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Mary Michael Shelley

Folk Art Americana Painted Wood Carvings

One of a kind and original artwork.


I started to carve and paint my folk art americana art work when I was 23. My father (who was a commercial artist and ingenious with his hands) and my grandmother (who was Pennsylvania Dutch and always had ten art projects going on concurrently) had great influence as far as my knowing from a young age that I wanted to be an artist. However, I believed I did not have talent as a visual artist. Instead, I went to Cornell University to be a writer.

When I graduated, I found various reasons to stay in Ithaca, not the least of which was that I was working with the local historical society to save Clinton House, a large Greek revival hotel located in downtown Ithaca. I wanted to learn carpentry skills so, in 1973, when my father sent me a painted woodcarving that he made, I was inspired to carve and paint as well. I got such immediate positive response to my visual artwork that within one year I had stopped writing and was solely doing painted woodcarvings.

I am entirely self taught as an artist, having had no formal arts education. I worked for fourteen years as a signpainter and a carpenter, and the learning of these trades gave me skills I could also use as an artist.

A number of people in my family have made their living through the use of their hands and have inspired me to do the same. My father worked as a commercial artist with a side interest in patent tool models, and clocks. My father's  grandfather was an inventor, holding a patent on, among other things, the pushbutton umbrella. My grandmother had her own woodshop, made hooked rugs, needlepoint and paintings. My grandmother's father who was a tile mason in Philadelphia, Pa. Many of my tools were passed down to me through the family,  including my studio work bench where I do all my carving.

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time in the Florida Keys, where my grandparents had a house. One time when my parents were there, they went to Key West and ended up buying a painted carving done by Mario Sanchez, a folk artist who worked in Key West. This carving was the inspiration for my father doing the painted woodcarving that started me on the road to making my own painted and carved artwork.

Regarding subject matter that inspires me, my mother has a great zest for life, and perhaps this is why I try to focus my work on the joyous and the upbeat. There’s too much in life that is dreary. I use my artwork to remind me of the good things in life.

Here are three pictures of painted woodcarvings done by my father:

Duke Shelley, Painted folk art woodcarving, "Shelley Family Homestead"

Duke Shelley, Painted folk art woodcarving, "What Next?"

Duke Shelley, Painted folk art woodcarving. "There is no Free Lunch"



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