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Bradley Hilltopics

Fall 2008 • Volume 14, Issue 4  

History Sets Sail

Left: "Somewhere Else" by MARY MATHIAS, MFA ’05.
Right: "Brotherly Love" by NANA EKOW MAISON, MFA ’04

By Nancy Ridgeway

mary mathias self portrait

Self-portrait of MARY MATHIAS, MFA ’05


nana ekow maison

NANA EKOW MAISON, MFA ’04 in his studio.

“Art is a powerful inter-cultural, non-linguistic way to communicate,” says MARY MATHIAS, MFA ’05. A native of Ohio, Mathias and her classmate NANA EKOW MAISON, MFA ’04 of Ghana, Africa, concur that their artwork expresses emotions that words only begin to communicate. Both communicate with paintbrushes and canvas, yet their styles are unique.

The first art student to receive a Caterpillar Master’s Fellowship, Mathias recently moved to Holbrook, Ariz., where she teaches at Northland Pioneer College and has her own studio. Maison has a studio in Muncie, Ind., where he lives with his wife Barbara and their two young children.

Mathias was debating between a career in graphic design, sculpture, or painting when fate stepped in. She dislocated her knee while studying abroad in Italy as an undergraduate student at Bowling Green State University. “I was in a cast from hip to toe. Here I was, in Florence, my dream city, and I had to stay in my apartment all day, so I couldn’t participate in my classes. I asked my friends to bring my painting supplies to me. That’s when I realized that even if I weren’t stuck in my apartment painting, this is what I would want to do.”

Mathias visited museums in Italy and was particularly inspired by Raphael’s painting of Mary Magdalene. “The painting looked like it was lit from within, and I wanted to create that in my paintings.”

She learned the technique she now uses as an apprentice for artist Patrick Betaudier in France. Mathias explains, “Most of my paintings are done with a Renaissance glazing technique. I start with a monochromatic under-painting using reflective white pigments; then I lay down transparent layers of color. If I want purple, I layer red, then blue, then another red, and another blue, which creates a very rich color. The magic of this technique occurs when the light shines through the transparent layers, hits the reflective white pigments, and bounces back to the viewer’s eye, making the painting appear to be lit from within.”

She adds, “I like using the Renaissance style in my portraits, but you wouldn’t mistake my work for something right out of the Renaissance because the people and subject matter I choose tend to be a little more contemporary. I want to create paintings a variety of people can relate to.”

Some of her artwork is more of an environment that she creates with backdrop-like paintings and reflective surfaces so people see themselves as part of the art. (See “Place of Honor,” in the Mathias slideshow).

Recalling her experience at Bradley, Mathias says, “At first, I wanted to keep pursuing the painting I had started in France, but I realized I wanted to do the installation-type work where people could see themselves in works of art. I appreciated that the professors gave me the flexibility to do that.”

After graduation, Mathias taught part-time at Bradley and Illinois Central College. On spring break, she and two Bradley students, one art major and one Spanish major, went to Tijuana to paint murals with youth at a children’s home there. Now she plans to take her current students to work on a mural for the Rainbow Accommodation School, a school for children with disabilities in Arizona.

Mathias comments, “I like getting young people involved, because people gave me the opportunity to be involved when I was younger.”

Nana Ekow Maison, the first African student to enroll in the art program at Bradley, was also impressed with the opportunities he was given to learn from Bradley art professors. “Everyone was interested in what I was doing. I had an opportunity to learn from everybody, not just those with whom I took classes,” says Maison, the first graduate of the MFA Interdisciplinary Art Studies program. “I was interested in everything they were doing. I did painting, printmaking, papermaking, and book arts. The only thing I didn’t do was ceramics.”

While he enjoys printmaking, he paints for the time being because he doesn’t have a printmaking press. Using vibrant colors reminiscent of his homeland’s penchant for color, Maison’s painting style is pointillism. He paints thousands of dots in many different colors to create images. “I decided to stick with this style to make my work different.”

Maison describes his paintings as narratives. He says, “The works are inspired by my life’s experiences. I am inspired as an artist by Ghanaian art forms like the Asafo flags, Adinkra symbols, and the Sirigu wall paintings.”

Each of Maison’s paintings carries messages, as well. For example, “Golden Cycle” is about the seasons of life. “Brotherly Love” addresses the battle with society when people of the opposite sex have a platonic relationship. “Minus 6 Months to Present 1” expresses the love and support Maison and his wife had from friends as they faced giving birth and raising their first child away from family and their homeland. To view more of his works, see the Maison slideshow or visit

Maison’s work is on display at Ball State University’s library and at the Kuaba Gallery in Indianapolis. His wife is pursuing a master’s degree at Ball State, and once she graduates, the family plans to return to Ghana. He hopes to open a printmaking studio and eventually start his own art school. “Printmaking is not a well-known art form in Ghana. There are very few professional printmakers. Everything I paint, I can transform into a print. Once I can afford a huge press, I’m set.”