Mosaic artist Tracy Pennington is the winner of the second annual Mary Alice Hadley Prize for Visual Art. The $5,000 prize is awarded from the George and Mary Alice Hadley Fund at the Community Foundation of Louisville, with assistance from the Louisville Visual Art Association.
The Hadley Prize is meant to act as a catalyst for professional artistic achievement. Applicants must be members of LVAA, live in the Louisville area, and can work in a variety of media, including ceramics, graphic design, drawing, crafts, painting, photography, sculpture, video and/or film, printmaking and installation.
Pennington isn’t an art school graduate. The self-taught mosaic artist, a native of Iowa who moved to Louisville with her family nine years ago, discovered her talent after a therapist encouraged her to explore her creative side.
“I was going to some counseling for depression, which I have suffered from most of my life, but it had gotten really intense. That was right when I turned 40 – I’m a clichéd midlife crisis gal here,” she says wryly.
Pennington, also a mother of six, says she hadn’t taken much time to do things for herself. About four years ago, her therapist suggested that maybe it was time.
“If you would have asked me, ‘are you creative?’ I might have said yes, but I might have said, ‘isn’t everyone?’” she says. “He said, ‘I don’t think so.’ And he encouraged me to do some art.”
She started with a beginner’s mosaic kit from Hobby Lobby. Now, she teaches aspiring artists herself at her studio in Mellwood Arts Center, with an average of 20 students in her beginners’ course.
“I do say to them, I hope this is the beginning of a creative love for you,” she says.
Pennington plans to use her prize to travel to Ravenna, Italy, to complete the Standard Intensive Course at prestigious Mosaic School in the city historically known for the artform – a far cry from the DIY aisle at the craft store.
In the school’s Standard Intensive Course, Pennington will spend 35 hours creating mosaics with authentic Italian tile under the tutelage of a master artist, an experience that will help her develop her own craft and her teaching practice. When she returns, she expects to be pretty fired up about her medium, and hopes to turn her expertise to community projects, like maybe working with at-risk youth and seniors on a large-scale, collaborative public art installation.
“I know that when you do something creative, something happens inside that is life-giving. I think that could be beneficial, especially to at-risk youth,” she says.
While some might find mosaic creation tedious, she says, with its painstaking composition process, Pennington says she finds it soothing instead.
“I find it so peaceful and relaxing. It’s very tactile, it’s very slow,” she says. “I approach it in an intuitive way, moving pieces around. It’s a quiet thing that I’m doing where I’m able to think about things.”
LVAA, which administers the application process for the Community Foundation, received 65 applications for this year’s M.A. Hadley Prize. Last year’s award went to printmaker Susanna Crum, who is in the process of opening Calliope Arts, a print studio in Smoketown, with her husband and fellow printmaker Rodolfo Salgado, Jr.
The George and Mary Alice Hadley Fund was established in 1991 to offer grants in the arts and humanities. Mary Alice Hadley herself was born into a family of clay tile makers, and she became known for painting before creating a set of painted dishes for her houseboat that turned into a signature hand-painted dinnerware and custom pottery business. She formed the Hadley Pottery Co. in 1940 with her husband George. The Hadley Pottery factory in Butchertown still exhibits many of her original works.