By Gina Malone
Mark Henry grew up in a military family, with frequent moves a way of life. One move took them to Okinawa, where he spent his teenage years. “The beauty of that tiny island most definitely influenced my art, and that is where I first started drawing landscapes,” Henry says. “I have been quite dyslexic all my life. This made me a poor student, but an admirer of things unspoken.”
He graduated from Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, in 1973. He also studied and worked with Leslie Posey, a sculptor and ornamentalist who worked in the Chicago and Detroit areas in the 1920s and 1930s. Henry credits Posey with inspiring him to pursue art.
“Branching out a bit, I was extremely lucky to work at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art as a master frame conservator,” Henry says. “This led to my lifelong appreciation of framing, frame history and how they can enhance or detract from a piece.” He continued painting while working at Hagenbeck-Wallace, Inc. as a set designer for the Ringling Bros. Circus and Disney on Ice. With that job, he says, “I honed my drafting skills and became friends with the clowns.”
Retirement to Western North Carolina offered views irresistible to a landscape painter and Henry immersed himself in capturing the majesty. “Many of these locations are quickly disappearing, or being irreparably damaged due to the tremendous influx of people moving to the mountains,” he says. “The scope of my work ranges from broad landscapes to intricately detailed interior scenes. Each piece conveys a moment in time—one fleeting moment in nature—that can never be duplicated.”
Henry works mainly in oils, pastels and charcoal, working on two different paintings at any given time. “I also design and build my own frames to complement each piece, using local and reclaimed wood whenever possible,” he says. “The materials I use are meant to last for generations. My goal is to create heirloom-quality pieces that will endure well into the future—an investment for the collector.”
In his Weaverville studio and workshop, he paints, builds frames and teaches classes to art students at beginner through more advanced levels. “I really enjoy meeting new people and introducing them to my style of romantic realism and the reasons I am an artist,” Henry says. “You can find me in the studio or wood shop most of the time, listening to all genres of music and, occasionally, enjoying a cocktail at the end of the day.”
His work is available at Mars Landing Galleries, in Mars Hill, where, says gallery founder and director Miryam Rojas, “the dramatic intensity and realism in Mark’s pastel and charcoal works have mesmerized every visitor to this current show. They are not dreamy by any means, but, rather, each conveys their own statement and emotion, so intentionally and precisely, as only true masters of their craft can do.”
Henry is active with the regional group P.A.P.A. (Preserving a Picturesque America), whose artist members seek to capture the same WNC sites depicted in a two-volume book titled Picturesque America and published in the 1870s. Just as the original publication is credited with preservation of natural lands and historic places in the country, P.A.P.A. seeks to continue to bring awareness to stewardship and preservation.
The group’s mission fits well with Henry’s own drive to paint the landscapes of WNC. “One of my more recent inspirations came while hiking with my friend Scott Varn, who is the founder and driving force behind P.A.P.A.,” Henry says. “We came to the top of Hickory Gap Falls. The view was truly awe-inspiring, and I knew I had to paint it. Shortly after completing the work, I ran into a park ranger who was admiring the piece at an art show. He told me that he was the one who had actually designed that very path on the trail through the woods so many years ago. A small world, indeed. My biggest thrill is to have people say that they have been at that exact location, and that I have captured it perfectly.”
Find Mars Landing Galleries at MarsLandingGalleries.com. Mark Henry’s paintings are also part of the Preserving a Picturesque America booth at Marquee Asheville. To learn more, visit MarkHenryLandscapes.com or follow on Facebook and Instagram. Visits to his studio and workshop in Weaverville are available by appointment.