surviving the world

A Day to Celebrate Mary Hambleton

Please save the date - May 10th at 3 pm

The Brotherhood Synagogue

28 Gramercy Park S
New York, NY 10003
(212) 674-5750

Followed by a show of Mary's work and reception at 5 pm at Max Protetch Gallery

Max Protetch Gallery

511 W 22nd St
New York, NY 10011
(212) 633-6999

"Surviving the world" was the title of Mary's first blog entry on her new web site in 2008.

Mary was diagnosed with advanced melanoma in June of 2002. She defied the odds, living a full life, though a challenging one, until Jan. 9, 2009. In those 6 plus years she had several one person shows, taught, traveled, received a Guggenheim, two Pollock-Krasners, a Gottlieb, and a Fellowship to Ballinglen Foundation in Ireland.

Strikingly, her work began to chronicle her journey of living with this disease... starting with the use of images of extinct species, and then, later, images from the innumerable scans of her body. Some of these may be seen on her website.

Mary never let her illness define her, but chose to define it instead by transforming it into art. As her own energy waned in these past few years, she took the scans of the disease that would ultimately take her, and she turned those into striking and profound images. In that sense, she had the last word, because here is her body of work - living poignant entities that tell the story of who she was.

In addition to the legacy of her work, Mary left many students and colleagues in the art world who cherished her generous, funny, and compassionate embrace of them.
- Ken Buhler

Please post your memories of Mary. You may also email images for posting to:


Anonymous said...

A few years after Mary was diagnosed with cancer, by chance, we discovered that Mary's work had been included in a beautiful book called "Sister Wendy's Book of Meditations". In this beautifully illustrated inspirational book, Sister Wendy Beckett, a contemplative nun and lover of art,(well-known for her books and her BBC and PBS television art series), shares her insights into the many levels of sacred meaning that can be discovered in art. What follows is what she wrote about "Ascent", a 1987 painting by Mary. The essay is entitled "Realm of Bliss"

"All abstract art is different, and it is pointless to generalize. But there is a certain strain that consistently reappears, where the artist seems to be painting from pure bliss. Hambleton's 'Ascent' shows two parts of a richly colored circle, rayed with light, too vast for the canvas. Ruthlessly bisecting these segments is a rectangle, a whiteness flecked with covert and secret forms, half luminous, half obscure. The rectangle rises and then is abruptly curtailed as the canvas finishes. Yet somehow, the ascent continues "out there." in that real world to which joy gives us a temporary entrance."

Anonymous said...

Love that you did this Ken. It's great.
Loved Jake's animated film!

Anonymous said...

What a great thing you've done, Ken! I'm so happy to have a blog I want to read! And I'm so glad to know that about Sister Wendy writing about Mary's work: it makes so much sense that she would find Mary since she has about the best nose for art of anyone around.

Anonymous said...

"Yet somehow, the ascent continues "out there." in that real world to which joy gives us a temporary entrance." What a brilliant way to talk about Mary's work. Mary's whole being gave us temporary entrance to the real world. I think about that a lot in terms of our friendship. Mary always gave me a way to see beyond the confines of my experience. When Jake was born two weeks before Sadie, I had a rush of jealously. Mary laughed at me. She thought I was crazy. I had two more weeks of being in charge of my own body, she said. She never let me live that down whenever competitiveness reared it's ugly head.
Mary's modesty about her supreme talents was one of her true charms. She never let herself succumb to the voice of ego. Her grounded-ness in life and art was its own form of ambition, and she worked hard to help her friends move in this direction with her. When she came out to Davis to give a lecture a couple of years ago Ken had to convince her to read the quote from Sister Wendy during her talk (since she was a bit shy about doing so). What Ken really had in mind was Mary combining it with an impression of Sister Wendy's endearing toothy British accent while she read it. Two things about this resonate for me. One, Mary's reluctance to brag...ever....and two, the beauty and generosity of Ken's advocacy of Marys talent, his genuine pleasure of basking in the glow of Mary's shining moments. I saw this same relationship phenomenon reversed in Pont-Aven France, where Mary delivered another lecture as part of a month-long teaching gig we did together. Mary was asked about the ways in which her work was influenced by Ken's and visa versa. Mary quickly shifted to the subject of Ken's amazing grasp of color, and talked about his work with such depth and eloquence. I remember something she said about the downside of caring too much about each other's work...she described her exhilaration over a particular stage or quality Ken had achieved in a painting one day, only to have it replaced by the feeling of loss over its obliteration later that day. She laughed as she cautioned others to mind their own (studio) business for their own good.
I am going to post a link for that talk if I can, so beautiful and funny. I am going to post this now, because I am afraid of losing what I have written due to my agonizingly long pauses between words.
Thank you Ken, for giving us yet another place to bask in Mary's warm glow.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful way to remember Mary. She started it and it will continue to grow. She was never one to give in to despair or negativity. I always think of her Dodos and Jake's film sums it up perfectly. I had hoped we could have another show and when I spoke to her a couple of months ago it seemed she was still at work. In my little back room at the gallery all of her works are hanging and it does feel like a bit of her is here.

