Faculty profile: Mary Kenny


Photo: Emily Tessmer

Mary Kenny works on prints at the Holman Arts and Media Center.

The art studio at the Holman Arts & Media Center building is peaceful, and a certain creativity and strength emanate from the students at their easels. Mary Kenny makes her way, weaving from one student to the next, wearing her apron as a testament to her and her student’s crafts. She refers affectionately to her domain at Holman as “The Hive.”

“It’s a place that buzzes with creativity,” Kenny said. “When the building is full, and people are doing their projects, we feel a buzz here.”

Kenny loves having a captive audience, and wants her students to share in her joy of art. She loves the intelligence and different experience her students add to her classes. She celebrates the fact that at Sierra Nevada College there is more to learning than lecture, and that her students learning environment is one of sharing and connection.

“The creativity is already there, and it is great to see the whole department participating in moving the students along their path,” Kenny said.

One of her favorite facets of teaching in the art department, is the interdisciplinary aspect of the professors, and students alike. Kenny encourages her students to use different media to bring their art to fruition.

“Use what you have, and what you’ve learned here, and do it all,” Kenny said.

Originally hailing from Ohio, Kenny has been an associate professor at SNC since 2002. At that time, she had just finished grad school at Kent State and completed her masters in printmaking. After moving  west, she came to SNC to take a workshop on non-toxic printmaking and was offered a job in the SNC art department that fall.

Kenny feels it was kismet that both worlds aligned, and she accepted the job.

“Now I teach printmaking, drawing, painting, professional practices, and design,” Kenny said.

Community is key to Kenny in her teaching, and she loves getting to know her students and their stories. Her impact as a teacher can be felt from students present and past.

“Mary is an inspirational person,” said Joe Taylor, an art teacher and SNC alumni. “Her art is often reflecting on connections in the world.”

Kenny’s inspiration comes from real-world experiences.

“I am influenced by music and poetry,” she said. “I might be driving and listening to a poet on NPR and will have to pull over and write down what I am seeing. To me, life experiences inspire visuals in images.”

Last Spring Kenny took her SNC students to Italy for an art history journey, and during her time off likes to travel to Ireland, or “The Old Country,” as she calls it.

Kenny wants her students to recognize what they want to do with their art and go after it. Being able to create relationships with her students and support them in their artistic endeavors at SNC creates a lasting foundation.

“That’s one of the nice things about being at a small school,” Kenny said.

Giving her students the skills, they need to create the art they want to make, and promote it when they graduate, is her priority. She is very proud of her past students and their accomplishments. Some have received grants from Sierra Arts, and some have been given residencies at other institutions. Her excitement around her student’s successes is palpable.

“Being an artist is about being an observer,” Kenny said. “What is your perspective and how are you seeing the world?”