Memories of Mary K

Lecturer Emerita of Art

From John Hand, '63

My first encounter with Mary K occurred almost 50 years ago in 1959, when at a Freshman Week reception a woman shrieked at me, “Here, hold my ice cream, I'm Mary K Campbell!”, and with that began my association with Mary K. Torn between Biology and Studio Art as a major, I decided on Studio Art, and almost as a rite of passage this meant taking Mary K's design course. She was a superb art teacher and easily one of the best teachers at Denison. I didn't realize it at the time but basically we were put through the equivalent of a Bauhaus training course. From her and from David Ketner who taught painting, I learned how to analyze the form and composition of works of art that I still use today.

Out of a world of memories, one that sticks out is learning how to design stained glass windows, keeping to the structural limitations of the medium but using colored cellophane and black paper. This was based on Mary K's experience in stained glass. I remember getting up very early to come in to the studio so I could work in daylight, not artificial illumination. For a printmaking course, Mary K took to the newspaper in Newark to get what she considered superior printing ink. Her enthusiasm, energy were contagious, as was her use of words like “pizzazz” and my favorite, “fadoodelie” which has multiple meanings, depending on context. She was an excellent critic, either specific,”Get that fruit salad out of the upper left corner” or general. In particular, she stuck her head in my studio when I was trying to paint like somebody else (Nicolas de Stael??) and said loudly, “I wouldn't like that if it was good!”, turned around and left. It is, I think, testimony to Mary K's love of her students and her ability to make and keep friends that after I graduated in 1963 and went on to become an art historian (groan), that she is the one member of the Denison faculty that I kept in touch with over these many decades.

From Jack Reilly

Mrs. Campbell showed me the way to a career. So there I was. A senior whose only career thought was to find a way to stay out of the draft. I had to complete 3 more hours to finish my Visual Arts major and a Directed Study looked like the only way. I think I had at least one course with Mrs. Campbell every semester that I was at Denison, so I felt comfortable enough asking her to help me out. We thought together… trying to figure out what I was good at. She concluded that I could be a cartoonist! We worked at it for the rest of the year. She felt that there was enough promise for me to start submitting. After my hitch in the service (I couldn't find a way out), some messing around and so on, I became a humorous greeting card artist (cartoonist) for the next 35 years!

My favorite memory of Mrs. Campbell was this… for years we exchanged Christmas cards. We both always made our own, so I thought it was a sort of artistic exchange. Then one year after the holiday season, I got a note from Mrs. Campbell. She said that if I didn't include a newsy letter with the card, she would be taking me off her Christmas list. I sent her a letter every year after that. She had the power to kick a person in the ass in a positive way, no matter what time or space was in the way. What a woman! I miss her as I am sure her thousands of fans do as well.

From Juliana Mulroy

During a period when my movement disorder was so bad that I couldn't drive, Mary K would take me to Newark to get my hair cut once a month after Tuesday Lunch, and wait and watch and praise the skill of the man who anticipated every involuntary movement without once nicking me - I could have easily lost an ear! (She said it was like watching ballet.) The only compensation she would accept was as many snowball hydrangeas as she wanted throughout their blooming season. She claimed they were her favorite flower, and her enthusiasm made me feel better about having to impose on her time. I was out of town when Mary K died, and when I came back briefly I saw her bench downtown was decorated with flowers and messages and the wonderful photo. I picked the one flower cluster on my hydrangea plant that had turned white and put it in the vase on my way out of town again. I asked a friend to take a photo of the bench to send to Alan. That one cluster is in the vase on the left. Three weeks later, all the rest of the flower clusters in my yard were still green. I checked just before the memorial and again there was one white one; I knew there would be professional flower arrangements at the memorial so left it on what I think of as MK's hydrangea bush. I didn't think to check again until a few days later, and all the clusters were a beautiful tan, suitable for winter flower arrangements—although perhaps not flamboyant enough for MK. Obviously the shrub had come into full bloom and then been nipped by the cold in that short interval.

From Diane Ulmer Pedersen,'72

Mrs. C was one of my fondest memories of my time at Denison, a memory that was rejuvenated regularly each Christmas with her artistic postcard greetings. Her enthusiasm in teaching, her lively approach to design, printmaking, etc. helped me break out of my very tight and traditional approach to art. She was so encouraging and positive in her critiques. I am ever so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit with her at her W. Broadway home shortly before her move to KY. She was slowing down a bit, but was trying to figure out how to get around town now that she could no longer drive. Not much could stop her! At 91, she was just as warm and welcoming, creative, enthusiastic and ready for a laugh as ever. God bless her!

From Madge McKinley

Mary K Campbell was my teacher for many years and was very upbeat and encouraging, she seemed to shine with an inner light. She took great interest in her students and we all benefited from her wit and wisdom.

