Thursday, October 25, 2012

An Interview with Artist & Writer, Mary Barton Nees

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Getaway-To-Write retreat in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. In addition to having plenty of time to write, it provided a wonderful opportunity to meet some talented ladies. Today I have the wonderful privilege of introducing you to one of them. Join me in welcoming multi-talented artist and writer - Mary Barton Nees.
Maria: Thanks for joining us today, Mary. Tell us a bit about yourself: 

Mary: Thanks for this opportunity Maria! The most significant impetus in my life happened in 1970, I became a Christian when I bowed my head with a friend in my college dorm. I took Jesus at His word as the only One who ever claimed to be the way, the truth and the life.  It really all started then. A close friend had been killed near me the summer before, and I could not shake my need for truth over ultimate issues. No one (and I asked everyone I knew, including professors) had answers for the questions that drove me since that death. Jesus did not just say He knew a way, He said He alone was the way. Only His words got deep into my core: working, softening, and re-setting broken places. I know first hand the supernatural power of the Word on a prideful, calloused heart.  I sure did not want religion, but somehow, Jesus wanted me. 

These were radical years. Our campus was taken over and shut down by activists both my freshman and sophomore years. I was interested in those issues and listened to all the speeches, but at the same time my heart was awakening. I became then convinced that unless Jesus is allowed into someone’s life as Savior, all our own saving attempts will be dangerously flawed. Jesus was the true radical who changed me from within. 

I met my husband during those years and together we committed our lives to discipling other men and women wherever the risen Jesus would take us. After my husband’s theological training, we served two churches: one in New York and then one outside Philadelphia. This was all-encompassing work; this is where we grew up ourselves.  We also raised four great kids and shepherded them through all the tests of believing, and still believing in cultures that seemed not to care about God. Our favorite getaways were in the woods and on canoe trips in the Minnesota wilderness. I would always pack my watercolors for those golden days of respite.

Maria: Your background is fascinating. Especially love your statement, "Jesus was the true radical who changed me from within." Sounds like He has certainly set the stage for the work you’re currently involved in - tell us about it:

Mary: In 2003 we moved from the Northeast of the United States to North East Tennessee. The reason for the big shift was an opportunity for my husband to specialize in a larger church, being one on a staff of many. He now gets to work exclusively where his heart beats: equipping others to get involved in God’s heart for the world before our opportunity to do this as Westerners closes. We also both work for an organization that facilitates seminary level training in restricted-access nations.  At the same time, this move afforded my going back to school to gain my Master of Fine Arts degree at a local university. I have worked on the adjunct staff of this Art department, when not traveling with my husband.

Maria: You're a multi-talented lady! I know you’ve also recently completed a work of non-fiction. Give us a sneak peek into your debut book:

Mary: This past year I have spent many hours developing what I hope is a provocative primer into the core Biblical themes that repeat and progress from Genesis to Revelation. The book is only 7 chapters (with 3 appendixes) and is intended to catch the attention of people like I was before Jesus. I know there are plenty of hurting, searching folks out there; they are on my mind a lot. They are my friends. I would hope this book could be a tool to get them meaningfully into just a few key passages which can open up their heads and their hearts. That’s the idea; but whether it ever takes off besides just with my friends, I have no idea. I have over 20 queries out on this project and so far have 9 rejections.

Maria: I know rejections are part of a writer's life. I also know God has a plan for this book you've written! What do you hope your readers glean from your book?

Mary: I think like an artist, big picture themes and patterns fascinate me, and when it is Scripture: these themes are life changing. My hope would be that through looking directly at the pivotal words from the “mother of all living” that some hearts could be caught with hope. Eve models a prototype in Genesis 4 that repeats throughout the book: hope is found only by humbling ourselves before the Maker who (Himself humbly) awaits us. And this is just the beginning. The chapters move into other key patterns: the mystery of prayer, the first use of the concept of grace, the purpose of prophecy and then the unique claims of Jesus in time. Ultimately we all have a choice with these things. It’s important therefore to at least consider what is available to know about God from Scripture, before our time here is done. If we ignore the continuing echoes of the Creator, I am afraid we have already made our choice.

Maria: Sobering thoughts. I'd love to read your book. Changing gears just a little, I happen to know you are also a very talented artist. When did you begin painting? Is your artwork for sale?

Mary: I have been interested in art from earliest ages. I grew up going to the Art Institute of Chicago and remember being marked by Monet’s haystacks: right in front of me were these piles of straw that were aflame! To me, art is symbolic language that can get behind defenses and speak. That in fact is the very purpose of this mysterious thing we call beauty. Psalm 19 says that the Creator is “talking without words” through what He has made, to those who will look and listen. But in my younger years, I never imagined being a practicing artist. I went to undergraduate school to study design and environmental analysis at Cornell University. My goal was to use art effectively, practically in culture.  I worked as a product designer after college, and then a graphic artist. Later in Philadelphia I took some wonderful painting classes and learned printmaking at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. What moves me is finding ways for art to influence, to talk beyond and before words. That is a huge aspiration, I am still eager to get there!

Yes my artwork is for sale. I don’t put prices on my website purposefully because I do hope the work talks first before prices distract.  Maybe that’s silly and I am making it hard for people to buy? If someone’s really interested, they can read about me, and email me. I am preparing work now for two local shows.

Maria: Thank you for sharing pictures of some of your work with us. It's beautiful! How has your relationship with Jesus Christ impacted both your writing and artwork?

Mary: Hopefully I have answered this, but happy to say more. He is the core of what motivates me. Even before I knew His name, He was motivating and moving me. I am convinced therefore that there are others out there, who don’t look at all like they are interested in spiritual things, but whose hearts are asking very weighty questions.

Maria: So true! Share one lesson you’ve learned on your journey as an artist and writer:

Mary: I am simply following. I am exercising the equipment I already have and moving forward with it, as an expression of Him. This sounds easy, but sometimes it is the hardest fight. I doubt my ability, I argue with the time I think I have, I get pulled by many other good things on my schedule. My pride gets me all tangled up. It has taken me a long time to even come to grips with the crazy idea that doing artwork is somehow important Kingdom work. When I see how the Creator values and uses beauty, however, I am moved again to pattern after Him. Even today, I fought getting my stuff in the car and drove out to a knob on a hill to set up my easel.  As soon as I got there, the windows of my heart opened up and I relaxed. I no longer do artwork to produce a result, I work to follow Him and this is freeing me. Maybe that will soon show up in my work.

Maria: I think it already does! What words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers? 

Mary: Here’s something really beautiful I just found in a Puritan prayer, unfortunately the book I found this in, “The Valley of Vision” does not attribute authors: The words just melt me:

Thou incomprehensible but prayer hearing God,
Known, but beyond knowledge, revealed but unrevealed,
my wants and welfare draw me to Thee, for Thou hast never said “seek me in vain.”

Maria: What a beautiful prayer to meditate on today! Thank you so much for sharing your talents and your heart with us, Mary. God richly bless you as you continue your heartfelt pursuit of the Savior. 

Connect with Mary:


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