Anonymous said...

When I think of Mary I think of stripes. She wore them on her feet and on her sleeves. They showed up in her painting. We once went to a yoga class where Mary wore turquoise and white stripped leggings over tights, she pealed them off as I teased her mercilessly, Her studio on Front street was a sporadic flood sight. Mary clunked around in clogs and Dr, scholls cooking and painting, She had a library in her bathroom and Adolph in her bed.

I'm remembering paella for 10 and whole fishes that wouldn’t fit in the oven. We were at the end of the island and it felt for a short time like it was ours, I had moved to this outpost only to find a best friend upstairs, With nothing around except for a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, we ordered in roasted whole chicken's from John's coffee shop. What a great time. We were so young, Joanne Freeman

Anonymous said...

January 14, 2009

I still haven’t found out the name of the amazing woodpecker that visited me on Sunday while everyone was gathering at Bergen Street. His wife came too—she was without the blazing red on his head and throat—but with the same fabulous white dots on her black feathers. Also hues of grey. So Mary-like.

Beautiful card from a very special friend in St. Michael’s: “Whatever you love, you are.”

Days go by somewhat blur-like. Thank God for homeschooling and for piano students. I had a student on Saturday evening, a Muslim kid who’s just been hired to play for a Methodist church on Sundays. His Egyptian hairdresser mother, perfectly, sexily coiffed, rushed him over for last minute help. The music he’d been given to learn was harmonically simple and so comforting and sweet- sort of gospel-ish, meant to be swung a bit. The piano just sounded like heaven after the week at
Sloane Kettering where the only music came from our own hoarse throats. I kept him for an hour and a half. As she fumbled through her cash, I thought, “I should be paying you.”

Today the mail also included a card from England—a photo of two empty boats at rest on a fjord in Scotland. Beautiful, tropical colors Mary loved. The card’s from a Boister fan, a Frenchman, who writes every year. This year I hadn’t heard from him and was so nervous he might be dead. I’d sent him a copy of “Some Moths” and it came back. He goes in and out of the hospital for a “nervous condition” and struggles with staying employed. His letters smell like cigars. He once sent me a gorgeous Schutz cd- another time, John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera. The card felt like such a happy omen, especially since it crossed in the mail with my second attempt to send him the Moths disc. I know he has Mary’s elephant in his apartment now and is happily listening.

Now my students named after mountains in Washington are here: Fraser and Rainier Hood.

Anonymous said...

When I turned 60, Mary gave me a wonderful 12" "Magic Wand" that she lovingly made from aluminum foil. And often through the past 6 years, I would hold it in my hand and wish that there really was a magical way to make Mary all better.

Anonymous said...

