By Irene Ruddock
Award-winning artist Mary Jane van Zeijts recently opened her own studio/gallery, Studio 268, at 268 Main Street in Setauket to display her work and teach art. I recently sat down with Mary Jane to share her thoughts on her art and her new adventures.
Irene: I know you recently moved back to Stony Brook from New Jersey. What made you move back?
Mary Jane: I missed the people, the art community, the silvery Long Island light that’s so special, but mostly I missed my friends! My children spent their first 11 years here so it is home to them, too. It confirms my belief that the Three Village area is a great place to bring up children. My son is in the Stony Brook School, which he loves. So many good things have happened to me since I’ve been back that I feel my life is going in a new and exciting direction. I never tire of things to paint here such as Avalon Park, [Frank] Melville [Memorial] Park and West Meadow Beach. The landscape is so varied that I am forever inspired to create.
I: You just renovated a house in Stony Brook that was on the Three Village Historical Society’s house tour. The decor of a house tells a lot about the owner. Tell us about it.
MJ: It’s really just things I’ve collected that are meaningful to me: a table from my parent’s blacksmith shop in Holland, Dutch wooden shoes, an antique clock, and paintings and sculptures from fellow artists. I like an uncluttered, clean design that lets me breathe, yet I yearn to be surrounded by things that touch my heart and are a part of my heritage.
I: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
MJ: Growing up, I was always involved with drawing and painting. I started teaching at age 16 at the Gifted Child Society where I realized that I loved working with young people. I received my bachelor’s degree in fine art from the Maryland Institute College of Art and earned my masters in art education from NYU.
I: Can you describe what you are trying to say when you paint?
MJ: It’s more about feelings than what I actually see and the desire to have those feelings come through the painting. Pastels allow me to do that because they are so immediate. You feel it and you can just put it down before it is lost. You don’t have to mix the paint, or wait for anything to dry. Creating is all about problem solving. It’s a great way to be aware of what’s around you, to interact with and observe nature, to create something that acknowledges the beauty everywhere. When someone buys my work, my wish is to make them happy and to have that painting “speak” to them.
I: Art is different to every artist. What is art to you?
MJ: Art allows you to be quiet with yourself, it centers you, and gives you an awareness of yourself. I believe art is one of the highest form of communication — a universal language that evokes emotions. One experiences art on a deeper level.
I: You have spoken about your family. What are they like?
MJ: My parents are Dutch. They are straight-forward, practical, no nonsense people who love family and traditions. They, like most Dutch people, love the water, the great outdoors and adventure. They have a very strong work ethic.
My great-grandparents were active in the Dutch underground in World War ll. They hid and moved Jewish families through Holland. I treasure a tea box given to me by a man who was saved by my family. I look back and hope this generation will be as strong, principled and loyal as they were. I hope this strength and bravery will go forward and will not be lost.
I: What is the best advice you have ever received?
MJ: My dad always gave the best advice. He said that “If someone says that you are not capable of doing something, you need to ignore them and try to do it anyway.” He said, “Just do the right thing and every else will fall in place.”
I: Tell me about your three children. What are they like?
MJ: Everyone says that they were brought up well, but their goodness and specialness doesn’t come from anything I did. They are better than I am. I have learned from them to try to handle life with grace and faith.
I: What would be your advice to them?
MJ: I would tell them to trust in themselves and let their faith guide them.
I: You have just opened your studio and gallery. What is your vision for that?
MJ: I am thrilled to fulfill my lifelong dream of having my own studio to share my art with the community. I want it to be a comfortable space where children and adults learn, guest artists show their work, and people feel free to just stop by and say hello. My vision is to make the studio a joyful place of creativity and excitement where all are welcome!
Studio 268 will hold a grand opening on Sunday, Dec. 20, from 1 to 5 p.m. Join Mary Jane before or after your holiday shopping to view the art, mingle with fellow artists and enjoy some light refreshments. The gallery is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For information about classes or private appointments, contact Mary Jane at [email protected] or call/text her at 631-220-4529. You may view her art at www.maryjanevanzeijts.com.