Mary Aroian next one of her works on the wall and wearing jewelry she created (photo: Aram Arkun)

Worcester Gallery of Enamel Art Opening Showcases Mary Aroian’s Works

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WORCESTER — The opening of the Gallery of Enamel Art with the exhibit “Mary Aroian, 40+ Years of Color,” took place on September 14 and 15. Artist Aroian and her two sons Raffi and Mihran hosted approximately 200 visitors over the two days, according to the gallery’s website, in the one-room space.

Mary Aroian has a long history as an artist. She was born in Sultanabad, Iran in 1931, and moved with her parents to Tehran. Her father was an Iranian-Armenian rug dealer, while her mother came to Iran from Istanbul. As a young child, Mary used to go around and sketch what she saw in a sketchbook. Her parents, seeing this, encouraged her to develop her artistic talents as a child by hiring tutors for her. She submitted her dossier to the Vesper George School of Art in Boston and was accepted there, she said jokingly, 500 years ago. It was actually in the early 1950s, and she studied there two years, receiving an associate of arts degree. She later went to Boston University for graduate studies in art. She got married to Van Aroian in 1957 and had two boys.

Mary continued to do oil painting but developed an allergic reaction which led to her hospitalization and forced her to stop in the late 1950s. Instead, she switched to enamel (glass-on-metal) painting. She tried it at someone’s house and then took lessons at the Worcester Center for Crafts (https://www.worcester.edu/WCC/), where she began creating in the early 1970s. Dating back to 1856, this center is a nonprofit community-based arts organization which provides crafts education and supports artists/artisans. It has been affiliated with Worcester State University since 2009. Aroian also studied enamel art making in Maine at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.

An enamel portrait of an Armenian king

Aroian, despite her age, continues to bring her fifty-pound tool chest to the Center for Crafts in order to realize her creative work and feels at home in its friendly environment. Initially, she said that at her house, “I go downstairs in the basement, and draw the designs for my artwork on paper. I spend two to three hours a day there.” Afterwards, she redraws the design at the Worcester Center, which has its own kiln.

Honee Hess, executive director of the Worcester Center for Crafts, commented recently about Mary Aroian, “It is our good fortune at the Worcester Center for Crafts that when Mary Aroian had to stop oil painting she decided to try her hand at enamels! She is a talented, hardworking enamel artist who loves to tell others about her love of enamels. She uses the intesity of enamel color to its best and her work is a testament to her love of color.”

Mary has traveled to Italy and London to learn more about classical art. She said that she particularly enjoys the works of Impressionist artists. Prior to her marriage she studied art at the Istanbul college Notre Dame de Sion for a year and a half. She also went to China to study enamel art several decades ago.

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Mary explained that the sources of her inspiration always come to her spontaneously and that she does not have a preferred type of subject. On the website of the Gallery of Enamel Arts, images of her art are divided into the primary categories of birds, people, animals, jewelry, flowers and landscapes. Her son Raffi said he noticed a Middle Eastern inspiration in nearly everything she creates and though his mother called her work folk art, he felt it was closer to fine art. He added that his mother talked about Armenian illuminated manuscripts in the past, and said, “I think it has influenced the colors and images in some of her artwork.”

In fact, the opening exhibit included a piece which had an Armenian king in it, an Oriental carpet depicted in enamel, and an elegant motif with two birds which appeared similar to those in Armenian manuscripts.

Aroian has contributed pieces to various exhibits over the years and had an exhibit at the Armenian General Benevolent Union once. However, in general, she has been very private and protective of her work. Raffi Aroian said jokingly that she will only allow her art works out of her house under armed guard, so that to make his mother comfortable he had to arrange for an ex-Navy Seal colleague of his who normally transports weapons grade uranium to handle the transportation of her works to the new gallery. In fact, high tech security has been installed in the gallery.

An enamel piece by Mary Aroian

Aside from the larger pieces, which resemble paintings, Aroian creates enamel jewelry, a sample of which she was wearing on opening day. Special display cases for such smaller pieces of enamel work have been ordered for the gallery.

Neither of Mary and Van Aroian’s sons are artists professionally. Raffi is a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and runs a research lab dealing with infectious diseases. His brother, Mihran, is an entrepreneur and teaches at the McCombs College of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.

Raffi explained what motivated him to create the gallery: “The general concept is that everyone — my brother, my dad and myself — feel that my mother is a museum-quality artist who has never wanted to exhibit her stuff. We wanted to provide her with a safe and secure place to do that. In the process of doing this, I discovered that there is really very little for the enamel arts in the United States. Consequently, it would be great to share not just my mom’s artwork but enamel artwork in general with the world.” He added that it was different in Europe and China, where there were museums dedicated to this field.

Topics: Enamel, painting

Raffi said that in the future, “This space will be open to other enamel artists, and it would be phenomenal if other Armenian enamel artists would take advantage of this opportunity.” Every show or exhibition will have a few pieces by Mary Aroian in addition to the works of other artists. Raffi hopes that Armenian enamel artists, as well as others, will contact the gallery.

The Gallery of Enamel Art is in downtown Worcester, which is becoming a vibrant area for the arts. Its expenses are at present being managed by the family, but eventually it will start fundraising.

The next opening of the Gallery of Enamel Art will be on October 12 and 13, 12-2 pm, and feature “Cajun Color: Enamel Art with Cajun Spice Color Theme.” On October 13 there will also be Cajun music provided by Deux Amis in Concert.

The gallery, located at 340 Main St., Suite 505, will generally be open on the second Friday and third Saturday of each month from noon to 2 p.m. There is no cost for exhibiting or visiting the gallery. For more information, see https://www.enamelgallery.org/

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