The photo at the top of Mary and Jake was taken at our house the day after Thanksgiving where we gathered for a second feast with Ken, Jake, little Merrell, my sister and niece. Mary, Ken and Jake had had Thanksgiving dinner in Philadelphia the day before at Caroline's house with their wonderful extended family and a great time was had by all. But Mary especially wanted us to get together that next day. Merrell had just returned from Brazil the night before and was very happy about the gathering, thinking she had missed Thanksgiving altogether. Since Mary was eager and I had bought a turkey for said feast, I figured that if Mary can do it, so can I. It turned out to be a warm and wonderful evening. Imagine Mary’s spirit and energy, especially this year, to be able to handle two Thanksgivings in a row.

The day that Mary died I made a painting on paper, crying my heart out onto/into the watercolors. I call it “Goodbye Boogie”, Boogie being the nickname that my daughter Molly and I have always had for her. It was the name that Molly, 3 at the time, gave Mary in 1982 when I hired Mary, a painter younger than myself, to be my nanny. I have wonderful memories of Mary from that time. Mary came to the Cape with us that summer. I painted all morning while Mary took care of Molly and Mary painted in the afternoon when I would take over. Then we often sat around in the evening eating raw oysters, with Molly saying “more ersters Mary” and downing them like an old pro. Mary was always cooking wonderfully healthy meals for Molly, hiding the zucchini and other veggies in fabulous casseroles. Molly loved Mary dearly. The two of them were close for 27 years.

I miss Mary every day, still not able to believe she’s gone.
Love you always Boogie.

Anonymous said...

Continuing on my mother's memories, here's some of mine.
Our last visit. As she adjusted herself in her elegant easy chair, her toes (inside fat, cozy socks) touched the inside of a large tea cup for a moment. We looked at each other and had a good chuckle. That was Mary, always able to have a good laugh about anything, herself included.
And then we talked, her with a ponderous and curious voice. So inquisitive and dream like, her voice. Rich and round like a good red wine.
She could carry a story on her voice alone. And she had the ability to make you feel you belonged in every one of her tales.
She made me feel very special every time....I was one of her flower girls at her and Ken's wedding all those years ago. Running around on her parent’s estate, her loving and eccentric family all around me. Mary conveying many insights in her eyes alone. Mary was one of the most compassionate souls of all time....
I remember her bracelets always elegant and dangling around her wrists that branched off into slightly stubby but articulate fingers. Her bracelets made music as she gestured with her hands. On the last visit I had with her, she wasn't wearing her bracelets. This made me sad, because to me, it meant she was letting go. But her vibrant life-force and all the love, irony and wisdom that made Mary who she was, stayed with her until the end....and continues to sing in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Some pictures you can’t get enough of. For me it’s the picture of Mary and Jake at the top of this blog.

I was glad to read a bit more about that photo from Joan's message. There is something so honest and true in that picture. I can feel the long wear of fatigue and effort, but also the steady tenacious love of mother and son. They remind me of beautiful lions resting in a den.

The other day I was looking at the photo, and I noticed the circular halo around Mary and Jake – it’s as if we’re seeing them through an opening in one of Mary’s luminous dots. Even more perfect.

Ken asked me to post the note I wrote to him the afternoon that Mary’s circle of loved ones was drawn close together. So here it is…

….It was very hard to be here in Michigan that day. I pictured friends and family gathered together in the warmth of Mary love and wit.

That afternoon, when I wanted to be there instead of here, I took a winter walk. It was a snowy grey afternoon. The kind where most usual activity stops. Everything was covered in a thick blanket. The world was a hush, the air thick with galaxies of snowflakes. Everything was muted and filtered with a lacy, milky whiteness. And just as I was padding my way up over our hill it dawned on me that, in that very moment, I was surrounded everywhere by dots. I had walked my way into one of Mary's paintings. All those snow flakes -- huge ones near my face, tiny ones flying in the distance-- were DOTS. I felt suddenly and lovingly enveloped by Mary's dots. Beautiful particles of being, swirling all around me. Galaxies upon galaxies of tenderness and mystery and playfulness, moving in loveliest of rhythms. Tears flowed, walking in this world of Mary's beauty, feeling her soulful, wry, radiant, compassionate vision. It was stunning and funny and perfect.



PS: Jake, I love your animation.

Anonymous said...

