he possibilities are endless,” says Mary of her richly hued,
one-of-a-kind decoupage designs, each glowing through clear glass plates and trays.
     In the studio of her New York City apartment, Mary has filed away 'tens of thousands of pictures--animals, angels, flowers, art. An image suggests other images, themes, colors until the picture play comes together in a unique and often witty way. On the octagonal piece at upper right, 19th-century Staffordshire evokes a period mood in a plate about plates. Most of Mary's are made of clear, tempered French glass. At bottom right: A family photo can be the basis of a very personal custom-made gift.


“Glass seems to enhance colors; it gives the vibrant effect of something seen underwater,” says Mary Anderson, who for many years was a prolific writer of children's books. Now, under her crafts name of Mary Nell, she is just as prolific as a decoupage artist, having created nearly a thousand imaginative designs on usable glass plates since the art took over full-time three years ago. “I never get bored, because, just as in writing for children, there are no boundaries, no rules, no limits to what you can try or imagine.” Mary did not have a crafts-rich childhood, so when her three daughters arrived, she made sure there were lots of materials always at hand.

“I found I had a tremendous need to be making things--dollhouses, fancy packages, anything.” She first discovered the intensifying quality of glass when dreaming up crafts projects for her girls to give as Christmas presents. “They each did a little drawing, and we glued them on the back of glass coasters," she recalls. "I loved the effect-but I had no idea it would one day lead to a real business!”

Creating a
Loving Gift

     For a special wedding anniversary, birthday, or other family commemoration, Mary specializes in creating custom-designed plates from old family photographs, like the symphony of sisters above. “It's a unique and very personal sort of surprise,” she says. “I love working with old photos--they have so much personality. Often I feel I'm entering a family's history. For example, one woman wanted to let her mother know how much her childhood summers, in a wonderful house in an apple orchard, had meant to her. So we decided to surround the family picture with apple blossoms. For another family, I created six plates, each in a different color. And then they all got together and had a picnic with them! Or I can make a set to match a fabric.” Mary points out that her creations are entirely usable, and easily cleaned by handwashing. And, once photocopied, the precious family photographs are returned.

Mary points out that creating a collage on the back of a plate is actually decoupage in reverse: “Because rather than build up the picture, background to foreground, you are laying the foreground image down first.” She manages this front-to-back challenge by assembling her design elements between two glass plates: “like making a transparent sandwich.” When she started doing decoupage, she began using up her precious picture files fast, “until I discovered the wonders of high-quality color photocopying! Now I can use the same images in different ways.”

One plate can take days to complete, because each stage--from gluing the scrap to backing the whole with patterned tissue, to painting and then scaling with several coats of polyurethane--has to dry before she can start the next. “It's painstaking work” she admits. Which may explain why Mary is often still up at 2 A.M., playing classical music as she snips tissue or pores through garden catalogs for just the right pansies or peonies.

Although her one-woman business has flourished, she insists that, for her, the bottom line is: “Am I having fun? You can't guarantee success. But you can guarantee that what you do is fulfilling. And after three years, I still can't wait to start something new each day.”