward is relatively small compared with NE Mpls. and it has a fairly close knit feel to it. I like that there are communities in the Twin Cities that have a strong appreciation of local artists.

How would you wish to grow as an artist?

I’d like to explore different painting techniques.  I enjoy trying different things.  I’m adding metalwork to my jewelry making, for example.  I would like to travel, maybe in the states, and invest myself more in different areas so I can paint with better knowledge of my subject.

Do you have any advice for others who would like to channel their personal creativity? 

I must confess I want to scream every time I hear someone say, “I wish I could Draw. I can’t draw a line.”  I say take a class.  Learn that mistakes can be corrected -masterpieces weren’t made in a day. Great artists worked at their craft. And most of all – it is the most wonderful thing to have a creative outlet that allows you to grow and to see the world in new ways.

Hulong Bay, Vietnam