Teaching As an Art: On Mary Atherton

A letter from Mary Horenkamp, ’85, on Mary Atherton, MFA

By Mary Horenkamp, ’85
Mary Atherton

It was with a heavy heart that I read of the passing of Mary Atherton (in July 2011).

Mary (as she insisted I call her after I graduated) was a talented, inspiring, caring teacher with an infectious knowledge of and enthusiasm for art. Art history, in particular, was one of those life-changing classes that forever helped me analyze, understand, and truly appreciate art. Drawing, painting, and calligraphy were some of the other classes I took, all with the same sense of inspiration, understanding, and enjoyment. Her classes were always fun!

She never stopped pushing me to become the best artist I could be. I remember asking her why I wasn’t earning any As in her classes. I thought I was a good artist! She told me that if she gave me an A, I would stop trying to earn one. She was right—I kept trying to earn one, and when I finally did in calligraphy, it was the best report card ever.

Mary and I kept in touch after graduation until just a few years ago when she told me she had suffered a stroke. I looked forward to her Christmas cards every year with great anticipation—not only for what she had to say and how eloquently she wrote, but how beautifully she wrote it. I’ve always endeavored to imitate her calligraphic handwriting (my notebooks from other classes are evidence of that), especially her breathtaking capital “M.” The lessons she taught in calligraphy and in studio classes have stayed with me: I use them to this day as a graphic designer.

Her husband, George, was my graphic design teacher, so both Mr. and Mrs. Atherton were instrumental in my choice of profession.

I will dearly miss her beautiful art and writing, our talks about Jane Austen and cats, and her timeless words of wisdom. Requiescat in pace, Mary.

Mary A. Horenkamp, ’85
Baltimore, Md.

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