At first blush it seems unlikely that painter, Mary Abdoo, would choose winter scenes as the primary inspiration for her work. She was born in the tropical nation of the Dominican Republic, which is on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. In 1960 Mary met and fell in love with Peter who traveled to Dominican Republic from Detroit. Their families were friends, but the pair had never met. In just three short days they married and over the next few months corresponded by mail. After their church wedding Mary moved with Peter to his home in Michigan. She enjoyed the changing seasons in Michigan. The young bride had never seen snow and was shocked to discover it was much colder than the fluffy white stuff she had always admired in movies.
Now, at age 93, Mary insists her tropical blood still hasn’t adjusted to the cold, yet she’s still in love with the wonderland that is Michigan in the winter. The natural beauty of snowy scenes permeates her work. While she enjoys painting on canvas, this Grand Rapids-based artist has also been drawn to other, more unique mediums like wood, china, candles, and most prominently, Christmas ornaments. Mary has been creating tiny, magical scenes on ornaments for over 40 years. Even at age 93 she still paints about 50 ornaments and candles per holiday season. Each is a stunning creation that is sure to become a keepsake for generations. In fact, her intricate work is displayed in homes all over the world. This season you can find some of these treasured pieces available for purchase at My Sweet Peony, 2795 Orange Ave SE in Grand Rapids.
BMN: How old were you when you first discovered your passion for painting, and what kinds of subjects inspired you as a child?
MARY: I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. Even as a little girl in school in Dominican Republic I would always draw little houses and trees and scenes in the back of my notebooks. When the teacher was talking I was drawing in my “copybooks.”
BMN: How and when did you know you had a special gift for art?
MARY: I’ve just always loved painting and was given sets of colored pencils, paints and watercolors by my father. I don’t know if any teachers really encouraged me, it was just something I loved to do so I did it. The nuns used to make me be the model for murals they would paint of the angels and I think I liked to draw more than I enjoyed posing as the model!
BMN: Of all the art forms, what is it about painting that speaks to you most?
MARY: I get inspired by a beautiful scene in my head and I enjoy translating it with paint to the canvas or candle or ornament so that I can share that pretty vision with others. I’ve been overwhelmed with the positive response to my work, and have received so many lovely thank you notes from all over the world.
BMN: How did the idea of painting on ornaments come about?
MARY: I really can’t remember. I think one year we were decorating the tree and I thought, “Some of these balls seem kind of plain.”
BMN: What is it about winter scenes that makes it the basis for so much of your work?
MARY: I have always loved winter scenes. Even as a child I would draw little houses and trees covered in snow. There is something magical about snowy winter scenes.
BMN: What are your favorite places in Michigan where you find inspiration?
MARY: Well the inspiration is a lot of times in my mind. But every year we travel up north and we would take little vacations in Traverse City and Charlevoix. The scenery is just beautiful. Many people over the years have commissioned me to paint their homes or cottages on candles and ornaments.
BMN: What advice do you have for young artists?
MARY: Just keep doing what you love. If you are inspired to fill your notebooks with art – just keep going.