(CHESTER, NY) On Thursday, February 20, 2020, Orange County Arts Council visited the Chester studio of oil and woodcut block artist Mary Altobelli. The visit was sponsored by OCAC’s Arts Outreach Committee. Thirty members came along to hear Mary discuss her work and its inspiration.
Mary’s interest in art began at an early age. After deciding to pursue a career in the arts, she managed to pay her own way through school, eventually receiving her bachelor’s degree in art history from Empire State College. She also attended Pratt Institute and Rockland Community College. With a grant she received to study in Germany, she focused on Expressionist painting and Bauhaus design.
As she listens to Vivaldi or The Who, Mary dips her brush into her palette of bright and bold colors. One might notice streaks of oils decorating the sides of beams in the former barn that now serves as her studio. “I’ve been known to dance as I paint,” Mary confesses. “But it gives me such joy that it just seems to happen.” A foot-high mound of color, covering a buried palette that rests on a worktable also attracts attention. “I visited Edvard Munch’s studio, and I noticed he never seemed to clean off his palette. That inspired me to follow his example.”
When asked to talk about some of her favorite pieces of work, Mary pulls out an oil painting of a young woman. Painted in dark reds, oranges and black, it reveals the face of a troubled young woman, her eyes filled with worry. “She was an intern of mine and had a lot going on. Her life was hard and she faced many challenges. But we kept in touch. A few years later, she resolved a lot of her past issues and was living a much happier life. So I painted her again. I love to compare the two. Mary turns around another canvas. This time, a happy woman, all smiles with bright eyes, is painted in vibrant reds and yellow. The difference is stunning.
As a resident of Chester for over thirty-seven years, Mary is very involved in the community. She recently organized an arts group, Village of Chester Arts (VOCA), taught master classes at Newburgh and Minisink school districts and is actively seeking to save the Dutchess Quarry paleolithic caves. She’s also been a member of the Seligmann Foundation, The Piermont Flywheel Gallery and participated annually at the DuskLit performance art event in Sugar Loaf.
Her artistic method is organic and passionate as she goes with the “flow” of the art rather than trying to force an agenda. Her paintings, while not completely abstract, speak to the emotional responses to the world and people around her.
“As a creative person, I am always inspired by a sense of place,” said Mary. “This applies whether I am overlooking the black dirt fields of Chester, New York, the gardens of Locust Grove, the hills of northern New Jersey or the exotic waterfalls of Panama. I am humbled by the diversity on our planet and excited each time I take brush and paint to canvas.”
For more information on Orange County Arts Council community grants, open studios or all other programming, please visit our website at www.ocartscouncil.org.