Guest Article by Claudia Mitchell, Sandia Heights Artist*
What would you do with some pieces of zosite, some random beads and scrap silver or copper? Just give them to Mary Ellen Merrigan and she will make a unique piece of jewelry, embellish a found natural object or incorporate them into a wall hanging. Her creativity knows no bounds.
Mary Ellen has always loved doing things with her hands. She enjoyed needlepoint and it was portable. In 1995 she moved to Sandia Heights and travelled all over the world accompanying her husband to international balloon festivals. She took her handiwork with her to fill the odds hours. In 2007, Mary Ellen’s good friend introduced her to the world of beading. “It opened up a new world to me.” Mary Ellen was intrigued and wanted to learn more. She took classes through the Bead Society of New Mexico. She went to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show and attended seminars. Her new knowledge led to a thirst for more knowledge and in 2016, she took a metalsmithing class with the University of New Mexico continuing education. Her vision and abilities were expanded to making her own hand wrought chains and findings. She continues a mentorship with a master metalsmith. “Hand-shaped chains are like people: Every link is hammered and shaped on its own. Every link is different.”
Mary Ellen’s jewelry often incorporates whimsical designs which repurpose scraps. Her creations have been referred to as a “weird kind of wonderful.” The pieces are one-of-a-kind statement pieces that would have friends ask, “Where did you get that?” She says that her “best work comes when I am playing. I get into the flow, and I am expressing a feeling in the moment. Even when I sketch out a design, it is what is in the moment that shapes what is final and real. A mistake can be “another way of expressing.”
Mary Ellen joined the Sandia Heights Artists in 2011 to support and celebrate the artistic community here. Since then, her creative expression has not been limited to jewelry. She embellishes natural objects like antlers and animal skulls and transforms them into fantastical art. She creates wall hangings and stitched fabric cards. She is evolving in her knowledge and skills to express “who I am becoming as a person and artist, which are the same thing.”
“We are all creative. I love and respect that creativity. Sandia Heights is filled with natural beauty which makes it so exciting to live here. We artists collaborate to show people that beauty.”
*Published July, 2023 in The Grit, page 3. Part of a series authored by Claudia Mitchell entitled “The Artist Next Door.” Photo credit: Claudia Mitchell.