“Grief,” by Annie Mahoney, acrylic
“Grief,” by Annie Mahoney, acrylic
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I had the honor of speaking with Annie Mahoney in her home — a gracious, expansive, colorful and eclectic house in Rockland’s South End. I had visited there before, not really being aware at that time of how much of the art (that is everywhere) is hers.

We spoke a bit about her history — that she had always painted, even as a child, getting in trouble with her mother for spilling ink, but she kept at it. She came from a tough side of town, “the projects” of Pittsburgh, and little encouragement came from family for her art. Her mother did encourage her to pursue a practical career — and not marriage, as her mother’s had been so tough (Annie’s father left when she was around 6). “Freedom is not free; have your own money,” her mother said.

She went to college, first getting a BA in English, then getting a master’s degree in social work in New York, and after that she began teaching — on the way finding time to take art classes at Pratt Institute. She didn’t see art as a means of making money and chose instead to pursue her interest in social work, being inspired by the political climate and the civil rights movement. She became good at organizing and also working with people. Though she says she’s an introvert, her people skills worked well in developing social justice programs. After moving to Maine, she was involved in creating the Maine Family Crisis Center — the first center in Maine to help battered women — and later, the free clinic in Rockland.

Even though she has been in Maine for many years, she still hosts a group of kids for a week every summer, children of immigrants taking classes in photography at the Bronx Documentary Center (owned by Michael Kamber, a former New York Times war correspondent). They come from New York City to study photography and enjoy the natural beauty of Maine.

Amid her many pursuits, she did turn to writing and publishing women’s romance novels for several years.

But what about her art? On the walls of her home, I could see the vast array of varying styles and kinds of artwork that spanned decades — stained glass, quilts, mixed-media assemblages and painting. Her art has followed her or remained humming along behind the scenes. She comes to it as the need strikes her.

Mahoney has used her art often as a help in dealing with problems in her life and a way to broaden how she has dealt with loss— a subject with which she lets her imagination go.

Her landscape painting “Pittsburgh, 1940” came from an early part of her life, the place where she grew up, the steel mills, and smoke-filled air of inner-city Pittsburgh, with its gray tenement buildings, where little was green. Yet here’s a painting that is full of light — a kind of softer, gentler view of that childhood place. Streaking smoke looks like air-filled light moving through the town.

In “Grief,” there’s the sad mermaid (or is she angry?), her hand dipping into a dark sea, subdued colors in a gray landscape. This was painted after her husband died.

She showed me a notebook that was handwritten, with photos and sand and small rocks glued to the pages, that documented her travels.

A time of terrible grief — probably the worst thing in her life, she thinks — was when her son died, and she came to make a series of mixed-media pieces that helped get her through it. The “Hog Logs” series, she says, is “an homage to my son Benjamin, who had a wild nature. The books represented a means of accepting him as he was, of no longer trying to change or tame him.” The notebooks are filled with removable blank pages. Motorcycle parts are the main medium.

“You do what you are drawn to do,” she says. She is currently working on a novel and on a painting of herself, as she imagines.

Annie Mahoney’s “Hog Logs,” along with a painting of her son, are currently at Eastern Tire Garage Gallery, 70 Park Street in Rockland, as part of the group show that will be on view through October.