Mary Jane Lancaster, Painter and Sculptor

Date Published: Fri, 01 May 2015

Random Acts of Exuberant Art

Some people start so many projects that even when they only finish most of them they are best described as prolific. Painter and sculptor Mary Jane (MJ) Lancaster is prolific. Stepping into the foyer at her refurbished / restored 1917 home in Carleton Place, the extent of her artistic energy is immediately apparent.

The welcoming home is chockablock with pets and art — including art by many other artists previously featured in theHumm. Lancaster’s paintings actually are in the minority because she has sold most of them, even though she works a fulltime “day job” at The MCP Group of digital and offset printing companies. Her vivid paintings suggest the wide range of interests that fuels their creator’s artistic engines: florals, portraits, Inuit-inspired designs, still-lifes and whimsy.

Artwork by artist Mary Jane Lancaster

This artist can draw. In response to my admiring comment, she shows me her anatomy study book from art classes taken decades ago, and it blows me away. In addition, she is blessed with an exceptional three-dimensional capability that enables her to visualize objects, and whole scenes, from any perspective. Sometimes she draws or paints with the canvas upside down.

Lately MJ is capitalizing on her 3D skills by concentrating on clay sculptures, and they are wonderful. A prime example is the Ibérico pig she has just created as a gift to her son, Nick McGee. He produces artisan cured, ethically-raised meat products for The Whole Beast in Victoria, BC. Lancaster likes a challenge, and the pig sculpture filled the bill. Finding a way to support the pliable clay for firing was a real learning experience.

Another enjoyable sculpture is her baby dinosaur emerging from its egg. I wonder what sculpture she will come up with to celebrate when daughter, Alexandra McGee, completes her Master’s Degree in History at McMaster University. MJ readily attributes much of her sculpting success to the training and inspiration she receives on an ongoing basis from fellow Carleton Place potter and sculptor Victoria Jenkins (Victoria was our featured artist in November 2014).

Another sculpture illustrates MJ’s mischievous sense of humour. She created a flower vase in the shape of a man’s shirt and tie, and positions it strategically to suggest to her husband when a floral gift might be particularly appropriate. I think she should make a mould and mass-produce them.

If creative energy had a colour, Lancaster would be leaving traces of it everywhere she goes. As soon as the weather improves, she will have her hands in garden dirt instead of clay, and I hope to wangle an invitation for a return trip to see the results. Her garden is replete with her sculptures and other art objects. Her appetite for decoration is unusually catholic. She describes herself as “A.D.D.”, but her only symptoms are actually positives. She may have “difficulty sitting still or attending to one thing for a long period of time, and may seem overactive,” but she sure gets things done.

Roots and Blooms

Mary Jane Lancaster is the 45th and last grandchild of Frank and Sarah Lancaster, who homesteaded a sixteen-acre tract just two kilometres from where MJ lives today. A native of Carleton Place, MJ credits her high school art teacher, Brad Johns, with cultivating and honing her lifelong interest in art. As a teenager she spent evenings drawing, and after graduation she attended Sheridan College in Brampton, taking courses in illustration.

Painter and Sculptor Mary Jane Lancaster

Since then she has been hired and rehired ten times by Bill and Judi Crampton’s Motion Creative Printing (MCP) Group. She quips, “Now when I quit to do something else, they don’t even clear my desk.” In addition to raising two kids, MJ took a “leave of absence” to work for three years at her brother’s antique store in Toronto. The work entailed extensive travel to NYC and Miami, and encounters with clients like Whoopi Goldberg, Diane Keaton and Dustin Hoffman.

Eventually the life experiences she had as she travelled convinced her that Carleton Place was where she wanted to live. “I had always wanted to be famous, until I got to know a few people who really were,” she told me. “I got so sick of fake, false people who just wanted to impress you or sell you something. I really wanted to get back to my small town where people really care.” In May 2000, she moved back, remarried in 2002, and has become a vital member of the burgeoning arts community. She proudly displays a small framed scrap of wallpaper signed in 1917 by one of her grandfather’s employees that she discovered during her restoration of her house on John Street.

From 2006 to 2008, Lancaster worked with the Cramptons to create and manage the Virtual Art Market as a co-op for local artists in Carleton Place. She managed the shop, chose the artists and their work, and monitored all inventory and sales. In addition she organized workshops and was responsible for all promotional collateral. She continues to be a very active promoter of Arts Carleton Place, and a dynamic addition to the community’s arts scene.

It was only three years ago that Mary Jane participated in the first public showing of her art, sharing a stop with painter and muralist Angélique Willard (featured in June 2001) during the annual Arts Carleton Place Arts Tour.  Lancaster, with Willard and Adrian Baker (featured in May 2006), is hard at work on her latest artistic adventure. The three artists have been selected to paint twelve window panels depicting scenes from the Edmund Street former Town Hall, which also served as a jail and school. On Saturday, May 23, four cultural organizations are hosting a plant sale, art show and sale, and the grand unveiling of the “Window Art at the Museum” murals. Arts & Heritage on Edmund Street, Arts Carleton Place, the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, and the Carleton Place & District Horticultural Society have joined together to celebrate the building’s rich history.

The panels are just another example of Lancaster’s appetite for experimentation and challenge. She recently learned, through trial and error (her favourite method), how to repair a huge outdoor Plexiglas sculpture. Many of her triumphs involve restoration projects in her own home. For Mary Jane, her continuing mastery of diverse media and art forms is what gets her up in the morning. From shadow boxes to murals to portraits to sculptures — she is never afraid to say “I’ll try that!”

Get in touch

For full contact details, a photo gallery of Lancaster's work and more, follow the links at the top of this page.

Humm profile by Sally Hansen

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Profile | Gallery | Listing for Mary Jane Lancaster