A Portrait – Mary Minifie Part 1
by Michael LaTerz
Groton is home to so many artists of so many types: authors and poets, inventors and designers, composers and musicians, luthiers and furniture makers, jewelers, sculptors and painters, too.
One day, the future will look back at this time and place and remark at the verdant scope of art and culture among us. I won’t name some without naming all. But I will name one, Groton resident Mary Minifie. Mary is a painter, if you’ll forgive the understatement. She is a nationally renowned, award-winning artist, in the tradition of the Boston School.
"I knew that I had to do it.”
As a young child, Mary always liked to draw. Beginning at age eight, she attended neighborhood art lessons, each Saturday morning, on the upper level of a big barn that served as a studio. Students were instructed in the use of all manner of materials, styles and techniques. These were children's studies, to be sure. But they were serious enough to keep up with Mary's increasing appetite to paint. By the time she was 14 years old, "I knew that I had to do it. It was like a calling from ... somewhere. And, I've never really deviated from it."
Mary first came to the Boston area to attend Wellesley College, where she earned her B.A. in art history and philosophy, graduating in 1973. At that time, “there was no studio major; there was very little in the way of figurative training. So, I just took whatever studio courses there were.”
During this period, Mary “spent a great deal of time at the Museum of Fine Arts, when it had no food, no cafeterias. You went in the Huntington Street entrance where there was one, little room that had publications; a lot of them black and white, scholarly publications. And, that was it. There was nothing commercial at all.
“In the 20s into the 30s, the Museum School used to be the great place to study classical painting. From the 30s, the 40s and 50s, everything got infiltrated much more by this kind of modernism and anything classical was thrown out.” In 1976, Mary received her M.F.A. as a painting major from Boston University. “Even at B.U., I couldn’t seem to find what I wanted.”
That was a big year for Mary Hampson; graduating, marrying Jonathan Minifie and moving to Egypt, where Jonathan had accepted a position in English Literature at Cairo American College. "We lived in a suburb of Cairo called, Ma'adi." It was a British enclave in earlier times.
"I never wanted to leave Egypt. I just adored it, there."
Two years later and it was on to Oxford, England. "We went from a place of eternal sunshine and gorgeous flowers to a place that seemed to rain most of the time; although the people were so lovely. In Cairo life goes on 24 hours a day. The streets were teeming with life. In England everyone goes home at five o'clock. It was a big adjustment. But I liked England a lot."
By 1981 the move was on to Vienna, where Jonathan taught at the American International School. Mary's claim that she spoke passable German is modest in the face of her placing tops in the nation in the language when she was in high school. The Grand Prize was a month in Germany! After four years of dark, gray Austrian winters, fed by the notorious ‘foehn’ winds, it was time to go home.
Groton Won Out
It came down to a choice between the Cate School in Santa Barbara and the Groton School. Proximity to family tipped the scales and Groton won out. In 1985 the town of Groton had all the charm it has today; the pastures, the farms, the churches and church bells but with the quieter pace of yesteryear. Prescott School, the Brick Store, the local drug stores, and hardware store were the center of town life. The only traffic Main Street ever saw was a town parade.
Groton School felt like a village within a village. Within this close-knit community, Mary and Jonathan started a family of their own. Along came Joseph, followed by Alice, and then Samuel. Sadly, Alice died at just three months, Joseph last year. “It’s not something I’m ready to talk about, yet.” But Samuel is engaged to be married; and, that’s a happy thing.
“I knew it as soon as I saw it.”
Throughout it all, her time overseas and then back in the States, Mary never stopped painting. Even as she received commissions for paintings and illustrations, Mary always added to her training. She was always seeking to be a better painter; seeking something more, some other thing in her art.
This is a key. Because one day, in 1987, at 36 years of age and, remember, she had been painting since she was eight, everything changed. Mary walked into the Francesca Anderson Gallery in Boston, and saw the paintings of Paul Ingbretson, a master artist of the Boston School of Painting. “I knewitassoonasIsawit.Itwas what I had been searching for.
“I contacted Paul, hoping he was accepting students. But, when I learned he was located all the way in Boston, and with an infant to care for, I just cried.
Then, I decided, one way or another, I was going to make it work!” Thus, began Mary’s nine-year study with Paul Ingbretson. The classical realism of the Boston School is a way of painting, not an academic institution. It focuses not on painting a thing; but, on painting the light!
Stay tuned for Part 2: Paint the Light, Fantastic – Mary Minifie
[Note: At maryminifie.com, you can see many samples of Mary’s work; including commissioned portraits of officials, adults, kids, and still life. Even better, you can see Mary’s works at the following locations, around town: “Samuel Reading Harry Potter” is on display in the Community Room, at the Groton Public Library; a portrait of “Katherine Woods” is on display at The Groton History Center’s Boutwell House – an excellent example of Mary’s earliest work; and “Peonies” is currently displayed as a part of the NOA Fine Art Gallery’s Fall / Winter Show at the Groton Inn. By the way, there will be an Artist Reception for the show on February 2, 2020, 1-4 pm.]