When Mary Erickson starts to paint outdoors, on location, she moves quickly. Painting the landscape in front of her means nothing is stagnant. The light source that’s present when she begins will shift in about an hour, forcing her to recall certain visuals from memory. After finishing this small painting—or field study, as she calls it—Erickson will return to her studio in High Ridge Gardens to work her reference into a larger piece.
Her paintings, dreamy but realistic, respectful renderings, are influenced by the tradition of the artists that come after the French Impressionists of the 1800′s.
High Ridge Gardens, where Mary works, is a 39 acre nature preserve and artist retreat, listed on the North Carolina Birding Trail, in Marshville, NC. Running this retreat has allowed Erickson to pursue painting while promoting conservation efforts and fostering a thriving art community.
“My favorite piece of art to date,” notes Erickson of her work, “is an ongoing collection of paintings titled A Year at High Ridge. Because I plan to donate the property as an artists’ retreat and bird sanctuary, I am creating a book that documents my time here.”
High Ridge Gardens has become an important safe haven for artists and animals alike in North Carolina. That is why Erickson is building an endowment that will keep the land safe when she’s gone.
“Conservation of the natural landscape is one of my major concerns,” says Erickson. “…All things in nature are connected. It is biblical that we have dominion over the creatures on this planet. But with that dominion comes responsibility. It requires us to protect them and assure their continued existence.”
Passion and Preservation
Erickson’s love of nature and fierce drive to protect it is evident in her landscape paintings, especially those with birds.
“Birds have been a love of mine since childhood,” says Erickson. “They represent all that is good, and both fragile and strong in this world.” While many perceive birds as delicate, they are also amazingly resilient, flying thousands of miles each year to survive. “As an independent woman,” notes Erickson, “I can relate to that combination of strength and fragility.”
Much like her beloved birds, Erickson spends the year migrating from state to state. She moves from Florida to Maine, then to North Carolina. She also travels to exhibitions and excursions throughout the US and Europe.
While she travels, she also partakes in a variety of conservation projects, like Silent Skies. This project depicts the 678 species of birds that will go extinct within Erickson’s lifetime unless conservation efforts change.
“I believe there will come a day,” says Erickson, “when the only places we will be allowed a glimpse of true nature will be in the parks and preserves we set aside today. As it gets more difficult to find ‘natural’ areas, we must protect the untouched and undeveloped. And we must also support the organizations that do so.”
Those looking for Erickson’s art can find it at the Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art on South Tryon Street. High Ridge Gardens is free for birding groups and available for lodging.