Volunteer Spotlight: Mary O'Connell

April 15, 2020 by Rachel Olson

Interviewed by MacKenzie Colton

Mary O’Connell first got involved with The Umbrella through taking acrylic painting classes with Joy Buell. She studied art in school and has been seeking to reconnect to her studies now that her kids are older. She continued her involvement by volunteering to usher for the productions at The Umbrella.  

Can you explain your volunteer work?

I was looking to volunteer somewhere as I had extra time on my hands, and when I heard about ushering at the Open House last September, the timing was perfect as I had recently returned to focusing on my painting and taking classes again. I was excited to meet people at The Umbrella and become more a part of the local art community. I love attending the theater, but rarely get to go, and thought it would be a great way to help out and see the performances.  

What keeps you coming back?

It’s been a great opportunity to see people at The Umbrella involved in different roles outside the painting classroom. I continue to volunteer because it’s been a lot of fun, the performances are fantastic, and it’s been an honor playing a small part in helping the show run smoothly.

What do you enjoy about the painting class you’ve been taking?

For me it’s been a self-discipline thing to go and paint regularly. Joy has really inspired me and she’s been the first instructor that has taken me under her wing. She has been more than just three hours a week because she keeps in touch. Even though class is cancelled, she’s emailing us as a group and telling us what she’s working on and wants to know what we’re working on. I find her very encouraging and she believes in me and helps me be more confident in my skills.

What hobbies do you have?

I upcycle furniture, which I’ve been doing for years. I use an old technique of vinegar painting to make faux wood textures on the wood. A lot of the pieces I found on the street, just people discarding them. I’m able to redo them in a unique and artistic way. I've donated a few pieces to HGRM (Home Goods Recycling of Mass) to raise money for their silent auction, and sold a piece on consignment, but I’m still seeking the right venue to show and sell my work.

Mary has enjoyed the painting class and the opportunity it has created for her to connect and aid some of the other students in the class. It has been a way for Mary to share her knowledge and background with them as many of the women in the class are new to painting. She is able to see their struggles, having faced them herself, and help them. Recently, Mary has been using her sewing skills to make face masks for Lowell General Hospital and The Umbrella community.

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