From Kate Hotler

I never had the opportunity to have Mary K Campbell as a teacher, but we did both attend the Granville Baptist Church. I was fortunate enough to be a Lilly Intern with the pastor, George, during my sophomore year, and was often up at the pulpit sharing a call to worship or leading the congregation in prayer. She always wore such great, bright colors to church. But there was one Sunday in particular that I distinctly remember when Mary K pulled me aside. That year, I was living at The Homestead, and that particular Sunday I had a long and muddy trek through the rain to get to church. In those days, I often sported a pair of red Wellington boots, which I thought were rather stylish, on such jaunts. I had matched them with a well-paired knee-length skirt and cream-colored sweater. After the service, Mary K stopped me to let me know that she found my wearing boots while leading the congregation in poor taste. After that, I always put my own sense of style aside on Sunday mornings, and walked my two miles with a pair of dress flats in my bag.

From Thomas King

In 1967, a group of students including Kee McFarlane, David Goodwin, Dan Thaxton, Tom King and Nedra Veach met with A. Blair Knapp (D.U president) to establish a scholarship to honor M.K. Campbell. Dr. Knapp directed us to Cal Prine who guided us in setting up the language for the award . In the process, the art faculty protested naming the fund for MKC, they felt because she was an active faculty member it would be awkward. We should have stood by our guns and insisted but we talked to MK and she suggested putting her mother's name on the award (the Caroline Woodrow Deckman Studio Art Scholarship). She knew who was really being honored and those of us who contributed to the fund over the years knew as well. I think we started out with about $1000.00. It's nice that MK's name is now on the scholarship originally intended to honor her.

From Cal Prine ’50, Director of Institutional Relations (retired)

During the course of 20 years at Denison in development work, students offered to us abundant ideas about what the university needed, desperately, often by the end of the current semester. All I had to do was to furnish a short list of confirmed and willing donors. They would write the letter, affix the stamps, and count the money! The students who came forward with their proposal to honor Mary Kay offered themselves as the donors with intended gifts starting at once and stretching on into the unknown postgraduate future. They were inspired by a contagious enthusiasm for creative living and studio art which was absorbed from the personal interest and style of the master teacher they knew and admired in common. I found the whole idea a refreshing and unusual venture, telling us a good bit about some of our students and a great deal more about their classroom leadership and mentoring.

From Phyllis Danielson '82

My first day, my first art class, my first art teacher: Mary K Campbell. I remember our first in-class assignment like it was yesterday. I wanted to impress her. I ended up drawing a Beatrix Potter type illustration of a rabbit that I actually wasn't so uncomfortable sharing. She studied it carefully, waited a moment and said, “Well, you draw a nice little bunny. What else do you draw?”

Other than teaching young students of my own or perhaps for an Easter card, I haven't drawn a rabbit since. I learned that day there are too many other ways and things I love to draw. It's a lesson I learn over and over again. I'm glad I told her the same at my last reunion. She's inspired me since day one and she isn't about to stop now. Thank you, Mary K Campbell. You challenged me in many ways while always being warm and wonderful as (dare I say it?)…okay, a bunny. Ever grateful. God bless you.

From Melanie Sherwood, '78

Mary K was a wonderful teacher! She was my teacher from '74-'78. She was always so enthusiastic about your artwork, finding ways to push you to be your best. I remember she would often put a smiley face on her notes and comments. Her script and handwriting style exuded happiness. After 15+ years in graphic design I've switched to teaching photography to high school students. Every time I put a smiley face on a student's paper, I think of her :). I'm so grateful to have had such a wonderful example of an art teacher.

From Kittee (Carolyn) Berns

Although I was not a student of Mary K. Campbell, she still made a great impression on me. In 1990, my senior year at Denison, I was awarded the Deckman Scholarship. I remember Mary Campbell going out of her way to meet and talk with me. She gave me a book from her personal book collection, I have saved it to this day. The book, Paul Gauguin: Monotypes from the Philadelphia Museum of Art was personally inscribed to me, and remains one of my prized possessions. Here's what she wrote: “Sometimes I give away a treasure—thus this to you. In my opinion you + Gauguin each have a unique color sense. Cheers!” Mary K. (Deckman) Campbell, April 1990

