Mary Ryan began making art at a young age. “I took my first lessons at age five in a studio with a professional art teacher. He taught me watercolor painting. I would draw and color every day,” she said. When not drawing, Ryan spent time at the library admiring the cover art and images from children’s books.
In junior high school, she created art year-round. Ryan continued, “That was back when school art classes were every week, all year long. I was interested in crafts as well, but always gravitated back to painting. I was involved in theater in high school, painting and designing sets.” The sets were an outlet for Ryan to express her creativity through paint.
Throughout school, art surrounded Ryan. Works from teachers and students hung in the school hallways. “It was a rural school, not a wealthy area at all, but the arts were well supported. The school produced a good amount of talent because it was encouraged daily.”
While she loved art, her family didn’t support the idea of studying it in college. Ryan went to nursing school. “I juggled nursing and art for many years before letting my RN license go and diving full time into my art practice and business. I just really had to get back to my vision and purpose. I will make art as long as I live,” she said.
Ryan is best known for her series of murals in the Rockingham County Animal Shelter (RCAS) that were done between 2020 and 2021. “The animals featured in the lobby and adoption hall were all rescued through the RCAS, so they are forever memorialized,” she added.
Ryan’s art is on display at public murals in Eden and Reidsville. “I’m known by some people for painting the Lucky City Brewery sign in Reidsville.” She is currently working with Reidsville on two quilt-square murals on panels to complement the redesign of downtown sidewalks. “These are for the sesquicentennial celebration of 2023 in the city. One quilt mural involves having the public participate in painting on the panels. The other one I will do myself. They will go on display when completed.”
For Ryan, it’s hard to pinpoint a single work as her favorite. But she cites “Pow Wow,” the Native American Mural Design from the ARTchitecture series currently on exhibit in Eden City Hall. “The people featured are native North Carolinians from various tribes. I received their permission and blessing to paint their images into the design. I connected to them through my photographer friend Gordon Allen, who frequently attends pow wows around this state and knows many of the leaders. It was an honor to be permitted to do this. I worked very hard on that painting.”
Ryan recently received a regional artist support grant from the North Carolina Arts Council in Raleigh. She was chosen for, and awarded, the grant by the Stokes Art Council. “For this project I am painting a series of 30 large new paintings which I’ve titled Unfolding,” Ryan added. These are intuitive works featuring images from her meditation practice. She has completed six so far and figures it will take the rest of the year to complete the project.
Along with Unfolding, Ryan is still taking on commissioned work. “I also have my 2022 ARTchitecture series traveling around Rockingham County on exhibit through April. The next stop will be the MARC in Wentworth for the summer season. I’m still looking for a venue in western Rockingham County that is big enough to exhibit the collection before it moves to Greensboro in October.”
As she stated, Ryan plans to make art for the rest of her life. She sees next year being more of the same. “2024 could involve a lot of travel again, exhibiting the second series. I’m busy year-round with one project or another,” she concluded.