Mother, artist, teacher, community activist
Wife, mother, artist, teacher and community activist Mary Hughes died March 9 at her home in Claremont. She was 69 years old.
Hughes has been a key player in community arts organizations and projects in Claremont/Pomona including the dA Gallery, Claremont Forum, 57 Underground and Claremont Lewis Museum of Art.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the only child of Russian-Ukrainian immigrant parents, her artistic talent was evident from an early age. She was accepted into a high school art program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which gave her a solid foundation in art and creative thinking.
Hughes balanced his art training with his interests in spirituality and mysticism. She first attended Edinboro State University, Edinboro, Pennsylvania, then completed her BA – graduating summa cum laude – in Art and Communication from Chatham University, Pittsburgh in 1977. 1982, she received her MFA from California State University, Long Beach.
She met her husband Ed in Edinboro when he walked past his meditation group practicing at a park gazebo, and insisted on approaching him. At 19, she marries her soul mate.
While still a student, she started working at the Bethlehem steelworks. His friends at Claremont remember many of his stories about his work putting out fires on slag heaps with his characteristic (and later fashionable) steel-toed boots.
In the late 1970s, the young couple moved to Claremont. Hughes commuted to Long Beach and earned her MFA at CSULB while her husband earned his doctorate in religion at Claremont Graduate University. The couple found their ideal community in the intellectual and creative offerings of Claremont and decided to make it their permanent home.
Hughes was recognized for her works early in her career. It has been exhibited and collected everywhere: California, Ohio, New Mexico, Washington DC and Massachusetts. She experimented with many forms, mixed media paintings, French marbling techniques, figurative imagery and abstract landscapes. His efforts also included book illustrations, vestment design, and liturgical banners for the Claremont Presbyterian Church.
Hughes’ work aligned with her interest in feminism, motherhood, process theology, and the Jungian interpretation of symbols. His paintings often depicted a central figurative element linked to a deeper spirituality. Her larger-scale works have taken the form of installations and community projects celebrating transformation and connection with nature.
Hughes held community workshops, including for seniors and children. She viewed her endeavors as laboratories for creative thinking and creation.
She has taught studio art at Chaffey and Crafton Hills colleges. After the birth of her two sons, Hughes took a deep interest in their upbringing and creativity. Focusing on children’s art education, she taught and developed an art curriculum at Carden Arbor View School in Upland and Sycamore Elementary School in Claremont.
“She brought a sense of thoughtfulness and reflection to every situation. She was our anchor,” her friend Chris Toovey said. “In the beginning, when we were creating the dA Gallery in Pomona, everyone was trying to understand who we were. Mary helped us focus during our many discussions around the dA kitchen table when we applied for our nonprofit status. She really took our candidacy seriously and helped shape our mission at that time. She brought a gravity to the table, drawn from her experiences working in museums in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
His many friends remember Hughes’ sweetly eccentric style of wearing long dresses with Doc Martens boots. She is also remembered for his intellectual depth and big-hearted nature.
The house was his sanctuary. It was a gathering place for artistic and cultural festivals, bringing together people of various interests and disciplines. His festive parties were legendary. The cheerful displays she created were often left in her home to enjoy for many months. This is where her art studio was built and where she raised her beloved sons in her free-flowing motherhood style.
When the children were young, Hughes moved his mother Lynn into her home and built a custom granny flat to suit her needs. After her mother passed away, her kindness extended to many lost animals and lost souls, whom she sheltered until they regained their stability and independence.
“Mary’s legacy is one of compassion and love,” her family shared. “A chance encounter with her, at a vernissage or in the Village, was always that chance for her to make you feel like you were the person she was there to see.”
In recent years, the Hughes have suffered from health issues and mobility issues. Their sons helped their parents through the changes with determination and dignity. With this help and that of her aide/caregiver Geoff Shaw, she remained active and continued to produce new artwork and fulfill her dedication to community arts. Several of her paintings were recently exhibited at the Ontario Museum of History and Art, where she received a third prize at the time of her death.
She is survived by her husband of 49 years, Ed; their two adult children, Sean and Matthew; caregiver/carer Geoff Shaw; and his many close friends who were part of his family.
A memorial is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, June 11 at Claremont Presbyterian Church, 1111 N. Mountain Ave, Claremont.
A retrospective exhibition of Hughes’ work will open Saturday, June 4 at the Sasse Museum of Art, 300A S. Thomas St. (basement), Pomona, and run through July 28. An opening event will take place during the Pomona Art Walk. , Saturday June 11 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Mary Hughes’ name to UNICEF, at https://www.unicef.org/ukraine/en, to help children in Ukraine.