Mary Mark: Printmaker!


Mary Mark in 1979 at the original location of Tiger Lily Press at the downtown Cincinnati YWCA.

Tiger Lily Press owes a debt of gratitude to many people who have generously shared their time, energy and material resources to make printmaking knowledge and equipment available to artists in the Cincinnati community. One outstanding contributor on all these levels has been Tiger Lily’s current Education Committee Chair, Mary Mark.   

Mary came to Tiger Lily after receiving degrees in printmaking and painting from the Ohio University at Athens, and in the early 1980s she served as Tiger Lily’s second Director. The press and studio space were at that time part of the Women’s Art Center in the YWCA. In 1982, when the YWCA closed for renovation, Mary was instrumental in finding a new space for the press and print studio. Her account of the events offers an intriguing look back at this chapter of Tiger Lily’s history, as well as insight into her personal commitment to printmaking. 

Coffee Shop. 2005. 22×30. Reduction linoleum print. 

She writes: “I was attracted to printmaking on the 4th floor of Ohio University’s Siegfried Hall, circa 1970, during the ‘conceptual’ era. Every other art class I took involved little or no drawing or realistic subject matter. Even the Drawing teacher would spend most of the class pontificating on myths and their interpretations. My degree was ‘studio art’, not even a major now. However, the printmaking class involved drawing, lots of it, every day…. (I was) home!

Upon graduation, I worked at submitting slides for grant applications to have access to a press again. After multiple rejections I volunteered to work at Ohio Arts Council, as their first ever volunteer. I soon realized that the person in charge of jurying who and what would get a review by the board sat in a room with a pile of slide packets at his feet, looking at each sheet by holding them one at a time in front of the ceiling light fixture. Discouraging at best.

Montepulciano Muse. 2006. 22×30. Reduction linoleum print. 

I was present at a meeting of state art organizations soliciting dollars from the Ohio Arts Council and listened to Kate Maynard make her pitch for a press to be added to the existing Woman’s Art Center at the YWCA of Cincinnati. Hurrah! When they were granted a percentage of the requested funding, I packed up my stuff and moved to Cincinnati as one of the first members of Tiger Lily Press! The first year was wonderful and exciting with new printmaker members and two full floors of the YWCA given over to artist studios. In the second year rumors started flying about the YWCA closing for renovation, soon to become a reality. I submitted a proposal to the president of the YWCA, Joy Ferguson, who allowed me to purchase the press and all added accoutrements for the amount of the OAC grant.

I moved the press with the help of a moving company to the second floor on the corner of 4th and Plum and shared the space with a small cooperative art gallery called Merchants Gallery. We scrubbed and cleaned and painted, with the supplies coming from Fifth Third Bank who owned the building. The press thrived for two years, and then I was offered a move to Boston with my boyfriend. A group of five women who had used the press purchased it from me and donated it to the Art Academy Alumni Association in 1985.

A close-up of one of Mary’s linocuts with the reduction print made from that plate.

In Boston I found a market for my monoprints, collagraphs and block prints. I sold at wholesale around Boston and beyond but then then moved back to New Richmond, Ohio, to purchase a historic church building missing a steeple; hence the name for our business — Lost Steeple Originals. My husband, David Johnson, and I sold art both wholesale and retail across the country at frame shops, galleries and street fairs for 26 years, ending in 2008.

As a printmaker the road to the future was to make bigger and bigger prints. I needed to be independently wealthy to take the time it needed to develop the expertise to pull that off! I went to work for the only company that was hiring at the time — Kroger. To keep doing art I started small drawings and paintings with oil pastel. I wanted to do an art form that I could sell cheaply and therefore not be stuck with it forever as I was with boxes and drawers and portfolios of prints. The canvases and board paintings are an easy sell at $50 to $100 for the one show I do every year.

The imagery is no longer focused on ‘what the market will bear’ and more on groups of people, faces, food still life. It is direct and immediate, and I can work at it for hours or 20 minutes! It is challenging but I no longer have to make a living at it! We moved to the west side of Cincinnati in 2014 and rented out the church in New Richmond, Ohio, which finally sold in 2019.”

Mary Mark with her work at a Tiger Lily Press Print Sale.

After her move, she looked forward to renewing her allegiance to Tiger Lily Press, since the open press concept was what had drawn her to Cincinnati in the first place. Her plan was to ease in slowly, but she was persuaded to step up and serve as Chair of the Education Committee when Jan Thomas ended her term in that position. As Tiger Lily’s current Education Committee Chair, Mary is responsible for coordinating outreach programming, recruiting instructors and developing a schedule for classes; she credits Andrea Knarr (Professor Emerita, Northern Kentucky University) for giving invaluable assistance with the many tasks involved. She concludes: “I also have time now as a retired person to venture into printmaking again, taking a class here and there and trying new techniques in the TLP studio.”

Mary talks about her work at a Tiger Lily Press Annual Meeting.

When asked what she’s been doing during our quiet months, Mary answered: “I spent March teaching myself mosaic and building a mosaic birdbath as requested by my sister for her 70th birthday. With luck and good health, I will be able to deliver it to her northern Ohio home soon! I have been cleaning closets and working in the garden, but I must admit that I am so ready to once again interact with the world!”

During the COVID-19 shutdown, Mary taught herself how to mosaic.

We will be glad when that time comes too; meanwhile we’re happy to have Mary Mark back in the Tiger Lily “family” and immensely grateful for her input, her knowledge, and her dedication to Tiger Lily Press, both past and present. 

To see images of Mary Mark’s work, and learn more about her approaches to printmaking (including a detailed explanation of how to do a reduction or suicide linoleum print), visit her website:

 — Kathleen Piercefield, April 2020


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