By Jeanne Thomas
Her presence is simple, harmonious, and comfortable. To be with Mary Ringer is to feel the light of beauty. The contours of her house, the views from her windows, her studio, her deck on the creek, and of course her many passionate works of art, reflect the love she has for life in all its myriad manifestations. So many people told me what a wonderful person she was, that I saw just how many lives she has touched with her self and her art.
Casually elegant and deeply alive, gentle, lively, and trim; her eyes light on you, clear, light, dancing, sharp, interested, and perceptive. Like Monet, Mary has created a beautiful home and is now spending years painting its scenes, as well as other places she loves. In her paintings, however, she freely edits what she sees. She is not pursuing photographic realism but impressionism--her impression. Moving this over here, and that over there, adding, subtracting, and subtly shifting the elements until she arrives at the perfect marriage of herself and the world.
One of her favorite experiences, she says, is that moment when she knows that a painting she is pleased with is finished. Every artist will agree that knowing when to stop--when a work is complete--is one of the most difficult parts of creating art.
This is a woman who has spent her entire life creating art, from the time she was a little girl, until now when she is a mature artist of recognized and celebrated abilities. She says she came to it naturally as a child and was encouraged by her teachers, but she would have pursued it anyway, even if no one had encouraged her. She has stretched and mounted her own canvases, cut her own gator board, mixed her own paint from her extensive collection of elemental powdered pigments. She loves soft brushes, experimentation, and linen canvases, which she uses sparingly, conscious of the expense.
Deeply conscientious about everything from her work to her relationship with the earth, she is a member of the Nature Conservancy and conserves and recycles with passion. She is also passionate and very proud of her four children, two of whom are nationally-recognized artists:
Suzanne de Lessets--a painter like her mother--who lives in Maine; Charles Ringer, the metal artist and sculptor in Joliet; Stan Ringer, a finish carpenter in Bozeman; and Rob Ringer, who has been the manager of Red Lodge Mountain Resort.
We meandered around her house admiring the many beautiful pieces she has collected and created, including a large beautiful "bean pot" with sculptural relief and glaze work (purchased from her friend, Brian Persha); many exquisite baskets made from pine needles, raffia, and other natural elements; a large wooden sculpture which she created from a piece of juniper into which she carved (or discovered) a woman's face with her hair blown into the twisted wood; and beautiful large watercolors of giant flowers which reminded me of Georgia O'Keefe's work, plus many, many other items, too numerous to detail. As we passed through the house, I couldn't help noticing how each window was like a beautiful composition and how my eyes were drawn to the beauty of the surroundings.
She also recounted the love she still holds for her husband of 63 years, Judd, who passed away over twenty years ago. She has known him forever. He was her brother's friend and their parents were friends. The couple first came to Red Lodge in 1946 on their honeymoon and fell in love, not only with each other, but with this place. They resolved to buy land and when the ski mountain was developed (they loved to ski), they had to build a house so they could stay here in the winter.
When Judd died, Mary moved from Long Lake, Minnesota to Red Lodge full time, surprising everyone. And though not a founding member, she has been active in the development and life of the Carbon County Arts Guild, serving on the board and as president. She is the founder of the "Painted Ladies" with her neighbor Frannie Owen, Margaret Murphy, Nellie Israel, and Dorci Tremblay. The Painted Ladies practice plein air painting and last summer opened their group up to anyone who would like to experience and enjoy painting out of doors. They plan to continue this summer with full day trips to beautiful places with paint and picnic lunches. This generosity of spirit is typical of the many comments I solicited about this remarkable woman.
Entering her studio, one is immediately struck with the variety of supplies, tools, machines, and of course her paintings. She has many easels, each with a different piece. With her skill, she seems to have the freedom to express herself in many styles. One beautiful painting of trees in snow in moonlight reminds me of a Japanese tonal woodcut. Others, wildly passionate with color, are almost expressionist. Her fascination with rocks and planes catching the light takes her towards abstraction. While her love of trees, bark, and leaves leads one to think of the impressionists. She says some of her paintings are just immediate and are finished in a sitting, while others she broods on, developing them over weeks or months. She works in so many mediums: oils principally, watercolor, wood sculpture, bronze casting, basket weaving, and probably many others. Clearly she loves life and loves creating.
Some of her favorite painters who have influenced her work the most are Clyde Aspevig, Albert Handell, and Bob Rohm. She and her daughter will attend Rohm's workshop in New Mexico this fall.
On her table in the studio are lots of tapes. She loves jazz and has music by George Bent, Stevan Pasero, Harry Connick Jr., and Josh Groban. There are also boxes of collections of music and meditations.
All in all, her studio seems "crammed with incident." Every painting has a story, a favorite place, an adventure, a time, and often a person. The mood seems caught in the colors and the planes; the way the light plays on the landscape and catches the colors of the leaves or the texture of the bark of a tree; snow and moonlight, trees and water. I felt simply enchanted by them all.
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