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
Staff Writer

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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

She won't reveal her parking secrets. She guards them the way a fisherman guards his favorite fishing spots.


Painting outdoors has made her a better painter. She has learned to be more observant, and has mastered techniques that allow her to paint quickly.

Among the things Byrom has learned is something the Impressionist painters learned more than a century ago. She is not painting an object, but capturing a mood, light and color.

"I am painting a zone," she said. "An object may be in it, but I am not painting that object. People think I paint boats, but it's not about boats."

Byrom can finish off an oil painting in a matter of an hour, if necessary.

She tells a story about an excursion to Five Islands in Georgetown. She had just set up her easel and begun an island scene when a man approached and told her he would buy her painting if she had it done by the time he finished his meal at a nearby restaurant.

By the time he came back, the painting was gone. Not only had Byrom finished it before he finished his meal, someone else had beat him to it.

Byrom told the tardy diner not to worry: She'd paint another if he was willing to wait another hour.

It's not unusual for her to sell paintings off the easel, with the paint still wet. That used to be difficult, because few people carried enough cash for a spontaneous purchase.

She recently bought a plug-in device that allows her to process credit cards from her iPhone.


Among her favorite spots is Bauneg Beg Mountain at the northern tip of North Berwick. She painted there during a recent winter when it was so cold her oil paints almost froze. She had to thin them to use them.

Byrom paints in the rain, in snow squalls and in the lusty weather of summer. She's not a meteorologist, but can read weather patterns as well as anyone. She checks a tide chart a week in advance to plan her excursions to the coast. Her Subaru hatchback is a portable studio; she keeps it stocked with supplies.

Curiously, Byrom attributes her desire to paint outdoors and her ability to withstand all weather conditions to an accident that happened in 1989 while she was crossing a street in Portsmouth, N.H.

She was struck by a car and hospitalized for three weeks in Boston while doctors stabilized her and prepared her for a series of surgeries on her left leg.

Her leg was crushed; her knee obliterated.

While weighing her options, a friend suggested the Chinese meditation practice of Falun Gong. She tried it, and felt better immediately.

Miraculously, she regained the ability to walk. "My doctor told me, 'Whatever you're doing, keep doing it.' "

Byrom attributes her endurance and ability to withstand brutal weather conditions to the peace of mind that she has learned from meditation.

"I am on an even keel," she said.


Byrom experienced her painting breakthrough in 2007, when she took a 10-day workshop by Western painter Scott Christensen, who lives in Utah.

He taught her basic painting rules and techniques, and things clicked.

"She's a good learner," Christensen said. "She pays attention, and she applies everything you tell her. She thinks it out and is thorough about the thought process before painting. She's a great student, and loves to keep exploring and getting better. She knows it will take a lifetime."

What Byrom learned most from the workshop was how "to paint through it." Rather than get frustrated, she learned to plow through the challenges and find solutions.

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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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