May 26, 2013

Artist Mary Byrom captures the always changing natural world

Mary Byrom is a leader among Maine painters who brave any weather, year-round, to capture the always changing natural world.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

OGUNQUIT — It happens to be a beautiful day.

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“Marsh Islands,” by Mary Byrom

Courtesy of the artist

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“Mothers Beach,” by Mary Byrom

Courtesy of the artist

Additional Photos Below

Most of the people on the ocean side of Footbridge Beach think that's a good thing. Mary Byrom thinks maybe not.

"With any luck," she said, pausing at her tripod painting easel, "it will cloud up before the tide comes in."

As she spoke, Byrom stood on the dune side of the beach, away from the sun seekers. They walked past her in T-shirts, sandals and shorts, lugging lawn chairs across the picturesque wooden bridge to the sun-splashed sand on the other side.

Many offered curious glances at the painter, who perched just south of the bridge standing in sloppy dune grass and muck, dressed in two layers of fleece and a nylon jacket splashed with oil paint. She wore heavy shoes and a large-brimmed hat tied tightly under her chin.

A long ponytail reached down her back.

"I was going to go to the beach for low tide, but the sand was bad," she said. "The sand wasn't holding the reflection. So I came here to the back side of the marsh and the dunes. I like how the trees in the distance are dark and backlit. The river is doing kind of a pattern here."

The tidal river stretched out before her, dividing the marsh from the dunes. The near-midday sun reflected on the water rippled by the wind and tugged by the current of an incoming tide.

Byrom, who lives in North Berwick, is among a hardy group of artists who enjoy painting outdoors. She appreciates good weather as much as anyone, and clear, blue skies are sometimes great for painting and for her mood.

But the haze, fog and clouds make for much more dramatic paintings, she said.

In the painting world, Byrom is known as a plein air painter.

"En plein air" is a French term that means "in the open air." Painting outdoors is an age-old tradition that dates back hundreds of years. It was made popular by the French painters of the 19th century who subscribed to the Barbizon school and Impressionist style of painting.

Artists such as Monet and Renoir advocated painting outdoors to capture the immediacy of the environment.

A 30-year painter, Byrom has painted outdoors for the better part of the past decade. She likes the challenge of painting on location.

"There's a certain breed of people who paint en plein air. It's very difficult," she said. "Conditions change all the time. The weather is changing, the light is changing. If you're on the ocean, the tide is changing. You're painting a boat, and then someone drives it away. I was painting a tree one time, and someone came and cut it down."

Byrom leads the Plein Air Painters of Southern Maine. The group has a few hundred members, and includes professionals and hobbyists.

Byrom is among the most dedicated. She paints outside year-round in all conditions, several days a week.

Generally, her circuit stretches from Cape Ann in Massachusetts to the Maine midcoast and inland into New Hampshire.

She spends a lot of time on the coast, because seascapes and marsh scenes seem to be what people are most interested in buying.

But she loves heading into the mountains and farms of western Maine, especially in the fall.

In the winter, she often paints alone, or with a very small group of friends. During those cold solo months, she knows she can count on one group to keep her company.

"The dog people are the people we see in any weather. Dogs and sometimes horses, and that's about it."

In the early days of spring, the artists go all over, because parking is plentiful and free. But once the warm weather kicks in and municipalities restrict parking, finding good places to paint is challenging. Byrom refuses to pay for parking, and goes to spots where she knows she can park for free.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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“Salt Meadow” by Mary Byrom

Courtesy of the artist

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“Storm Surf,” an oil painting by Byrom, who makes hundreds of paintings a year.

Courtesy of the artist

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Mary Byrom paints near Ogunquit’s Footbridge Beach on a recent morning. A dedicated plein air artist – one of a hardy group who enjoys working outdoors – Byrom likes the challenge of painting in all weather conditions. She says plein air work has made her more observant and has forced her to learn to paint quickly.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Mary Byrom says that although she appreciates painting without interruption, she sees herself as something of an art ambassador and takes time to talk to people who have questions about what she is doing when she is on location.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

  


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