Remembering Mary Lou Mooney
Art's Corner by Miriam Pickens
I first met Mary Lou Mooney in about 2007 when she moved to the Copper Country, close to her daughter Mary Gardner’s family, who live in Pelkie. She was such an amazing woman, not just because of her art, but also because of her deep spirituality and the way it came through in kindness, generosity and positivity.
Born in 1937, Mary Lou received her BFA degree from Indiana University in Indianapolis at the age of 51. Her work was primarily in fiber arts. When I first met her, she was creating large bowls and other pieces out of paper and other fibers. This technique involved tearing the paper into small shreds, and blending it with water along with cotton lint for stability, and then pressing the mash into a mold, and removing it when dry. Large pieces were becoming difficult for Mary Lou, so she focused more on making really cool cards. In about 2008 she moved to the Scott Building, where she and Susan Burack became close friends. A neat story here; Susan and Mary Lou had actually lived on the same street in Indianapolis but at slightly different times. It was fun for them to share stories about the Indianapolis neighbors.
“She was an inveterate recycler,” Susan told me. “All of her cards were made of recycled materials.”
Her studio was in her living room, with materials spread out on her big table ready for pondering and assembly. All sorts of materials were used in her cards: dress patterns, pieces of colored tissue, maps, birchbark, beads, and buttons, each was a beautiful creation. Signature elements in each card were the stitching with loose threads and the multiple sheets of paper on the inside. I had wondered why she did that, and Susan told me that the cards were meant to be used and reused. You could write a message on one of the pages and send it to a friend who would then keep that page, and write their message on another page, to send to their friend. In each packaged card was a note “From Mary Lou’s Studio,” that read, “Long forgotten bits of lace and ribbon. The odd button and occasional puzzle piece have been rescued from the dustbin and given new life, new usefulness. Using line, color, and balance, the artist arranges the fragments of treasure onto fragment scraps or handmade and paste papers; then enhances the whole with paint, inks, dyes, machine and hand stitches; blending old and new. Mary Lou draws drew inspiration from living in the Midwest, merging with the light and flamboyancy of years in the desert of the Southwest, and finally settling in Upper Michigan. Compare, contrast and combine – key concepts of these miniature works of art on paper.”
Mary Lou was a lay nun, her late husband an Episcopal priest, and she devoted her mornings to prayer. In Houghton, she was a volunteer at Canterbury House through her connection with Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly, and a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Another major art project was creating quilted lap robes for Good Shepherd and other organizations like Canal View and Little Brothers. She pieced hundreds of these together from scraps of fabric repurposed from the shelves at the St. Vincent de Paul store in Hancock. Mary Lou loved to sew, and she had a seventy-year-old Singer Sewing machine and another for when the one was in the shop being repaired.
For years, Mary Lou’s was a familiar face at the Calumet Art Center. She was a good friend to Ed Gray and Jane Van Evera. Ed displayed her cards at his galleries in Calumet. They have been for sale at the Copper Country Community Arts Center in Hancock, Hahn’s Hammered Copper, and The Gallery on 5th in Calumet, as well as at Birdseye-Connection in Alberta near L’Anse. The owners at Birdseye-Connection provided Mary Lou with small copper cutouts of the Upper Peninsula to put on the cards that she made for that store.
We all loved being around Mary Lou, as she was easy to talk to and was always able to find the good in people. Her positive attitude was an expression of her deep faith, and many around her were able to find joy in her companionship.
She moved to Milwaukee a few years ago. There she was able to get more care in an assisted living facility and be close to her son who lived right in town. She had, just like in Hancock, set up an art studio in the Milwaukee apartment, and continued to create cards as long as she was able.
Mary Lou Mooney died on September 18 of age-related causes. She was 84.
Her five children, in celebration of their mother's life, shared one of her cards with each of those who were special to her, going through her address book in her final days.
Other notes from Miriam:
There is a really cool exhibition at the Finlandia University Gallery in the Finnish American Heritage Center on Quincy St. in Hancock. “Into Another World” is an impressive collection of small paintings by Finnish American artist Gerald Matthew Immonen (1936-2011). The show will run until Nov. 29.
“The Shaft” is a community exhibit of art inspired by mining history in the Copper Country. You can see this in the CCCAC Kerredge Gallery from Nov. 3 - 20, and during this time the public will be able to vote for their favorites. There will be cash prizes will be given to Community Choice recipients.
On Nov. 11 (Veteran’s Day), the Calumet Art Center will host an opening reception from 6-8 p.m. of their new show, “Veteran’s Art Exhibit: works by local Veteran Artists”. There will be music by Bob Norden and Celtic folk artist Michael Doran. The show will run until Nov. 30.