Mary Michael Shelly, Self-Taught Artist

I am commonly referred to as a folk artist, although I feel most comfortable with the term “self-taught”. I was born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in l950. My father (who was a commercial artist and ingenious with his hands) and my grandmother (who was Pennsylvania Dutch and always had 10 art projects going on concurrently) had great influence on me as far as my knowing from a young age that I wanted to be an artist. However, I believed I did not have the talent to be a visual artist. Instead, I went to college to be a writer.

In 1973, when I was 23, my father sent me a painted low-relief woodcarving he had done of me as a young girl at the farm where I grew up. I thought this picture was wonderful and, as a way of relaxing after writing, I also began to carve/paint. I got such immediate response to my visual artwork that within one year I had stopped writing and was solely doing painted woodcarvings.

My work is entirely carved on rough-cut white pine. I use no glued-on pieces. A batten is fastened on the back to prevent warping. Most of my pieces are carved on four quarter (1˝ thick) stock. I paint all my work with acrylics, sealing them front and back (again to prevent warping) with an acrylic varnish. An inner gold-leafed frame completes the look of each piece.

As I do a piece I become entirely absorbed in it, but once it is finished and gone I get wholeheartedly into the next piece.

In the past 26 years I have completed approximately 500 carved and painted wood reliefs. For 14 of those years I supplemented my art income by working as a sign painter, as well as by building my own house. As a carver I experience a sense of isolation because I work alone. So I like to think of my pictures going to live with people I do not know and becoming a part of their lives.

Mary has pieces of her work in permanent collections throughout the world. Some of locations include The Smithsonian Institute, the American Museum in Britian, Texaco Corporate Collection, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and more.

You can contact Mary Michael Shelley by visiting her website at or by calling (607) 272-5700.

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