“I hope to bring life and excitement to a setting.” —Mary Lynn Engel


interview NANCY GORDON
photography courtesy MARY LYNN ENGEL

Artist Mary Lynn Engel.
Atlantic Living
Complicated Conversations 3
My Town close up.
Happy close up.
Dining room.
Photo: Tim Greenway
Runner close up.

Tell us a little about yourself and when you began your painting career.

I was born and raised in Chicago, married, and lived in Cleveland and we are now in our forever home of Maine. Being crafty since I was a kid, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t painting by numbers, working with clay, woodworking, appliqueing, you name it! I finally came to peace with floorcloths.

Any words of wisdom from your early career that have stayed
with you?

Do as I say, not as I do. Seriously, you must decide for yourself if your art is for yourself or if you want to be a professional artist. The former, you can do whatever you want and not worry what others say. The latter, you are working for the customer. It is relatively recent that I’ve put myself “out there” for others to critique.

Do you paint the floorcloths on the floor or a very large tabletop? Do you think your perspective would be the same if you painted them on a wall?

My first floorcloth was produced on the floor of our Cleveland attic, going up pull-down stairs. We moved to Maine and now I have my own workroom/studio with a custom table height, so no bending. Pieces have no direction, up or down etc., so keeping it one way on a wall might make it difficult—besides, I don’t have any walls big enough!

What kind of paint do you use?

All paint is acrylic, from cheap to expensive. Actually, I don’t see all that much difference in quality. What’s really important is Mod Podge! I use its different versions when working with paper, fabric or something that needs to be protected from the elements. I learned early on that polyurethane (seven coats to finish a piece) will change the color of tissue paper with a yellow cast. Not good. So, everything is covered with at least one coat of Mod Podge and the colors are sealed.

Do you use collage in any of the floorcloths?

Not collage but most assuredly decoupage. Collage has more dimension, which would make it difficult to walk on. Decoupage is layer upon layer of fabric, tissue paper, ribbon, pictures from magazines, basically anything flat that tickles my fancy. I love the visual depth.

You have such a varied hand; what is your favorite style to work in?

Have you ever heard of MacKenzie-Childs? Their work is mostly pottery and furniture with checks, bold colors and somewhat dramatic combinations of fabric. I don’t try and copy, but especially in the beginning I saw a resemblance. Now it’s more MLE (me).

How did you become interested in floorcloths as a medium?

I enjoyed making applique wall hangings until I ran out of walls. Then I saw an article in the Cleveland paper on floorcloths and thought “I can do that!” I bought a book and the rest is history, as they say.

What is your inspiration for the paintings and designs? What type of reference do you use: Sketches? Photos? Memory? Imagination?

With few exceptions, every piece has checks, buildings, people and flowers, prominent or not. I prepare a piece of canvas, put some grid lines and then… start. Often starting with painting buildings, then adding on until it looks right to me. Unless it’s a commission, I have no sketch
or plans. Probably wouldn’t be able to tell the finished from the original anyway.

What do you take from the décor of a room?

It’s not just the décor of a room but also a conversation with the client
on their likes and dislikes: colors, animals, shapes, style, favorite places, you name it. Each piece is different so must relate to the persons living with it.

Does each floorcloth tell a story? If so, can you give a couple of examples?

To me, yes; to the viewer, I can only hope. Complicated Conversations and Community were created around feeling the anxiety of current political and emotional angst. They are nonpolitical but show people
of all sorts interacting—or not.

Your floorcloths are like paintings. Do you find that it takes people some adjustment to get used to walking on paintings?

Use of floorcloths with nontraditional motifs is difficult for many people to internalize. They are to walk on! Every day! Cats and dogs included! They are practical, easy to clean, great for people with mobility issues and better than carpeting in the age of the virus. I put them on the
floor during a show and people are careful to walk around them. Makes me smile.

What does being an artist mean to you?

An interesting question because I tend to shy away from that moniker. I had always created for myself and didn’t worry what others thought. Now, by promoting my work, I’m opening myself up for others’ opinions and critique, welcomed or not. I was very proud to be called “professor” for years—having been a professor in the business department of Saint Joseph's College in Standish for many years; now I think I’d be proud to be called “artist.”

What do you hope to give people through your floorcloths?

I hope to bring life and excitement to a setting. Something that is custom-made to the owner’s individual taste and that no one can copy or compare.

. . .

Favorite …
Comfort food and time of day or night you most enjoy eating it?
Soooooo easy—Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Nuggets. Must be
at room temp so they can melt in my mouth. Every time and
place is an appropriate Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Nuggets time.

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