From Ned Bittinger

Starting from the first day of class my freshman year in 1970 I was struck by the infectious enthusiasm our teacher Mary K. Campbell possessed for design…and for life itself.  She took pure delight in color, composition, and light passing through stained glass wherever she found it…and a genuine interest in her students that continued decades past graduation. Her assignments in design stretched my sense of composition and color far past my understanding of the subjects when I entered Denison.  Those lessons learned way back then under her guidance serve me even today in my career as a painter as do the painting and drawing skills that I learned from the other excellent teachers in Denison's art department. Few of us, though, have had anyone at Denison take more of an interest in our lives after our days in Granville were over than Mary K.  For the past thirty or so years I have received letters and postcards from this extraordinary woman, each one saturated with her sparkle and uniqueness.  I'm ashamed to say there were many times when I neglected to write back in a timely way. I hope I exonerated myself by making it a priority to drop by to see Mary K. at her home in Granville during reunions that I attended. She would always have an open house one afternoon and would delight in hearing what everyone had been doing during the intervening years.  The older I get the more I admire those of us who refuse to become so absorbed in our own little daily routines that we forget those who have meant something to us.  The degree of success in life we may think we have attained and how much we have accumulated seem insignificant compared to how much we care for each other. By that standard there is no one to admire more than Mary K. Campbell.  I will always miss her.

From Anne Sawyer

It was a time of turmoil, Vietnam was on all of our minds, but how could I peacefully protest through my art? I had made a plaster mold of a face and various body parts and purchased some plastic green army toys from the local drug store…then being a perfectionist I got stuck. How could I make this into a relief? How could I complete this? Maybe it was in fact, just art therapy. So it remained in the bathroom of Shorney for many months. Finally Ms Campbell asked me about it and I lamented that it was incomplete and I could not for the life of me decide how it could be completed. She answered “But don't you see? Those little green army men were not meant to be stable.” And so it was, they were arranged on a table with all of my body parts and allowed to move freely. She let me know of my potential even before I saw it. She told me that some of her students were meant to become medical illustrators, but my art always expressed a concern for the environment, clean air or anger about needless battles. After Denison I studied design art and architecture. But, as I stand in a Marthas Vineyard auditorium, only one out of ten supporting Cape Wind, I realize that she was right. What a remarkably insightful woman!

From Diana Gibbs Bryce

As my senior year approached, my Dad phoned Mary K. and asked how I was going to make a living upon graduation.  Before I knew it an entirely new program of fashion illustration had been set up.  I and my fellow art major roommate, Carol McNight Wintermute, began traveling weekly to the Columbus College of Art & Design for fashion drawing lessons; did window displays for two stores on Broadway in Granville; met with newspaper people in Newark and Columbus; and examined original fashion illustrations by artists working for Lord & Taylors and other New York department stores.  Much to my Dad's satisfaction,in June of '62 I moved to Manhattan and got a job as a fashion illustrator with Simplicity Pattern Co.  Mary K. gave me the lowest grades I ever got at Denison, yet she was still my very favorite teacher.  In addition to going out of her way as mentioned above, she kept in touch with both encouragement and delightful whimsy for over forty-five years. She was always my “little miss sunshine.”

From Tom King '69

Most of MK's friends, former students and “fans” know of her extraordinary communication skills. She was always insightful in face-to-face conversations (even in her 9th decade). But she absolutely shone in note writing. Shortly after my graduation I took my first trip to Europe. She was of course enthusiastic and wanted to know my schedule. The first city I hit, I checked at at American Express and there was a letter from MKC!! Every trip thereafter I found letters awaiting me on cruise ship pillows, in hotel pigeon holes and at the homes of friends I was scheduled to visit. She never missed!!

From Gail Lutsch

I knew Mary K. Campbell for almost 40 years, beginning with my freshman-year design class in 1968. As a student I admired her aesthetic sophistication and feared her astute in-class critiques. I quickly determined that she was truly a “personality”: quirky, uncompromising, edgy, unique. Mary K. made the effort to get to know her art majors outside the classroom context. I remember her hospitality at 575 West Broadway, and how honored I felt to be invited into her home which was, not surprisingly, a gold mine of high quality artwork, much of it MK's.

Her interest in her students didn't end at their graduation from Denison. She kept an extensive file of addresses, photos, and letters from former students who had become life-long friends. She knew what was going on in the lives of so many of us over the years. MK and I exchanged many cards and notes. I still have most of her Christmas postcards, distinctive for their original line drawings and exuberant sentiments. About five years ago I took MK to lunch in Newark. I had brought photos of my recent artwork, and she looked over the stack and seemed approving until her gaze alighted on one landscape scene which clearly displeased her. “The colors aren't balanced”, she observed. I felt like I was back in freshman design class, but when I got home, I made changes to the print. I am happy to admit that Mary K. could always teach me something new! Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of MK's messages were unstintingly positive and affirming. She never lost her sense of curiosity and always sprinkled many exclamation points throughout her letters, as if to suggest that my life was so interesting and so important.

