A lifelong artist whose accomplishments lay largely in the fine art world of painting and printmaking, Mary Lee Rybar’s inspirations come from living in Marin County, California. An outdoor enthusiast and animal lover, Mary Lee has an appreciation for the beautiful things that surround her and, through her art, captures that beauty.
“Incorporating art, design and function in everyday life is available to everyone,” she states. Whether through the gleam of an eye or a cock of the head, Mary Lee is able to identify the personalities of her subjects seemingly with ease. Her well-known renderings of animals continue in Mary Lee’s proud roosters that grace the front doors of selected Laughing Chicken Coops.
Have you always been interested in creating art? Tell us about your path.
We are all artists until we learn how not to be. Some of us just choose to hold onto that curiosity and spend time developing what’s there.
I have always been a “maker of things.” I graduated with a degree in English Literature, taught at the American School of Paris, and entered the airlines as a flight attendant, where I remained for nearly 30 years.
During my travels, I was so attracted to the dining tables of Ireland and Italy that I began importing linens and hand-painting custom napkins and tablecloths. It blossomed into a retail business and catapulted me into the fine art arena. I allowed one step to lead me to the next. One of the constants in my life is that I am always curious, and in that way I’ve developed my own aesthetic. In addition to some very worthwhile residencies, my most valuable art training has been the iconography of daily life that manifests itself in my home, my life and my work. In one way or another I have always been interested in creating but just did not know it was supposed to be as an artist.
What inspires your artwork?
Everything matters. From the intrinsic beauty of a fava bean to the fog-covered Golden Gate Bridge, I find myself most inspired by what is around me. Living in Marin County I sometimes feel like I’m cheating; right outside my door I’m transported to a wildlife preserve. Nature and beauty are abundant, and yet I’m only 25 minutes from San Francisco, a wonderful, cultural city.
I take everyday as an opportunity to make something, and often the making is more important than the actual outcome. Sometimes the practice is the inspiration.
Nature and animals are common themes of your work. Why are you drawn to those subjects?
Nature is an enigma that has held enduring attraction for artists, poets and scientists and has kept everyone busy trying to define the intangible qualities of the natural world. Animals are authentic and guileless and it gives me so much pleasure working to capture those characteristics in my art.
How did you start sketching and painting chickens for Laughing Chicken coops?
Cael Kendall, of Laughing Chicken Coops, and I were introduced by a client who was somewhat of a matchmaker. Cael does amazing things with reclaimed wood, and my client has one of my hand-painted floorcloths in his home — a vintage art form made modern. We were inspired by the barn paintings of my home state of Pennsylvania and decided to renew the traditional American art form on the entrance for the noble roasters.
Being a printmaker, I use a method of painting on a plate and then hand pressing that onto the planks to arrive at the foundation pattern. I then mix up more paint and apply the strokes of the rooster freehand. I sign each door with my personal chop and signature. I may spend an hour or two on each clucker. Harley Warrwick, the famous painter of the Mail Pouch Tobacco barn advertisements, reportedly painted 20,000 barns. I’m just getting started.
Do you keep chickens yourself? If so, what do you enjoy most about it?
I keep them in the refrigerator. They are delicious.
I am designing artful napkins, placemats and runners with talented designer Suzanne Knowlton, and I’m developing some beautiful vegetable products with food scientist Charlotte Albright.
I would like to get to yoga today. I am learning to juggle. It takes practice!
Are there other artists you admire?
Many, but to name a few: William Turner, the master of light; Wolfe Kahn’s unlikely landscapes; Nathan Oliveria, an untraditional accidental printmaker; Cy Twombly’s calligraphic musings and sculpture; Andy Warhol lithographs; and Leonardo da Vinci, the original renaissance man.
I’m also a fan of St. Francis of Assisi and his connection to the spirit of things; Leonard Cohen for reasons that I don’t quite understand; Chuck Williams for his art of living agelessly; and Polish poet, Wistawa Szymborska — I love to say her name.