Monday, December 6, 2010

Yikes!!! I made the front page of our local paper.

Artist Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart applies a coat of translucent pearl glaze to a rescued snow woman at Whispers and Echoes Studio Tuesday evening. / Eric George The Advocate
Written by L.B. WHYDE

NEWARK -- Entering the art gallery/workshop of Whispers and Echoes Studio, 50 S. Second St. in downtown Newark, is like stepping into a time warp of eccentricity.

The tables are covered with every imaginable -- and some unimaginable -- items that can be made into art. Old and new, representing all the projects Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart has going on in her studio and life.

Amongst the sewing machine and assorted misfit toys, there are jars and jars of buttons, spools of thread, beads, corks, clothespins, bits of old jewelry, paint, glue, recycled items and scraps of fabric. These are all vitally important to Stewart, who transforms these common items into precious works of art.

Born and raised in Appalachian Kentucky, she remembers all the handmade colorful quilts in the houses. She took quilting a step further and started adding beads and other items. She calls her creations heirloom artwork in fabric.

She specializes in one-on-one art classes in which she gets to know her students, young and old, and helps them create their own "living history" and "a way to make their mark."

But for Stewart, it is not about the things made into art but the journey one takes to get there and the story there is to tell. Stewart is an artist who makes her mark with a needle and thread, specializing in visual journals or quilts that she has been making for the past 25 years.

"Art doesn't just happen," she said. "It is a process and a journey. The mistakes are doors you can open. I let the process speak to me."

As she was growing up, Stewart constantly was told she couldn't make a living in art. She has been fighting that idea ever since. Recently she had a large quilt -- titled "Prayer for the Masai Warrior" -- purchased and placed above the fireplace in the new John L. and Christine Warner Library and Student Center on the Newark campus of Ohio State University and Central Ohio Technical College.

"To see it in a place of learning," Stewart said. "The possibilities of whispers and echoes are endless."

That phrase, which she now uses as her studio title, came from the messages she received from her mother, grandmother and other women who have believed in Stewart. In August, Stewart moved her studio into its current space, across from The Grill Works.

She is no stranger to the location. She served as manager/curator for eight years for Licking County Arts when it had its gallery in the same space. Once she left and the LCA moved to South Third Street, Stewart missed seeing all the people at The Works. She also missed The Works' founder and philanthropist, the late Howard LeFevre, who brought her into the space more than 12 years ago.

"I feel Howard is looking down on me here," she added. "I just love being here."

Stewart is not without her own trials and tribulations. She has lived with lupus for the past 25 years and had three brain surgeries in the past four years for aneurysms.

"I feel like I've been held in the hands of God," she said. "Making art seems to heal. I believe that. Art saves lives."

Stewart has traveled and shown her work around the world, including Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, France, England and throughout the United States.

"As an artist, I have a responsibility to show other artists who want to make their mark that it is possible," Stewart said. "You need not be afraid, and you don't have to have all the answers. Trying to do something new is the key."

At 60, Stewart has no plans to ever retire. She enjoys the people she meets on a daily basis and the process of her art.

While Whispers and Echoes is crowded with supplies, there are various pieces of art scattered around. Stewart is not as worried about paying the rent, as she is with the process of making the art.

"I don't worry about where the money comes from," Stewart said. "It just seems to happen."

L.B. Whyde can be reached at (740) 328-8513 or I am the most blessed lady I know today! Imagine and Live in Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart


  1. Thanks very much for your visit and your kind words about my art. Love working with fabric too so enjoyed peeking at your work very much.


  2. Congratulations on a beautiful article! May you have many more days filled with art - you are an inspiration. Love, Linda

  3. Congratulations on a lovely article. You are a much appreciated member of your community.

  4. What a great article!!!!You are one in a million!
    May all the blessings that come to you continue to pour in in the following year!

  5. GREAT ARTICLE!! Mary Helen, you are a Renaissance "Woman!" So proud of you and so glad you're in the world!! Keep it up, my friend!


  6. Congratulations! This is so wonderful! How very exciting for you!

  7. This was so neat to read Mary Helen! I love the fact that you are in a place where your soul thrives and is at peace. I also love the fact that the late Howard LeFevre is also occupying your gallery and studio in spirit. Your maternal family is very wise indeed, to know that there are endless possibilites in whispers and echoes. That is a marvellous thing indeed!

  8. Your blog is so comforting and soothing. Your peaceful nature and good energy travels across the wires that separate us as well as join us.
    Thank you for inspiring so many, & for giving those of us too afraid to show our talents a glimmer of courage-- to simply go forward & create!

  9. Great article! Congratulations!

  10. Thank you all for your loving support as I make my life visible to share my dreams.Imagine and Live in Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

  11. I'm catching up on my blog reading. What a wonderful article and SPOT ON. Excellent. It made me smile to read it. :)Bea