Once a month, we feature local small business owners and artists who are using their creativity to make the homes and businesses of Roanoke beautiful.
This month, our spotlight is on local artist Mary Vargas. Mary’s impressionist oil paintings depict a wide variety of subjects.
A Legacy of Art: Mary’s Story
Mary Peterson Vargas has art in her blood. Her grandmother, Myrna Peterson, was an oil painter and member of the League of Roanoke Artists. During her childhood, Mary recalls observing her grandmother painting.
“I remember being pretty young and just watching and marveling at what she was able to do,” Mary said.
A Roanoke area native, Mary grew up at Smith Mountain Lake, exploring nature with a drawing pad in hand most of the time. As she drew, she dreamed of one day being an oil painter.
“I had grandiose ideas of what I wanted to achieve with oil painting, but in an art class during my high school years, I struggled with it,” Mary said. “I couldn’t wrap my mind around the steps, and I couldn’t get where I wanted. I actually quit oil painting after that class.”
It was Mary’s father, David Peterson, who encouraged her to get back into oil painting. Like Mary, David had a lifelong interest in art. He too had observed Myrna in her oil painting but hadn’t specifically been taught by her.
“He took an oil painting workshop, and after that, he laid the foundation with me and helped me learn the basics,” Mary said. “I was able to take off with it at that time.”
That was about 10 years ago, and Mary has been oil painting ever since. In fact, like her grandmother, she has since become a member of the League of Roanoke Artists.
Mary is a part-time artist and full-time wife and mom to three children, ages 10, 6, and 4. She homeschools them and paints in her home studio after they have gone to bed.
Mary hopes to continue the family tradition of art with her children. “My kids do enjoy art,” she said. “My oldest is often very critical of her work, which reminds me of my younger self. It will be interesting to see if any of them develop a passion for art.”
Soft: Mary’s Style & Process
Mary says her artwork leans impressionist, and her paintings feature a recognizable style and color palette. “Everybody has a unique fingerprint with art, and your style just kind of develops,” she said. “People have said that my style and colors are soft.”
In addition to the softness of the colors she uses, another thing that makes Mary’s artwork unique is the fact that she paints a wide variety of subjects. “I can’t pigeon hole myself into one subject, so I jump around with themes and subjects a lot so that I don’t lose motivation.”
From landscapes to still life to animals and people, Mary has painted a little bit of everything. She is often inspired by nature, both by that of her hometown Roanoke, and by the New England area, where she and her family spend their summers with her husband’s family.
“I try to snap pictures regularly, and if I can get a picture with a strong sense of shape in it, that will get me excited to paint it,” she said.
As diverse as her subject matter is her process for painting from one piece to the next. She is thoughtful in how she creates each specific piece.
“My process is not set. One painting may come together in one session while another may take three to reach completion,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like the process is like rolling a boulder downhill; if I’m not careful and deliberate, it will get away from me, and I will lose what I am trying to achieve.”
Mary follows her instincts for each piece as it comes together. “I work all over a canvas, beginning by loosely blocking in the large shapes and then refining color and adding detail where I think necessary,” she said. “There’s something amazing about having a blank canvas and being able to create something that pulls you in, either through the composition or the colors.”
You can see Mary’s work on display at Black Dog Salvage, The Little Gallery at Smith Mountain Lake, Artisans Loft in Staunton, and Southern Provisions in Lynchburg. In September and October, Mary will be the featured artist at The Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Shop in Daleville. She also participates in the League of Roanoke Artists’ annual Showcase of the Arts.
In addition to sales through galleries, Mary sells many of her pieces via her website and social media. “I have a great network of friends and my church, so a lot of times, people who know me will see a piece I post, they will contact me, and I’m able to sell to them directly,” she said.
Besides spending time with her husband and children, when Mary is not painting, she also enjoys gardening. For more information about Mary and her artwork, you can visit her website. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.