Mary K. Campbell always gave you the feeling that she could be enriched by your accomplishments and wanted to celebrate them with you. This is the tremendous gift that she shared with her many friends across the decades. Gail Lutsch, Professor of Art and Chair, Bethel College Art Department, Bethel College, North Newton, KS 67117

From Nancy Petro, '70

Mary K was a very gifted teacher who also became my wonderful friend for more than forty years. She was a significant influence in my life. She was a total original and a remarkable woman. Her warmth, encouragement, generosity, sense of wonder, and zest for life blessed my life and that of so many others. I had the humbling honor of speaking at the memorial service to celebrate her life at The First Baptist Church of Granville on Saturday, September 27th. It was a wonderful service that spilled over into a festive reception near the church. What a tribute to Mary K that so many people came, shared MK stories, and fought tears through our laughter! We know that many others were there in spirit. I easily envision Mary K screaming, clapping her hands, and getting a great kick out of this gathering of family, neighbors, friends, former colleagues, and former students, most dressed in bright attire and a few hats in tribute to her colorful, abundant spirit. May God bless her.

From Pat Coffey, '60

I started out as a chemistry major in spite of the fact that I am terrible in math. I had always wanted to take a design class in the art department, but the class conflicted with my chemistry lab. I planned to take the design class in my junior year, but the chem lab had been changed so again it conflicted with 1 hour of the art class. Mary K allowed me to take her class and miss the one hour a week. At the end of the first semester of my junior year, I decided to stop swimming against the current and switch my major to art. Mary K was astonished at first, but then helped me plan my classes to get my art major done so I could graduate with my class. I found myself taking advanced art classes at the same time I was taking the prerequisites.

With her guidance I managed to take all required art classes as well as general education classes and graduate with my class. I will be eternally grateful to her for all her help. I have looked forward to visiting with her every time I came to Granville. She kept files of her former students and she would bring them out and ask about the things from my recent correspondence to her. She was amazing. I will miss her terribly.

From Louise Neathery-Wollin (at Denison known as Gigi Cretors)

group photograph

Mary K Campbell,in my opinion, was by far the best teacher in the art department at Denison.  I studied with her from 1966 to 1970.  Her encouragement and superior teaching of basic art principles gave me the basis to become a professional oil painter.  I was proud to return to Denison a few years ago for a special gallery showing of art work produced by Denison graduates who pursued a career in art.  I had a delightful lunch with Mary Kay at this time and discovered that she is truly ageless. After graduation, I continued to correspond with her and she always replied with such joy and enthusiasm to news concerning art exhibits and art fairs that I was attending.

When I was at Denison, there was also a special bond between all the students in the art department. I feel it was due to the love, pride and involvement that Mary Kay felt for all of us. I personally know the 4 people dancing with Mary K in the above photo.  This picture captures so perfectly what the Denison Art Department was all about, infused with Mary K's spirit and energy. I feel very blessed to have been a part of this special time and I am very grateful to Mary K Campbell for believing in me and in my talent. Her encouragement played a significant role in my decision to pursue a career in art. I will miss receiving her wonderful Christmas cards and fun postcards.  Fortunately I have saved most of them.  Denison was a great place for college and Mary K Campbell was certainly my favorite teacher.

From Carol Kubie

I had Mary K Campbell for several studio courses while at Denison during the 1960's, and I remember well her upswept hair and huge, brilliant, nearly constant smile….. such enthusiasm!

From Carol McKnight Wintermute

Post card from mary K

Mary K taught me much more than “how to do art”. She taught me to really see, rather than how to draw. She taught me to feel and sense, rather than sculpt. She taught me to dream and imagine, rather than make a design. She was a gifted teacher who could intimidate you, encourage you and play with you, all at the same time. I was an art major because of her.

But her most important gift was a principle that has been my guiding methodology in every field I have studied and worked in. She told us to start with a concept, idea or image. It didn't have to be fully fleshed out, but a place to begin. Then dive into the project with gusto. Then stand back every now and then and look at what you have and see if it is where you wanted to go and if you are on the right track. Then get back into the throes again. This principle of going from the general to the specific and back again is the essential description of the creative process. I sited this principle in my essay for graduate school in Family Social Science and my advisor told me it was this understanding of an analytical method of learning and doing that got me into the program. My area of concentration was moral and ethical development.

I am Dean of The Humanist Institute and whenever I am writing an article or talk, or developing a curriculum or course, it is Mary K's wonderful advice that reminds me to always stand back and be objective about your work before proceeding to go further. This has saved me time and again from continuing to go down the wrong path and gets me back on track.

Every holiday I looked forward to hearing from her and remembering this wise and witty lady who went the extra mile for her students. Dee Dee Gibbs Bryce was my roommate and Mary K went out of her way to help us with an extra project. She was one very special teacher and person. I will very much miss not hearing from her this year, but that won't stop me from thinking about someone who gave me a very great gift for life.

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