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Mary Lou Hess’s Woods

Mary Lou Hess (Modica) (b. 1928), Woods, 1972, Etching on paper, edition 1/20, Gift of Marilynn Cannon

What do you think of first when you think of nature? Perhaps the trees, sky, grass, or maybe you think of animals? Nature inspired the arts throughout history, including local artist Mary Lou Hess. 

Mary Lou Hess was born in New Albany in 1928 and lived there her entire life. Later, she even returned to the house her parents built–surrounded by trees that influenced her work. Art interested her as a child, but it wasn’t until she was an adult and her children were older that she became captivated by etching. A printmaker family friend introduced and shared the medium with Hess. According to Keith J. Hampton, editor, and designer for Artist Creating: The Literary & Visual Bi-Monthly for Southern Indiana Creatives, Hess says that learning about etching happened at just the right time. Hess began taking classes at Indiana University Southeast with printmaker Susan Moffett, who expanded her knowledge of etching. Hess attributes her work to her fellow artists who always supported her with information and time, including George Engle (New Albany, Indiana,1932-1983 ), Orville Carroll (New Albany, Indiana 1912 – 1978), and Ann Tate (American, b. 1933)–artists whose artwork is also part of The Carnegie Center for Art and History’s collection. 

On view in From Audubon to Sisto: Highlights from the Permanent Collection, you can see Woods (1972), one of many prints that features Hess’s greatest inspiration, nature. She grew up surrounded by trees and said they “are part of the way I think.” She enjoyed capturing scenes of the natural world for her etchings. However, Hess says, “I started out using nature as my main influence, but occasionally I create more abstract works, you know, for a change of pace.” In an interview with The Courier Journal, Hess expresses that her etchings are about “pattern–an order type of thing,” and she wishes her work “could be looser.” 

The world around Hess is inspiring. Once, when looking out her review mirror while driving, three different planes of nature behind her inspired a print to her–Hess admits, “Of course lots of times I get ideas I can’t carry out,” but this doesn’t impede her. Creating art is a “complete joy” to Hess, evident in her active participation in art fairs. Her first art fair was in the early 1970s, starting with the famous St. James Court art fair that continues to grow yearly. Hess traveled as far as Chicago, East Lansing, Cincinnati, and Richmond, Virginia, to participate in art fairs–roughly eight a year that eventually declined to two or three overtime. 

Today, Bourne-Schwitzer Gallery’s website lists Mary Lou Hess with a summary of her successes:

“My work has been widely exhibited in E.Lansing, Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee, Richmond VA, State College PA …. also the Indianapolis Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin National Small Print Exhibition, the Portland Museum in Louisville, as well as the Carnegie Center in New Albany. I have won regional and national recognition, including awards from Purdue University, Ohio Valley Annual, the Northern Illinois Art Fest, and the Miniatures Painters, Sculptors and Gravers Society of Washinton D.C. I have also won awards from numerous art fairs. I live with my husband, Joe Modica, in my family home on Silver Creek in New Albany, Indiana. I have three sons, Jerry, Matthew, and Lou Hess.”

Please join us at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in celebrating Mary Lou Hess’s etching, Woods, on view in From Audubon to Sisto: Highlights from the Permanent Collection until April 1st. 


By: Sheridan Bishoff

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