Volunteer Award – Reunion 2007

Mary Drake Wickliffe was surrounded by natural beauty as she grew up in rural Western Kentucky, but she could find art only in books.  She has spent much of her life making art available to others.

Mary majored in art at Sullins College (now King College) in Virginia, earning an Associate in Arts degree in 1948.  She taught elementary-school art back home in Greenville, Kentucky while continuing to study at Western Kentucky State University.  Upon her marriage to Paul Wickliffe, Jr. in 1951, the couple moved to New Jersey, where the Wickliffes raised their son, Paul III, in Summit.  In 1974 Mary entered Drew’s Continuing University Education program.  After taking full advantage of the opportunities available to art majors and writing an honors thesis on the symbol of the snake in ancient Greek art, she earned her B.A. degree summa cum laude in 1977.

Volunteering has been an integral part of Mary’s life.  The most notable of her art-related volunteer activities has been her 50 years of effort for the Summit Art Center, now the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey.  She chaired committees beginning in the 1960s and served a term as secretary and one as president.  She co-managed an outreach program for nursing home residents, and joined the all-volunteer Gallery Committee.  From 1980 to 1984 she was the gallery’s head curator, then remained on the committee and curated exhibitions for the next 15 years.  She designed and wrote catalogs, created relationships with New York galleries to bring “big city” art to the suburbs, and guided the gallery though the American Association of Museums’ accreditation process, always using her Drew experience to make the center’s exhibitions more ambitious and produce them more professionally.  In 1999 she wrote a history of the center for Summit’s Centennial Exhibition.

Mary also developed her own painting, self-taught at age 11, by taking many classes at the center over a 20-year period.  Her work, featured at numerous New Jersey exhibitions, took a back seat to other activities for years.  More recently she has been painting again.  Mary continues to live in Summit since Paul Wickliffe’s death in 2006.  She keeps in close touch with their son, a recording engineer, and his wife, Roseanna, a jazz singer.  Mary’s granddaughter, Sarah, who continues the family interest in the arts, has just won a student Oscar for her animated film, Art’s Desire.