Meet Mary Pettis

Mary Pettis is a classically trained artist who works mostly from life, using the Alla Prima or Direct Method of oil painting. Her lifetime in art is a journey reflected in hundreds of originals and thousands of reproductions and etchings collected in nearly every state and several countries. She currently lives in the beautiful St. Croix National Scenic Riverway along the Wisconsin/Minnesota border. She shares her life with her husband, Randy, and grown children, Matt, Nathaniel, Zach and Amanda Catherine.

Mary Pettis was born in 1953 on a farm in southern Minnesota. Growing up in the country, she followed the rhythm of the seasons: barefoot before the ground was dry in Spring, baling hay, feeding chickens, tromping through the sloughs and ravines and helping "put up" food for the large farm family. At fifteen, Mary discovered that painting seemed a natural means by which she could express her enjoyment and love of nature.

While receiving a BFA in Art and in Humanities from the College of St. Benedict, Mary studied with Hungarian artist Bela Petheo at nearby St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. She excelled in advanced courses in Modern Composition and in Abstract Art at Mankato State University during the summer. She also did extensive research abroad in art museums from Amsterdam to Rome.

Mary's love for the traditional style emerged in 1975 when she was accepted to a three year full-time student apprenticeship in Classical Realism at Atelier Lack in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During that period, she also studied copperplate etching with C. Daniel Graves (founder and director of the Florence Academy of the Arts - Florence, Italy). Working daily from antique plaster casts and from the figure gave her a solid foundation and disciplined approach which would never leave her.

Through the years, while continuing to read and study the Masters, she opened a studio gallery, taught classes and led workshops on various topics. She spent many years painting commissions, portraits, and highly illustrative wildlife and genre pictures to the commercial
specifications of various publishers. While this was a sidetrack from "following her muse", she recognized it as an important part of her artistic journey. As she says, "There is something to be learned from every subject,
every challenge, and every failed attempt. Just when I would begin despairing over my artistic growth, I would see a tiny touch of true beauty in what had come from my hands. I would recognize an edge, a square inch, a
color combination that was truthful... and the passion to forge ahead would possess me all over again."

As I paint, I get swept away by the symphony of artistic elements in front of me.

In the mid 1990s Mary met Jim Wilcox, who introduced her to the "wet-in-wet" plein air approach. "I spent years laboring over details using layers and glazes, taking weeks or months to complete a picture. This method was totally different. It was sheer fright and utter joy to paint directly, to strive towards putting the right color in the right place in one fell swoop!" With more input and encouragement from Robert Duncan, and Zhang Wen Xin, whose tradition stems from the Russian Realist and Impressionist schools, Mary moved her studio outdoors.

Melding the experiences in her life with her artistic influences have now resulted in an authentic and powerfully lyrical style. "As I paint I get swept away by the symphony of artistic elements in front of me. It is an honor to be able to share through my work those impulses which, more often than not, feel like expressions of private worship." Today, as she melds technical proficiency with insight and sensitivity towards her subjects, Mary's art resonates with her deep connection to nature and her love of life.

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Relevant Links


Mary's biography and CV are available as PDF downloads on the
For The Media page.

For The Media