Portraying the Light of God: An Interview with Mary Ann Hollingshead-Summit

We have a beautiful church; gardens, fountains, stained glass windows and unique artwork. Much of the art in the church is the work of artist and AHUMC member, Mary Ann Hollingshead-Summit. Mary Ann is generous with her talent, often creating pieces for a specific place. Her abstract paintings of rich, layered color hang in hallways, the Garden Chapel, stairwells and the CLC. The crosses in the CLC are one of Mary Ann’s largest efforts. In addition, Mary Ann creates pieces for the Sanctuary that change with the cycle of the church year. 

In late May, I interviewed Mary Ann and asked her to talk about the intersection of her faith and artistic journey.  Mary Ann is 5th generation German-American. In 1916, her grandmother Zintgraff began attending the old wooden Methodist Church on Broadway.  Her mother and grandmother would bring Mary Ann and her siblings to Sunday School there. Since then the church has been central to Mary Ann’s life through worship, weddings, funerals and art.  When asked if any of her ancestors were artistic she said, “Not to my knowledge. My great grandfather Schmid, on my father’s side, had to leave Germany for drawing unflattering caricatures of the Kaiser. That was when they came to America.” 

Mary Ann explained that she did not pursue art in her public school or college years. “I think God plants the seeds of the gifts that he gives us and sometimes they are revealed early on. In my case, I did draw in elementary school, but when I was young it was ‘weird’ to be an artist. I like to say to young people today to be true to yourself. Don’t try to impress your peers and be like everyone else and do the things everyone else does. Try to fast forward (into adulthood)and gain some perspective. But I didn’t do that. I attended Trinity University. My father thought I should go into business administration, but I didn’t fit into that mold. I changed my major to English and History with an education degree. Only in my senior year did I take a studio art class and discovered then what I should have realized all those years before—‘O my, this is what paint can do! I could be at one with what God had given me all along.’” But she had already changed her major and attended summer school to get the necessary hours, so she felt she couldn’t change again. When she graduated, she taught 1st grade for 5 years. After she married and had children she went back to Trinity to do graduate work in painting and study serious art. “I did landscapes and seascapes. Through seascapes I became interested in the interplay of light on water, like in parking lots, roadways and car taillights after rain storms. You can see colors in the oil on the pavement. I wanted to put that [light on water] on canvas.” 

Mary Ann was not interested in teaching art but in creating it. “The goal at that time was to get into galleries. I showed work in LA, NY, Paris and Venice. That was the competitive world of art. It wasn’t until I grew to a certain point in my faith that I realized my gift was from God.” Mary Ann’s direction began to shift when she was on the Walk to Emmaus and saw the night sky. “I was so taken with the light emanating from the darkness of the sky.” At this time we were beginning New Heights worship in the CLC. Mary Ann was asked to help transform the utilitarian room into a worshipful space. There was the idea of hanging a big cross on the north wall, but Mary Ann was having difficulty imagining that. It wasn’t until she was sitting in a seminar in the CLC, facing the north wall, that she first thought, “Not one cross but a series of crosses.” It took more than a year to create the progression of eight crosses. Mary Ann creates her pieces by layering color on color. She is especially attentive and particular about the color of gold that she uses to represent Light. When she created the wall of crosses, she tried many versions of gold to find the perfect color.

Artists have a unique way of looking at the world. They spend more time noticing, reflecting, wondering. They see what the non-artist doesn’t. Pausing to look at a piece of art encourages us to slow down, breathe and wonder. “We have so many ways of learning and worshipping. Some of us worship more with our eyes than our ears.” Mary Ann continues to give our church a feast for the eyes and a window into the Sacred that is beyond words. Thanks be to God.