The work before the masterpiece

National artist, Mary Carothers, jurors art show and presents own pieces

Timothy Spierings

More stories from Timothy Spierings


Photo by Lauren Spierings

Carothers also works as an art professor at the University of Louisville.

Not many people have spent time in the Arctic Circle for the sake of art or have frozen a car as a statement piece. Mary Carothers, a nationally-known artist, said she is an exception.

Acting as a juror for the 62nd Annual Juried Student Art Show, Carothers visited Haas Fine Arts Center on Friday, March 22 to present some of her recent art pieces.

Susan O’Brien, a professor of art and design at UW-Eau Claire, opened the presentation by explaining how Carothers first met O’Brien in a gas station in Montana roughly 20 years ago. The the two had been friends ever since, and their friendship was why Carothers had visited that day, O’Brien said.

“I pull into a 7/11 and there’s this car,” O’Brien said. “This car has bullet holes in it, and it’s got a stenciled-on, lady on a tractor, it’s got door knobs sautered on the top hood, with horns strapped on as the hood ornament, and it’s got all kinds of baubles and dabbles and fuzzy shag carpet on it. And I’m just like, ‘This is an art car!’”

The car, which Carothers named Ethyl, was linked to an art project that Carothers had undertaken in New York Mills, Minnesota, which was conducted entirely through a mail correspondence between Carothers and the town cultural center curator, Kent Scheer.

This, Carothers said, left many people curious about her.

“Some of them were convinced that I was a team of artists from Minneapolis that had created an identity called ‘Mary,’“ Carothers said.

In 2013, Carothers took on the The Frozen Car Project at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, to promote conversations about fuel research and climate topics.

Through interaction with a local townsperson, Carothers and her team discovered there was a mineral museum that is prominent to the history of Houghton. After visiting the museum, the team decided to incorporate elements of mineral features to the sculpture.

“I admire Mary’s effort in focusing on the environment and its impacts and history on the surrounding community,” Emilee Borowski, a first-year marketing student, said. “The mediums she chose are very unique and are intricately woven into the themes.”

Carothers said her inspiration for the commission, “Floating Seeds,” came from the landscape surrounding the hospital where the piece would be displayed. It incorporated 600 seed samples from various people in the surrounding area, and the parts were hung to reflect the path of the Ohio River nearby.

Another piece required Carothers to spend a summer in the Arctic Circle, drawing inspiration from the towns and schooners surrounding her, she said.

One particularly popular commission of Carothers is known today as “Beneath The Surface.”

In the piece, Carothers used molds of porcelain door knobs to tell the stories of home and community in Louisville’s past on a riverfront location as a commission for the Louisville Metro Government Commission on Public Art, Carothers said.

“A lot of my background is in photography even though I work very sculpturally,” Carothers said. “So when I’m working at any project, I’m always looking for what I’d call ‘iconic moments’ or ‘poetic details’ that, for me, strike at the essence of something.”

The 62nd Annual Juried Student Art Show submissions can be found in the Foster Gallery in Haas. It will be on display from April 8 to April 24. Awards for the exhibition will be given at a reception on Thursday, April 11 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Spierings can be reached at [email protected].