Mary Mendla: Artist in Residence at Fairy Chasm State Natural Area
July 27, 2020 | Topics: featured artist
The Natural Realm presents Mary Mendla, who is one of 12 artists participating in a year-long residency program called ARTservancy, a collaboration between Gallery 224 in Port Washington and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, River Revitalization Foundation, Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy and the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory. The mission of ARTservancy is to promote the visionary work of both the artists and conservationists. Each artist has selected a preserve to spend time in and to engage with.
Artist Statement by Mary Mendla
Werifesteria: To wander longingly in the forest in search of mystery
This journey began for me many years ago, in the early years of childhood when magic was believable and mystery was experienced and embodied in all of nature.
Fairy Chasm is a place of treasured childhood memories for me. I lived my early years along the south rim of the chasm in Fox Point/Bayside and had many adventures exploring its depths.
I remember the eruption of beautiful, some exotic (to me) wildflowers in early spring, a carpet of ferns as far as the eye could see, colorful fungi clinging to fallen logs, and towering trees that formed a cathedral-like ceiling beneath the sky. It birthed a love of the forest that burns in me yet. Fairy Chasm was a womb-like place of mystery and beauty that infused me with a yearning to always be connected to the forest.
In such a special place, they say, you can hear the fairies speaking. I certainly did, in the way that only a child’s spirit can.
When the ARTservancy residency was offered to me, I jumped at it, requesting Fairy Chasm State Natural Area as my site. I had long hoped to return to this special place of my childhood one day; now it would be mine for a year.
I began visiting Fairy Chasm in October 2019. The month of October was one of unprecedented rainfall, which ended on the 31st with an unseasonally heavy snowfall. Halloween trick or treat festivities were cancelled for neighborhood children, as well as my first trip down into the chasm.
Finally, a week or so later, I was able to get started. I found the forest ablaze in yellow and orange. The rain and snow had not succeeded in stripping the trees of their remaining leaves. My camera couldn’t get enough of this beauty. I found two adorably carved stone benches looking out over Lake Michigan. This became my “sit spot” for drawing and journaling. (As the temperatures grew colder it also became my “butt freezing spot.”)
Then, when I ventured deeper down the path into the chasm, I lost my balance and fell—hard. This eventually led to a diagnosis of a neurological condition that put a stop to my attempts to continue hiking into the deeper parts of the chasm. I did still visit the upper section and spent many hours absorbing the beauty, sounds, and smells of this amazing forested chasm, until the ice and snow of winter got in the way.
Finally, spring came along with the new life of wildflowers peaking up through the dead leaves on the forest floor. Each visit held a new treat—Spring Beauties, Trilliums, Yellow Trout Lilies, Bloodroot, and Fiddleheads of the Ostrich Ferns that formed the carpet that I remembered from my childhood. It was beautiful.
Then the world changed during the early months of 2020. There was an increase in visitors to the site due to the pandemic that caused some tension with neighboring property owners. This made it more difficult for me to enjoy visiting the site. In April I made the decision to discontinue my visits.
All was not lost. For my ARTservancy exhibit I have chosen to integrate my love of photography, abstract painting in oil and cold wax, and digital art. This combination of approaches allows me to create layered imagery full of mystery. From a large body of photographs shot during earlier visits I have digitally manipulated multiple image layers, along with original oil paintings. These I then layered further with abstract painted surfaces in a variety of media. The predominant imagery is intended to create an emotional story line, much like a child’s awe and wonder at a new experience of something seemingly magical, and perhaps a bit frightening in its depth and power. I will exhibit these multi-media pieces along with prints of digital art images and a few original oil and cold wax paintings.
I feel disappointed by the outcome caused by the difficulties I faced in my attempts to explore and become enmeshed in the Fair Chasm Natural Area. Perhaps the adage that you can never truly go back holds true. There have certainly been blocks thwarting my attempts on every level. However, tomorrow is a new day full of the promise of good health and possibility. I hope I can visit the many Ozaukee Washington Land Trust conservancy sites for the deep experience I was attempting with Fairy Chasm.
Mary Mendla is a painter, fiber artist, and apparel designer. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee in 1992 and has studied with master’s level instructors, Rebecca Crowell and Janice Mason Steeves for post degree enhancement. Her creative journey has led her in many directions; painting, teaching, fabric surface design, sculptural fiber art, and apparel design. Mary has taught classes and workshops in painting, textile surface design and contemporary art history at universities and art centers including the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD), Milwaukee Art Museum, Cardinal Stritch University and the Cedarburg Cultural Center. She is the owner/designer of the woman’s apparel line, Facets Fashions.
Mary’s intuitive abstract landscape paintings are created through varied processes involving oil and acrylic paint, cold wax medium, and a variety of other mixed media materials. Her textiles are created primarily through the techniques of Shibori and direct dye application.
Mary lives with her husband, sculptor Joseph Mendla, and Kira the cat in Grafton, Wisconsin. She is an active member of the juried arts organizations, League of Milwaukee Artists, Wisconsin Visual Artists and Cedarburg Artists Guild.
Fairy Chasm State Natural Area is owned and managed by Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which is also a partner organization to A Wealth of Nature. For more information about Fairy Chasm State Natural Area go to the OWLT website. Please note that while OWLT intends to make Fairy Chasm open to the public, it is currently closed. OWLT recommends that you contact their office if you wish to visit the preserve.
This is the latest in our series of featured artists, which is intended to showcase the work of photographers, artists, writers and other creative individuals in our community whose subjects or themes relate in some broad sense to nature, urban nature, people in nature, etc. To see a list of previously featured artists, click here. The work of the current ARTservancy artists in residence will be exhibited monthly at Gallery 224 beginning in September 2020. To meet the other ARTservancy artists in residence, click here.
All images courtesy of the artist, except as noted. The featured photo at the top of the artist at Fairy Chasm State Natural Area is by Eddee Daniel.