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Mary Ratcliff explores what connects us

Mary Ratcliff explores what connects us

September 22, 2016 // by Denise M. Reagan

Mary Ratcliff hit the ground running for her student residency at MOCA Jacksonville. At about one month into the process, she has set up her studio, outlined the ideas for her exhibition, chosen a name (Interwoven: Heart, Home, and Community), and collaborated with dozens of people who have crocheted links for her project.

We asked her a few questions about what has led her to this point in her art career.

Mary Ratcliff Preparing Presentation
Mary Ratcliff prepares a presentation to explain her ideas behind Interwoven: Heart, Home, and Community with the MOCA Jacksonville staff. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.

Where are you from originally?

I am originally from Allensville, a rural town in southeastern Ohio. I graduated from Vinton County High School in McArthur, Ohio.

How did you decide to attend the University of North Florida?

I moved to Jacksonville almost five years ago Knowing that I wanted to finish my degree, I quickly discovered UNF. Within months of living here, I visited campus, talked to an adviser, and started the next fall.

How did you become interested in studying art?

I have always had a strong interest in art, but it wasn't until I lived in Savannah, Georgia, that the educational aspect presented itself. I was influenced by the art culture and community stemming from Savannah College of Art and Design and decided to enroll. I completed a year of foundational studies there, moving to Jacksonville the following year.

Mary Ratcliff Studio September Art Walk Welcome Sign
A welcome sign greets visitors to Mary Ratcliff's studio on the fifth floor of MOCA Jacksonville. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.

What drew you to sculpture?

I enrolled at UNF studying art education, which requires you to complete an entry-level sculpture class. It was that semester that I seemed to find my niche. I loved every aspect of taking an idea to a three-dimensional form. The passion I felt for completing and perfecting my work was not something to disregard. I changed my major after that semester and have momentously propelled myself into sculpture ever since.

What areas of sculpture have you explored and what areas do you plan to explore in the future, particularly for this residency?

I have found most of my work to involve processes of metal fabrication and fiberglass, but I am interested in many areas of sculpture. For this residency, I plan to step out of my comfort zone, utilizing yarn and various fibers, wood, and casted elements.

What themes are represented in your work?

Aesthetically, I work with a colorful palette and often combine repeated geometric and organic shapes and forms. I believe these qualities bring life and energy to my artwork, which seems to resonate with my audience.

Conceptually, I explore aspects of life that connect us to one another. I am intrigued by the inner workings of the brain and the psychological and physiological connections and dependencies that link us together as a society. 

Mary Ratcliff Studio September Art Walk Visitors in Chairs
Visitors crochet links for Mary Ratcliff's project during the September Downtown Art Walk. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I seem to focus on two things: nature and human nature. The rural area where I grew up has a natural scenic beauty that has always captivated me. I believe the complex beauty of our natural world has the power to positively affect humanity. 

Furthermore, I find great wonder in the natural tendency of humans to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. My work explores these ideas and often reflects our individual abilities to positively affect the lives of others.

Do you plan to pursue art as a career?

I am definitely pursuing art as a career and plan on attending graduate school upon graduation at UNF. I will stay active in creating my own art, but I am also hopeful to one day pursue a teaching position.

Do you plan to stay in Jacksonville?

I plan to further my education through graduate studies, which means I will be moving out of Jacksonville. However, that should not imply that returning is out of question.

Mary Ratcliff Studio September Art Walk Crochet Closeup
A visitor crochets links for Mary Ratcliff's project during the September Downtown Art Walk. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.

How has your experience at UNF been as an artist?

I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that I have experienced at UNF. We have astounding sculpture facilities; remarkable, inspirational, and motivating professors; and genuinely, a magnificent art department overall. Additionally, we get the chance to work on impactful projects that directly influence our success after graduation.

When will you graduate?

I will graduate next spring.

What have been some of the standout moments in your art career so far?

