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A year-round vocation; Art knows no season.

Byline: Melissa McKeon

HOLDEN - Ask teachers what they do during the summer, and you might get as many different answers as there are teachers.

But if the teacher is Mary Estes Zywar, an art teacher at Notre Dame Academy in Worcester, the answer will be art, art and more art.

Ms. Zywar admitted she devotes herself to teaching her students during the year, but doing her own work in the summer. Holden residents might be familiar with that work from some scenes of Holden on notecards sold by the Historical Society, or by a scene hanging in the town manager's office.

Landscapes and buildings are not the only subjects this versatile artist takes on.

"I adore painting children. My children were my favorite subjects; now it's my grandchildren," she said.

While she is able to work in many mediums, Ms. Zywar prefers watercolor, a particularly portable method.

"Just add water and you're ready to go," she said, laughing.

There's something else about watercolor, though, that appeals to her.

"I love watercolor just for its purism," she said.

While oils and acrylics stay where they're put on a canvas, watercolors can take on a life of their own.

"The watercolor will do its own thing sometimes, but I tell students to just go with it," she said. "Sometimes it's just good to let go of control."

Sometimes it's even good to let the white of the paper show through.

She paints outdoors at times, and enjoys the ocean; but for preserving light and images, she sometimes paints from photographs. She also uses photographs to complete portraits she paints on commission.

Ms. Zywar started out in high school just enjoying the studio as an escape. She began her art career as a potter, enjoying the feel of the material in her hands.

"I was always good at sculpting things," she said. "I've always felt that your hands are your best tools."

But then she found a book about the art of Herb Olsen that had instructions on watercolor, and began to teach herself.

The medium caught her and has never let go.

She attended Green Mountain College in Vermont for a two-year program, and then Marietta College in Ohio, where she encountered another inspiration like Olsen, this time in person.

Artist William Gerhold, at that time a very popular painter in West Virginia, taught Ms. Zywar a great deal and helped set her on the road to a career that combined art with teaching.

Ms. Zywar was probably meant to be a teacher. Her father was a school principal, her mother was a teacher, and she always knew that would be her path.

But art had a powerful pull, and, fortunately, combining the two worked out very well.

Ms. Zywar has been teaching at Notre Dame in Worcester for 12 years, and in summer spends some of her studio time back at the school, where a new art wing provides a studio with light that is an artist's dream.

Ms. Zywar last year took on a project at Notre Dame Academy unlike any she had done before.

In the Heritage Chapel at the school, a redesign and renovation left a space for two sets of stained-glass windows, and Ms. Zywar was assigned to create them from the themes and ideas the school's Sisters of Notre Dame and their headmistress had suggested: an image of the Sisters of Notre Dame's foundress, St. Julie Billiart, and a theme that represented the mission of the school, "Teach what is necessary for life."

Ms. Zywar designed two triptychs, one honoring St. Julie Billiart's devotion to children, with symbols of the order and her life, and the other honoring the mission of the school.

For the second triptych, Ms. Zywar drew on the inspiration of one of her favorite artists, Mary Cassatt. Ms. Cassatt designed a triptych in 1893 for the World's Columbian Exposition's women's building called Modern Woman. In the second triptych, women pick fruit from a tree of knowledge to share with children.

Ms. Zywar not only designed the stained glass, but painted them. The windows are not traditional stained glass. Glass paint was purchased specifically for Ms. Zywar to paint glass pieces that were put together to form the picture.

"I would have been so disappointed if somebody else did that work," she said.

The windows form a permanent legacy of this talented woman for the girls of the future at Notre Dame Academy.

Ms. Zywar's work can be viewed at


CUTLINE: (1) A Mary Estes Zywar paintings of Holden. (2) Inset, the artist with a still life. (3) A stained glass triptych designed and painted by Mary Estes Zywar in Notre Dame Acadmy's Heritage Chapel depicts women picking fruit from a tree of knowledge to share with children.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 27, 2012
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