"Breath Prayers At Sunrise," 32" x 12" paper sculpture, by Mary Alice Winchell
"The Women Are My Teachers," 36" x 20" paper sculpture, by Mary Alice Winchell
Mary Alice Winchell in her Placitas studio
The art passions of Mary Alice Winchell
“Art is my river, my freedom, my plenty, my wild.” —Mary Alice Winchell
Mary Alice Winchell never tires of creating art, she never gets bored, she loves making things. By placing a bit of deer antler atop rocks and petrified wood adorned with natural fibers; lacing in some wasp nest paper, twigs, and seeds; and adding a rubbing of raw ochre powder over layers of handmade papers from all over the world, Winchell sculpts family histories into (what looks like) stone.
“I ask my clients, ‘Where do you live, what animals do you have, who are your loved ones, what inspires you?’” she said. “From there, I make a piece of petroglyph artwork representing their family that is just for them.”
Self-proclaimed self-taught, Winchell became an artist because she had to. “I can’t not!” she declared to me on a recent visit to her Placitas studio. “With all the natural materials that I love available to me on walks with my dogs, at gem-and-mineral shows, at garage sales (‘I call it ‘going sale-ing,’ she smiled), I adore this outlet to create things for people. Treasures in, treasures out,” she said.
Successfully selling her work over the last twenty-five years in art galleries in mainland United States and Alaska, admirers describe the feeling of Winchell’s work as aboriginal, ancient, even primal. She deems each one of her richly adorned paper sculptures with a special title: “Take Good Care Of The Ones You Love,” for a work showing two people in an embrace and “One For All, All For One,” of several rock people holding hands. “Since I can remember, I have been pulled to ancient designs and the stories they tell,” she said. “I try to pass on an essence and feeling with each piece I name.”
A highly productive artist at 57 whose photographic portfolio of single works can blanket a living room floor, Winchell has collected natural materials for artwork her whole life. Her studio is alive with drawers and baskets and shelves of found objects, tree branches, beads, rocks, paints, crystals, papers, and fibrous textiles that, when I visited with her recently, she was wrapping around a stick to simulate an animal horn. She makes no excuses for her spirited artwork and cheerfully said, “I’ll take what comes with getting older that isn’t great, with what is great.”
Apart from the gallery and commission work, Winchell distributes her paper sculptures at art shows and makes custom pieces for seminars and personal gatherings. “When I get ready for an art show,” she said, “I usually make about 75 pieces at a time and price them to sell.” Prior to another recent show, she made over two-hundred-and-fifty—quite a lot considering the time it takes to make a single piece. When finished, the work is so compelling and affordable, she often sells out.
“I love to make art and I adore being in my studio with all the passion in my life, but,” she paused to inhale, “breathing is my real purpose.”
That’s because most people know Mary Alice Winchell as a breathing and yoga instructor. For 34 years, she has taught stress management and breathing classes, calming exercises, Hatha Yoga with breath, and other breathing techniques to both groups and individual students. She was a yoga instructor for the Chicago Cubs baseball team and held yoga classes in a stadium for over 8,000 people at a time. For those who seek a more private breathing experience, she produced two instructional DVDs for home use: “Keep Breathin’” for children and “One Breath At A Time” for adults (www.keepbreathin.com).
A graduate of the University of New Mexico and the Yoga Institute of New Mexico, Winchell has traveled and lived in many places off the beaten path, such as Anchorage, Alaska, where she created sculpture from local materials and made totemic art and tribal masks inspired by indigenous people.
She also spent eight years working with Navajo and Hopi Indians in New Mexico and Arizona, prior to her work as a yoga instructor.
After years of daily commitment to her passions, Winchell considers her artwork and breathing/yoga work interconnected avenues of expression essential to her being. “Breath work and artwork are the graces of my life,” she said. “As long as I am able, I will practice both art forms.”
To view Winchell’s paper sculpture and family petroglyph portraiture and learn more about her breath and yoga practice—Inner Systems, Inc., visit www.keepbreathin.com or call her at 867-0104.