In my first sculpture class, I won MOCA's Material Alterations contest, which granted me the opportunity to have my work displayed during Art Walk. At this point, I was just getting my feet wet, but moving forward, I fully submerged myself into the world of sculpture. Since that time, I have created five large-scale public outdoor artworks. Most recently, I was recognized for my solar-powered sculpture at the UNF Seaside Sculpture Park in Jacksonville Beach.

What was that process applying for the student residency like?

The proposal was slightly difficult in regards to defining the artworks that would be created in the exhibition. I want my work to respond to the space in which it is exhibited. So without physically being in the gallery, I was unable to truly solidify design elements to work within the space. So, I guess the biggest obstacle was translating my ideas without knowing exactly what the finished artworks would entail.

Mary Ratcliff Studio September Art Walk Visitors Love Seat
Visitors crochet links for Mary Ratcliff's project during the September Downtown Art Walk. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.

Describe the project you will do for the MOCA residency and exhibition.

My project is focused on the aspect of community and collaboration. It stands for a rejection of the divisiveness I see on the rise in our society. My vision is to construct an experience that will exude beauty and strength through collaboration. My artwork will serve as a reminder of the potential and power that can emerge from unity.

Describe your interest in community collaboration and/or involvement for this project. How do you envision people will participate and/or assist?

Essentially, the focus behind the exhibition is unity. The goal is for people to individually have their own small imprint in the exhibition. But the idea is to outreach to as many people as possible so these seemingly small contributions come together in a big way. The artworks I will be constructing involve the use of crocheted yarn chains and net-making. The goal is for visitors to come in and crochet their own links in the ongoing yarn chains or aid me in the creation of the nets. The idea is abstractly linking one another through the physical joining of fibers.

What challenges will the MOCA Jacksonville studio space present? How will you use the studio space? 

I think the biggest issue is my desire to work large scale. Because the studio and gallery space are on the fifth floor, all elements must fit within the dimensions of the freight elevator. I have to design my works as modular components, and then assemble once in the space. 

Mary Ratcliff Studio September Art Walk Net Closeup
Mary Ratcliff displays an example of the kind of net that will be used in her exhibition. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.

What will MOCA Jacksonville visitors see in your studio space?

A few things that are a guarantee: color, yarn, art, and energy.

I plan to set up part of the studio space as a comfortable, inspirational living space. My vision is to create an energetic, inviting atmosphere that visitors feel welcome and compelled to get involved. I also plan to make some smaller models of my work, so visitors have some insight into the works that I will be creating.

Will your work at MOCA Jacksonville focus on a particular theme?

The collaborative aspect is the underlying focus of the exhibition. I am hopeful that people feel motivated and compelled to get involved. I want to facilitate an experience that makes art approachable, engaging, and genuinely fun, not only for typical Museum visitors, but to all members of our community, and maybe even extending beyond Jacksonville.

Have you ever worked in front of people, particularly large groups of people? 

In a few instances, I have worked with larger groups of people, but this is one of the most exciting aspects for me. Part of my inspiration of being an artist is possessing the ability to motivate and inspire others. So public events like Art Walk are the perfect opportunity to extend myself further into my community and involve them in my art.

What goals do you have as an artist?

First and foremost, I want to complete a master's program in sculpture. During this time or soon after, I would also love to participate in another residency program. Mostly, I am attempting to soak up as my knowledge from an artistic standpoint, so that one day, I can share this wealth of information with my own students.

How will the student residency help your education and your art career?

Gaining the knowledge and experience of working with a Museum are critical as an artist. The student residency will provide a jumpstart into my career in this regard. Additionally, the ability to work in a public setting allows me not only exposure but also personally connects me to the Jacksonville community.

Is there anything else you'd like people to know?

My blessings are truly infinite in regards to my experiences at UNF. I am humbled by the life-changing experiences I have endured since enrolling four years ago. In regards to the residency, I am very eager to begin this exciting journey and hopeful to truly motivate and inspire my Jacksonville community in the development of my exhibition. 

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