McMahon Retires Mrs. McPuppet for a Return to Fine Art
Ithaca’s Elizabeth McMahon diverted a career in fine art for nearly 25 years, to raise a family and entertain the community as Mrs. McPuppet. Now McMahon has returned to her roots in visual art. She will soon open a show of new paintings in an unusual venue. From October 1 through November 15, McMahon’s latest work will be shown at SewGreen, a textile reuse store in downtown Ithaca.
It was McMahon’s idea to juxtapose abstract art with the store’s beautiful collection of fabrics in many colors and textures. “Elizabeth just bopped in one day and said: ‘I’d like to show some paintings here,’” says SewGreen director Wendy Skinner. “Her energy is phenomenal. I hadn’t seen a single piece and I was already agreeing to a show.”
McMahon studied at the Parsons School of Art and Design, took some time off to design folk art displays at the United Nations, and continued her arts education at Syracuse University. After graduating in 1974, she moved to Ithaca and showed her work in local galleries. In 1980, she joined a year-long arts immersion program in New York City through Empire State College. The program provided studio space and a weekly critique by an accomplished artist.
“During that year, my work evolved from painting what I could see to inventing my own scenes based on two staples of the city: the fashion world and bakeries,” says McMahon. Her paintings were enormous and full of unexpected imagery. A wall-high canvas from that experience can be seen through the window of 123 South Cayuga Street.
McMahon went on to study at the Edna St. Vincent Millay art colony in Austerlitz NY, and in 1983, just after the birth of her first son, had a one-woman show at the Adam Gimbel Gallery in midtown Manhattan. She stayed with that gallery for three years until her second son was born, at which time, she says: “I decided to take a break from being an artist and enjoy my family.”
Enter Mrs. McPuppet, a persona created by McMahon to entertain her own children and then the entire community with handmade puppets and original songs. In a review of a McPuppet recording released in 1997, Diane Lebo Wallace wrote: “Elizabeth McMahon is a pretty snazzy person and a very enterprising mom. She has moved chameleon-like through painting, teaching, and puppeteering to songwriting, using her naturally sunny personality and relentless creative drive to warm and cheer nearly everyone in the vicinity.”
McMahon’s kids are grown-up, and Mrs. McPuppet has retired—but her warmth and “relentless creative drive” are as intense as ever and are being channeled into a series of vivid abstract paintings. SewGreen’s unique environment of fabric and fiber complements her work. The show at SewGreen, 112 North Cayuga Street, Ithaca opens Friday, October 3, during downtown Ithaca’s Gallery Night. For a preview of McMahon’s work, visitwww.elizabethwickendenmacmahon.com.