A humble and accomplished, artist Mary Applegate, 89, has affected lives for more than 40 years through her teaching, kindness and organic art.
Applegate was a retired District 15 teacher when she took her first Harper College art course in the 1980s. More than 30 years later, the Palatine resident is headlining her own art exhibit that reveals the evolution of her ceramics and sculpture collection.
"The truth is, Mary came here with a knowledgeable ceramic background," said Harper College professor Sam Rosby, who teaches ceramics and design. "I consider Mary to be a professional."
When looking at Applegate's art, Rosby said there's a narrative but it is open for interpretation. "Is it about peace or joy," he said.
Stepping outside of the professor role, Rosby sees Applegate's work as "unified, pleasing aesthetically and easy to look at."
The college hosted a reception for Applegate on Wednesday, inviting classmates, friends, and students to view her work from over the years.
Jack Schaefer, of Barrington, a member of the cultural commission who attended the reception, said that “Mary won a best of show in Barrington in the ’90s/ She would never tell you, she’s so modest.”
Past students also attended, showing support and admiring Applegate's art.
"She is still my favorite teacher," Devi Rajagopal-Kingston, who was third-grade student of Applegate 40 years ago, said. "I love learning with her, I take my kids to visit her, she is wonderful."
Travis Kingston, 12, said Applegate knows a lot of things. "Her art is so different."
"Her art is another layer of her talent," Rajagopal-Kingston said. "She’s the epitome of how to stay young."
Applegate said she started about 50 years go, just "throwing at the wheel," she said. Throwing is the process of shaping the lump of clay using a potter's wheel.
"I love the natural world, I love birds, I love design," Applegate said of her motivation to do art.
In 1999, Applegate created a three-part "mask" series, with each one depicting a hand covering half of the face and depicting different emotions.
"I always enjoyed making masks; I think most of us wear masks," she said.
When working on a project, Applegate never sets out with a specific end goal in mind. “It’s a mystery, I just kind of make it,” she said.
Applegate didn't release too many details, but her next project will be completed next week.
The exhibit, running through Wednesday, July 18, features a combination of artistic and functional work, including detailed pottery, unique twists on a teapot collection and an assortment of human and bird sculptures, said Melanie Krakauer, communication assistant for Harper College.
"It also displays her impressive free-form technique, in which she builds sculptures from slabs of clay and painstakingly molds each piece by hand," she said.
The exhibit is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays in the Art Exhibition Space, Room C200, Building C, on Harper’s main campus, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine.