Artist Uses a House as Her Canvas

Mary Emery As a child, Mary Emery ’81 did plein air painting with her father on Esther Island in the summer. She has since moved indoors, becoming an artist who does interiors, using an entire house for her canvas.

An East Coast girl, Mary grew up in upstate New York and settled in Nantucket, Mass., in 1999 after 15 years in New York City. She chose Westmont because of its Christian commitment, and she was surprised to learn the college had no art department. Undaunted, she worked with Professor Paul Kline to design an art curriculum and independent study, and she succeeded in graduating with a double major in art and English. Summer studio art classes at SUNY Stonybrook and frequent trips to Los Angeles to study with working artists filled in the gaps.</p?

“The whole exercise of creating a program that didn’t exist has been a model for my business career,” Mary says. “Setting up the art program at Westmont encouraged me to be flexible and versatile and to take advantage of whatever opportunities arise.”

On a whim, she applied to Pratt Institute in New York City, where she earned a master of fine art degree in printmaking and painting. “Living in New York is broadening because you deal with people outside of your economic and social structure,” she says. “When you ride the subway to work, you meet a thousand people before you drink your coffee.”

Determined to support herself as an artist and willing to try anything, Mary fell into decorative painting and set painting for photographers, stylists, and magazines such as Bride and Victoria. She designed apartments featured in Metropolitan Home. Gathering a diverse group of artists and business people, she established Emery Design, a full-service design studio for interiors and fine art. Hand-painted rugs became one of her specialties because she said, “Sure, what is it?” when asked if she could paint sisal. The heavy, woven natural fiber takes paint beautifully, and Mary created limited editions of decorated sisal rugs.

Attending a Vineyard Christian Fellowship with other creative people helped her survive. “When you’re an artist working for yourself, you need to belong to a community that has your back,” she says.

In Nantucket, Mary has focused on designing a house a year, choosing a color plan, doing decorative paintings on walls and floors, buying furniture and restaging rooms. She enjoys making whatever is needed, such as curtains, pillows and mirrors. For one project, she created a coffee table out of a giant sieve she found in an antique store. In another, she designed the interior around a significant piece of art. “It feels like bringing the art full circle when I create the environment for the art,” she says. Her husband, Michael Lacoursiere, works with her in the business.

The success of Mary’s sisal rugs led to years of appearances on the Lifetime television show “Our Home” demonstrating crafts such as making clocks and building dollhouses. Her latest project is the Nantucket Historical Association’s 1800 House. One of the directors of this educational program, she also teaches classes there in early American decorative art. At the age of 19, she became the youngest member of Historical Society of Early American Decoration, and her work reflects her love for New England Americana (see examples at

Mary still paints, returning to the shore to capture abstract seascapes. “My fine art is separate from my business, and I paint what I want,” she says.

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