Mary “Marty” Andruss traces her independent artistic spirit back to an elementary school art class experience that might have discouraged any other youngster.
“I remember the first art piece I ever made,” the Chickasaw artist said. “I was in art class in about the third grade. It was a ceramic turtle and I put quilt squares on its back and my art teacher said, ‘You can’t do that!’
“I thought, why not? And it kind of went from there,” Andruss said.
Today, at 85 years of age, Andruss is still at it as she molds textile pieces left over from others at the Mahota Studio at the ARTesian Gallery & Studios in Sulphur, Oklahoma. There, she molds these textile leftovers into dolls, necklaces, jewelry and other items.
“We find that a lot of people who come to the gallery are from out of town and some don’t have room to take big pieces with them, but they’d like to have something as a souvenir.”
The ARTesian Gallery & Studios is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the annual Chickasaw Nation Artesian Arts Festival traditionally held over the Memorial Day weekend was canceled.
The Chickasaw Nation is hosting the Artesian Online Art Market at ArtesianArtsFestival.com where art lovers can purchase work from Chickasaw and Southeastern Indian artists through July 31. There, Andruss and other First American artists have a platform to market their unique creations.
“I make things out of scraps,” she said. “All the pieces that come off those looms are labor intensive and the prep work before being put on the loom is unbelievable. All that material is handwoven one piece of yarn or string at a time.”
Andruss also sometimes contributes to others’ creations.
“If someone has woven a piece that’s been made into a poncho, for instance, or a blouse, or something like that, I will take something of the same color and make a necklace to gas it up a little,” she said.
Andruss began working with the ARTesian Art Gallery & Studios in September 2018 after retiring from teaching and eventually moving to Sulphur following her husband’s death.
“I majored in English and minored in art and taught English for 24 years,” she said.
Her heart’s desire was to teach art, but her husband was also a teacher and a coach, which meant starting out in small school districts where art classes were an unaffordable luxury item. This lack of opportunity did not diminish her innate passion.
“I stayed interested in it and was always working on my art,” she said.
Along the way she sold antiques and handcrafted items at fairs and other local venues. She currently maintains a booth in Hudson’s Antiques in Ada, Oklahoma.
Andruss admits there are other advantages to staying busy with her art these days.
“It keeps me off the streets and out of the refrigerator,” she said with a laugh.