CLIFTON PARK- Books are written to be read and art is created to be viewed. At least that’s what local artist Mary Kilanoski believes. But it took her years to apply that adage to her own work.
“I’ve been an artist all my life,” Kilanoski said. Although no one in her family is an artist, they were all musically talented. Her sister was an opera singer and everyone in her family played at least one or two instruments.
“I was the odd one out,” Kilanoski said of her childhood in Hudson Falls, New York.
While her siblings were practicing or performing together, Kilanoski would draw or paint.
But she never thought to pursue art as a career. “In those days, women had a few career choices. I choose to be a teacher,” Kilanoski said.
After graduating from SUNY Potsdam in 1961, she went on to teach second grade at Rosendale Elementary School. Kilanoksi lived in Niskayuna for many years while her husband, Jerry worked for General Electric.
Kilanoski became heavily involved with volunteering in the community and with raising her two daughters, Beth and Linda. She stopped teaching to care for the family, but she never stopped painting.
“. . . I was just doing watercolors and sketches,” Kilanoski said.
Her work was always done in secret, until one day 11 years ago.
Kilanoksi had purchased a painting from Audrey Romano, a locally famous artist.
“She came to the house to drop it off and she noticed one of the pieces I’d done,” Kilanoski said.
When Kilanoski confessed that she had done the piece, Romano invited her down to her studio for oil painting lessons.
“The first time I went, I was just about shaking. She looked at me and said, ‘okay, show me what you can do,’” Kilanoski said of her first lesson with Romano.
Despite the nerves, Kilanoski said her first oil painting turned out beautifully.
With every lesson and every painting, her confidence grew, even if it was in small increments.
In 2005, Kilanoski won first place in Artist’s Magazine landscape division of their annual art competition.
“That was what really outed me,” Kilanoski said. After that recognition, people began to approach her about her work and she began to open up about it to friends and family.
Although Kilanoski remains humble about her work, she displays it around her home, even the pieces she isn’t proud of.
She sees them not as marks of her inability or failures, but as benchmarks for how far she has come since she started painting.
Many of them are landscapes from around the world (she and her husband have racked up plenty of frequent-flier miles circumnavigating the globe over the years) but also of people who have interesting stories.
Last year, the couple went on a tour of eastern Europe where Kilanoski saw two elderly women walking arm in arm.
“No one was paying attention to them and the scene was just beautiful,” Kilanoski said.
After asking for permission she took a few photos of them walking along and is working on painting the scene now.
While Kilanoski is mainly self-taught and has found success over the years in her work, not every technique was easily learned.
Her first attempts at abstract art were some of the most discouraging experiences she’s had.
Kilanoski took an intensive week-long course with Craig Taylor an art professor from Yale University on abstract art.
“I painted at the easel from 8 in the morning to 10 at night,” Kilanoski said. Nothing she worked on translated any emotion onto the canvas.
After walking away from the course discouraged, she went back to her home studio and kept working at it.
“I’ve painted what I’ve seen all my life. I haven’t painted what I feel as much,” Kilanoski said. As she worked on her abstract pieces, she slowly began to ‘get it’ or at least began to let some emotion leak out onto the canvas.
This has carried over into her work with landscape pieces and portraits.
Over the years, Kilanoski has exhibited in art shows in Colonie, Albany, and at the Palmera Arts Center in Florida where she and her husband escape to during the New York winters.
While she hasn’t yet shaken her nervousness about revealing her work to others, it’s getting a bit easier with time.
“There are many people all over this earth that have talents that they don’t even know about,” Kilanoski said. While she once considered painting her secret hobby, Kilanoski now considers it her talent.