A tour of MaryLea Harris’ artwork is like walking through an enchanted forest. Inspired by the colossal poplars and oaks surrounding her hometown in Northern Virginia, Harris has long harbored a love for trees. Her paintings, and other visual art compositions, depict the silhouettes of trees caught in their transition between fall and winter.
As a liberal arts major at Sweetbriar College, Harris sketched the changing of the seasons beneath a giant Fletcher oak tree. These bare-branched trees – or “naked trees” as her two young daughters call them – have been a recurring theme in her artwork ever since.
For Harris, the intertwined branches and roots symbolize the connection between living things, and a place for nesting. “Trees are a home to all the things that live in them, and the things that live around them.” she says. “Home is a big part of comfort for me.”
Harris – who moved across the country with her family last fall – says, “It (Bend) felt like home as soon as we got here.”
Before planting her roots among the junipers and pines of Central Oregon, Harris taught elementary school art in Virginia for five years, and ran a children’s arts and crafts blog for six. Though her career in blogging proved to be a great success, Harris says that she was spending more time at the computer than in the art studio.
“When I’m not making art, it feel like there’s a piece of me missing,” says Harris. A change in area codes marked the end of her blogging days, and a chance to focus on her artwork again. She spends afternoons painting in her home art studio, recently completing a “Thirty Paintings in Thirty Days” challenge. On the weekends, her daughters join her for creative projects.
In addition to her paintings, Harris often “branches out” artistically, exploring the creative realms of mixed media pieces and sculptural books. Her mixed media pieces combine her paintings with computer emulsion transfers, while her sculptural books transform literature into three-dimensional art pieces.
In keeping with her tree theme, Harris is the creator of an art series she lovingly calls: Happy Little Trees, inspired by her childhood hero, artist Bob Ross. The paintings use brightly-colored limbs outlined by whites and creams to analogize the interplay between the positives and negatives in life. Harris uses these small, whimsical paintings as a form of art therapy. After losing her dear friend to cancer last year, the paintings remind her that, “It’s important to take the good with the bad.”
Harris has displayed her art at Lumin Art Gallery in Tumalo and Footzone Bend for February’s First Friday Art Walk. Her upcoming exhibitions include April’s First Friday at Synergy and May’s First Friday at Hot Box Betty. A full list of art showcases can be found on her website.
“Bend is a wonderful place,” says Harris after her first year in town. “We have a wonderful little art community. People are nice here. They want to see you succeed, and they help you.”