In the spring of 1990 I visited Mary Hambleton’s studio. There was a painting, Misericordia that I truly fell in love with. Misericordia was destined for a show at Knoedler Gallery in London, where it ended up being the announcement piece. When I received the announcement for the show, I decided that I really had to own the painting. So I called Pamela Auchincloss who helped me to buy it from Knoedler.

Miseracordia lives in our bedroom and I look at it carefully almost daily. After nearly 20 years I am still in love with this painting. While Misericordia is “abstract”, it clearly references Renaissance alter pieces, and while the references are by no means literal, what I see and feel is the miracle of the Creation made palpable.

Misericordia could only have been made by a deeply spiritual person. For me it has the same kind of resonance as a Madonna and Child by Duccio or Piero della Francesca. I remember sharing this with Mary at an opening one evening. Mary came close, cupped her hand next to my ear and with a wry grin and a wink whispered: “Ssshhh, don’t tell anyone.”

-Bob Gilson

Anonymous said...

Mary 'n Ken, and, a little later, Mary 'n Ken 'n Jake, were at the heart of our dozen or more joyful summers in the Catskills: dinners at our cabin in Franklin, together with Max and his folks, a big bonfire, lovely sunsets, a trip over to their house to see Mary's splendid garden and her studio, with always new and delicate square boxes, so much "her", so distinctive and provocative, often arranged in interesting groups on the wall.

Mary 'n Ken were always "young", fresh and delicious. It is ridiculous to think her gone. It'll take a while for it to sink in.

Anonymous said...

I just revisted a beautiful interview that Ron Janowich conducted with Mary in March 2004 in the Brooklyn Rail.
Here is a link for that interview if you want to read or re-read it:
To me it is full of the nuances of Mary's deep understanding of the ebb and flow of life.
She says:
" I've always been fascinated by science and the aesthetics of science, how everything breaks down into beautiful parts - cells, molecules, genetic mapping. There has always been a grappling in my work with the philosophies of life - of living and dying, presence and non presence, being and non-being. Where did we come from and where do we go from here? The theory of quantum physics has fascinated me for years and it enters my work subtly, not in any formal way. It's amazing that every part of our world and us can be broken down into nothingness. We are nothing more than particles and waves."
So comforting to think that her energy and life force have taken on another form, and that she thought about this.

bka said...

The Pause Between Words

[for Mary Hambleton]

The spirit of peace in the Masonville barn -
silence in the kitchen; now bees humming
enfolded in blaze orange cloaks of nasturtium
torn from the vine and soon to festoon
green salads of spring on the screened-in porch.

Your father's Phoenix Theater where
I put my foot through the ceiling,
exploring attic girders when I was ten,
a child in the tunnel of the sandhogs,
as you in the tunnel of the m.r.i.'s,
find the thimble in Alice's pocket,
exit the Dodo's race and enter into
the new Wonderland.

In autumn I'm too shy to look at the bright
Trinity of your family - three whole, holy
on a couch in the Delaware County -
lighting the room with such love!
It will not be extinguished
by tears.

Winter. I cherish this beauty of peace
on the cusp of infinity
with every breath
since the news
of your Life.


Anonymous said...

I was Mary's student long time ago. She was tough but always encourage me to be a better artist. I just really miss her.. really.

Ken Buhler said...

That is a lovely poem. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

it has been more than several years since this blog has been visited. I think of Mary quite a bit actually. In a way, very differently than most of the above comments, as I did not follow her to New York, we were roomates while at the San Francisco Art Institute, and for many years after, best friends. We visited each other back and forth fo a decade....Front Street, Little Italy, Tribeca..I remember all her studios and all her stages of paintings .I have a batch of long handwritten letters, and a lot of memories of youth, not the art world shared, although we shared this from a far. Then we lost contact after she met her husband to be,
Ken. Many years went by, and I contacted her via the internet. She had cancer by then...I was shocked. We had some time together before she died. I often go back to the days when we were in our early twenties....never suspecting that one of us would be gone so soon. She was a part of my life that I cherish, and I am sure that she is cherished wherever she is now, by many souls.
xox Deborah Silver

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