On April 17 in Glendenning Annex the St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) Art Department presented the final Artist Talk of the semester. The lecture, given at 4:45 P.M. by local artist Parran Collery, was on the subject of failure in the life of an artist and how those failures can lead to unforeseen results.
Collery started out on her path to an artistic career in her undergraduate studies. While she first studied Psychology, art became a secondary addition after she formed a friendship with one of her school’s art professors. From there, she set her sights on Yale Graduate School for its prestigious art program and prime location near New York City. Unfortunately, Collery was not accepted into that program but was accepted into a program at Rutgers. She soon realized that she was in good company, however, as most of her classmates had also been rejected by Yale. “Rutgers was our official second choice school,” she said of her cohort.
Upon completing her studies at Rutgers, Collery tried and failed at getting a working artist teaching position at her school. Instead, she remained in New Jersey and tried to carve out a place for herself there despite being an hour away from New York City. While Collery did succeed at finding an adjunct position at a community college near her, she was unable to keep that position after a fellow professor she did not have a good relationship with took over the department. So she moved on.
It was not until Collery found herself working in the tile capitol of America in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, that she discovered an unlikely path. In Bucks County, Collery realized that it was possible to be a working artist in places far from New York City or other urban landscapes as many tile artists thrived in the area. Over the course of four years, Collery learned the tile-making craft and and even added her own personality to the work. It was here, Collery realized, that she moved away from political themes in her work to nature and beauty. While the fine art landscape had taught her to always have an intense political message behind her abstract sculpture installations, craft art focused on more tangible messages and could just relish in aesthetic appeal. This, Collery said, was another failure in her career as she had always been taught that “beautiful” art was not a good thing, that it was too empty. So, she had to find something interesting about the natural things she depicted in her tile work.
Collery would end up in Southern Maryland, where she had grown up, where she joined a gallery and set up her own studio. Here, Collery leaned into her craft and started doing what she felt was right, creating work with utility. However, this also felt like a failure. According to Collery, craft art is seen in the fine art world as a lesser medium, especially since the resulting work is meant to be used, not hung up in a museum. But Collery has been able to find a modest life around her craft and it fulfills her. Despite all her perceived failures, Collery was able to find a life that, while different from her expectations, was nonetheless good. In her work with tiles, Collery can interact with people in their own lives and add something beautiful to their day.
Parran Collery’s work can be found at North End Gallery in Leonardtown, Maryland, and her personal studio is located in Prince Frederick. Her tile work is a lovely way to add a little natural beauty into your day.