By Sara Baldwin
Upon stepping in from the ornate halls of Carmel retirement community The Barrington and into the two-bedroom abode of Mary Jean Alig, the first thing one would notice is that her home is a veritable gallery of artwork, each piece bearing Alig’s signature. Her chosen mediums vary to include acrylic, pastel, watercolor, etching and mixed media. Yet a true cohesive style runs through her work – the people and places dear to her own heart.
Alig, now 87 years-old, has been painting for most of her life. She was born and raised in Indianapolis, attending Shortridge High School.
Alig earned a Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she majored in art and focused on art history and theory. After college, she began working at H.P. Wasson & Company, a local department store chain, drawing advertisements.
After dating long-distance through college, Alig and her husband Vincent were married in 1952. In 1954 she gave birth to her first child. She now has four kids, twelve grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
“I think it was after my son’s wedding that I started focusing on painting,” Alig said. “I did various things like invitations for organizations I belonged to. People hired me to do portraits of their grandchildren.”
Many of Alig’s paintings are of her immediate family members, or special moments and places.
One of the oldest paintings that she has displayed in her apartment depicts three young girls laying in the sand on the beach. It was painted from a photograph taken of her daughter and two nieces during a family vacation to Florida.
“Actually there were four girls in [the photograph], and I just ran out of steam to put the fourth girl in,” Alig said.
Alig’s most recent painting is a depiction of a Fourth of July parade, inspired by her yearly summer trip the Michigan property that her family owns. This summer home in Harbor Springs, Michigan is the setting for many of her paintings.
While her portraits tend to be done in pastel and her landscapes in acrylic or watercolor, Alig also has some unique-to-her techniques that generate interesting designs. She invented a technique, which she refers to as “puzzle painting.” She paints a very wet watercolor with many different hues. She then crinkles up saran wrap and presses it into the paint and lets that dry.
“When it’s dry, you take the saran wrap off and see the patterns that it has made there,” Alig said. “Looking at all the creases and patterns, you start painting images as you see them.”
Alig’s art was recently on display in the main Art Gallery at The Barrington, as part of the Masterpiece Living program, which focuses on an individual’s key development areas – physical, mental, social and spiritual.
Alig said she enjoyed having her work on display, and still paints when she can. She tends to paint while on vacation. She says she is inspired by “just breathing every day,” as well as the nature of light and what light does.
“I like things that are bright and light. I don’t like subjects that are dark and gloomy,” Alig said. “Life is full of so many beautiful things. I feel so blessed with the life that’s been given to me.”