Photos by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios
Mary Meredith steps outside the door of the small “camp” house that sits at the top of the lane near the train tracks running adjacent to the Shore Road in Merigomish. She’s dressed in a pale-yellow dress with a tiny floral print. The spring breeze catches the dark waves of her hair as she greets me with a sunny hello. She’s as pretty as a picture.
It’s the second time I met with Mary that week. A few days earlier we made our first acquaintance at The Bistro in New Glasgow, where she will be exhibiting a collection of paintings for several weeks. As a contemporary impressionist artist with a passion for flowers and literature, Mary was speaking my language and I felt an immediate connection to her work.
From the simplicity of the daisy to the complexity of the endless shades of the rose, flowers have had their own secret language. The ancient Greeks brought flowers to the temples to honour the Gods, and suitors of the chaste Victorian era used flowers in veiled flirtation. Flowers are powerful yet wordless ways to communicate no matter what the message. It’s part of what pulls the Nova Scotia artist to her canvas and to her little artist studio in Merigomish, which was built by her grandfather years before she was born.
“I think what people see in my floral paintings is joy,” says Mary. When we sit down for a chat, I catch a glimpse of a painting in progress peeking over her shoulder. That joy is no doubt an extension of her own life, and painting in the place where she grew up surrounded by the fields, orchards, and gardens of the family farm.
“My inner child is at play when I am here,” says the mother of three.
“I am a completely outdoors person. As a kid, I would lay in the tall grass, and in the winter I would be outside all the time in the snow wearing goggles. I love weather of any kind. I live in an optimistic way, and I think that is what really comes through in these paintings.”
She does almost all her work with oils in the tiny sunroom studio of the family camp. While creating and painting in different mediums for many years, and selling her work since 2015, it was after her artist launch show at the Mulroney Gallery at St. F.X. in the Fall of 2021 that she started to get noticed. Since then, she has shipped paintings to 15 countries. It doesn’t hurt when a former prime minister and his family are fans and collectors of her paintings. Brian and Mila Mulroney discovered her paintings online and attended her opening show.
After graduating with her education degree at St. F.X., Mary worked in Europe for several years. In Spain, she forged friendships with other artists and says it was during this brief period in her life, before marriage and children, that she found confidence in her art.
“In Madrid, I became very influenced by my global surroundings. I think I saw more and started thinking differently. But I also started to value my own work and developed the confidence that I could sell it,” she explains.
It was during this time that she started to develop a more distinct style. She fell in love with the permanence of oils as a medium, but also picked up different techniques using painting knives and “tools” for her painting. She says she still loves a good fan brush.
With the amplitude of colour and volume of paint on her canvas, she believes her paintings demonstrate a confidence and arresting quality. “For me, I think it’s more interesting than just strokes on a canvas.”
And while flowers convey their own silent message, Mary brings her love of literature to her passion as a painter. She draws on her knowledge of literature, attaching the words from poems, songs, and phrases from books to each of her paintings.
“I think my art tells a story and attaching these words to each painting helps to tell what I am feeling and what the painting means to me. Using literature also allows you to reach out and grab someone who might otherwise be drawn to painting,” she adds. In her next collection, she intends to connect her paintings to East Coast music.
And what about a favourite bloom for the floral artist?
“A simple garden rose. I am a simple Merigomish girl, and I think I really like that part about me.”