Mary Pat Ettinger
“My path is to “follow beauty, a trail of loveliness…to a place where truth and kindness still exist, and there is hope for tomorrow.”
[Montrose CO | July 2020 | By Kathryn R. Burke]
Mary Pat Ettinger is a storyteller. She tells her tales with paint, words, and weavings—all emanating from the creative inspiration that gives her work a distinctive and identifiable character. There is both softness and strength in her writings and paintings, a unique juxtaposition that comes only with years of artistic experience. Mary Pat is a formidable presence in the art world. And, after 60 years residing there, she is comfortable in her artistic skin.
Mary Pat paints. Every day. For her, making art is akin to breathing. Depending on what’s happening in her life at any given time, artistic creation is both a source of joy and a source of solace. “Life still is beautiful,” Mary Pat says. “You have to continue to be what you were created to be no matter what life throws at you. My paintings come out of who I am. I love the impromptu ‘flowering’ that you find in back alley and side streets. There’s a lot of beauty to be seen in small things.”
Living in Colorado, renowned for its scenic beauty—big and small—she finds endless sources for her visual stories. Some tell of a time and way of living when life was simpler: laundry breezily waving on a clothesline, flowers blooming abundantly in a well-tended garden, a house perched on a cliff above the sea, keeping its family safe from the storm. Other paintings remind us of a far more distant past when volcanoes formed mountains, raging rivers dug deep canyons, and seabeds dried and disappeared, leaving colorful sandstone cliffs layered with fossils. We can visit in a work of art a place formed by geologic violence, which today, offers calm waters, lush vegetation, and safe passage.
Art began for Mary Pat at a young age. Her parents, especially her father (who worked with Walt Disney during Disneyland’s formation), felt she was gifted and encouraged her studies. In her teens she trained under Italian artist. College followed at the Laguna School of Art and Design. “I took anything I could from pottery to print making, watercolor, everything I could study,” she recalls. “I even took some commercial art courses.”
It all came in handy when living on a remote ranch in northern California (her husband worked for the forest service), she did some commercial work, including a series of wildflower cards for a San Francisco publisher. She also did graphics and illustrated several books. “We were over an hour from the nearest town,” she remembers. “Our phone service was a crank phone on a party line. Our ring was three long and two shorts. The road in and out was pretty rugged, but we thought it was a hoot. We went back recently and that road was still ugly. We asked ourselves, ‘How did we ever do this?’ I was scared out of my mind.”
In 1980, Mary Pat and her husband, Harry Dunn, moved to the Yampa Valley in Colorado (near Wyoming), where he had a job in the power industry, and she continued her painting as well as teaching art classes around the Western Slope from Steamboat Springs to Montrose.
Back in those early years, is when Mary Pat began painting acrylic on canvas. “My husband was away,” she says, and I had paint and canvas, but no Gesso. So, I painted on raw canvas. It was wonderful. The texture, the interaction between canvas and paint is very dynamic.” That started a life-long trend of using clear acrylic sealer (which is not slick, like Gesso), on the canvas, so she still gets the texture. Her paintings look like watercolor on canvas.
The system is also very challenging, but the results are worth it. ”If you make a mistake with acrylic, it’s not forgiven, she explains. “Once dry, it’s set in stone. But it’s also magical when you treat like acrylic like watercolor. It takes a lot to control on canvas. The interaction between canvas and paint as a watercolor is just magical for me. It’s very exciting. What I enjoy the most, is the surprise. You never know what a wash is going to do. Inside the tight edges I am able to achieve, I can create some incredible washes that can be almost abstract.”
Welcoming artistic surprises, exploring her art and finding a world that might otherwise be lost, Mary Pat’s personal path is to “follow beauty, a trail of loveliness…to a place where truth and kindness still exist, and there is hope for tomorrow.”
MaryPat is a storyteller. She has written and illustrated books. She took up weaving as a form of rest and relaxation. She paints because it is an integral part of the story of her own life.