Charleston fine artist Mary L. Hoffman shares her lifelong journey to a flourishing career that, today, includes a wide-ranging portfolio of professional work and ownership of Mary Hoffman Fine Art.
“My father always told me that ever since I could hold a pencil in my hand, I was drawing something—on scraps of paper or anything I could find. And my earliest childhood memory was, when being asked at a family gathering what I wanted to be when I grew up, answering, ‘I want to be an artist.’ Even then, I knew I wanted to express myself artistically,” she says.
Later, noticing that she had a genuine interest and talent, a high school art teacher set the stage for the fledgling artist to apply to, and eventually partake in, a five-year foundational program at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Over the years, one thing led to another, as things often do. Participation in fine art exhibits and painting realistic portraits brought numerous commissions. Art shows resulted in awards. Teaching stints at local community colleges in Hilton Head helped fine-tune skills, including hers.
Ultimately, painting en plein air (French for painting out in the open air) with other artists proved a most important and ongoing learning ground. “It is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, outside in real time, with challenging lighting from the sun, shadows, clouds, that constantly changes the look of something,” she says. “Experiencing the synergy and energy of getting with and learning from other artists helps enhance my work by infusing a new level of awareness of color and shapes and how to put paint on canvas in the quickest way. It’s helped me grow as an artist.”
When she is not painting plein air—which she tries to do every week—Hoffman paints and shows her accumulated collection of work to potential customers in a home studio in Summerville. People come to her from all over, having seen her work at art shows, which she takes part in regularly—her most recent showing was at the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition in Downtown Charleston’s Marion Square—or via her website and social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram).
Of course, word gets around from those who have sat with Hoffman for portraits as well, which, like most of her work, are oil paintings on linen canvas. “I paint everyone, from older women to kids and even pets, live in my studio or from photographs,” she says, although she prefers painting “from life,” which allows her to interact with subjects and inject and reflect their personalities into the work. Portraits can take anywhere from an hour and a half to several hours, depending on the individual situation and subject. Portraits, especially of pets, she notes, may also be painted from photo references. Commissions are, of course, welcome.
During the downtime brought on by the recent pandemic, Hoffman found herself painting still lifes she set up in her studio or from reference material she had previously collected out in the field. “I painted lots of florals,” she relates with a wry laugh. A collection may now be viewed on her website, and, in addition to florals arranged in various vases and other vessels—Dried Hydrangeas and Lemons, for instance—still lifes may also include creatures such as swans and beautifully striking objects such as a silver tea service.
Naturally, Hoffman has also accumulated an impressive collection of plein air paintings, most of which were developed on location (in rare instances, some were finished or “formalized” in her studio). Water is a recurring element in the natural settings and most evoke a particular sense of calm. Just as the artist herself does.
Linda Hayes is an Aspen, Colorado-based freelance writer specializing in architecture, design and the luxury lifestyle. Her articles have appeared in LUXE, Hawaiian Style and Elle Décor.