In the basement of a chic cottage that backs up to Gloucester’s Goose Cove are hundreds of original prints and paintings—two lifetimes of artwork by Mary Ann and Mace Wenniger, now in their early eighties and nineties, respectively. Some are framed and mounted and singled out by studio lights. Many more are stacked against the walls, pinned like clothes on a line, and stuffed into storage cabinets like books of handmade paper—and there’s that, too, sculpturally gathered in a vitrine.
The couple is still sorting through their oeuvre five years after moving in and filling up the Wenniger Cottage Gallery, a 100-square-foot front room much smaller and tucked away than the Rockport, Boston and Provincetown fine-print galleries they owned and contributed to for more than four decades.
"We were always on the beaten path, and it's humbling," Mary Ann said.
But downsizing has freed them up to cultivate and play off each other’s creativity.
"There is always sort of a tension, what do I do?" Mary Ann said. "And it’s incredible to have a partner who can get right into whatever art form."
"I'm the sculptor; she does the prints," said Mace, who recently revived his talent for woodworking.
Mace had started carving as a teenager but moved on to painting as a student at Paris’s Académie de la Grande Chaumière during World War II.
Meanwhile, Mary Ann was becoming an arts professional. She helped pay for her art history degree from NYU by selling tickets at the Guggenheim and then got her master’s in art education at Harvard. She was teaching at a Wayland junior high school when she met Mace, who was working as a Boston city planner. They married and moved to Manchester by the Sea, where they would raise six children.
Over time, they emboldened each other to develop their creative skill. First Mary Ann suggested that Mace drop into the figure-drawing sessions at the Rockport Art Association. He ended up being a regular for two decades. Between children, and with Mace's encouragement, Mary Ann took etching classes at the Radcliff Institute and later at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.
"I probably wouldn’t have developed as an artist if we hadn’t married," Mary Ann said.
With a borrowed etching press and eventually one of her own, she pulled through vibrant plates depicting Cape Ann coves and lighthouses, people at work, abstracts, clotheslines, and what she describes as “ritual garments”—long underwear, gowns and blue jeans—that, to her, have an emotional resonance.
"In my life, as well as doing picturesque things," she said, "it’s been a source of visualizing the happiness or pain somewhere along."
She had just lost her job when told her he had always wanted to own an art gallery, an idea he had gotten on his commute after reading about the groundswell in American printmaking.
So in 1971, they rented a room in Rockport for $125 and borrowed works by unheard of artists.
“We had to see if this was going to work," she said.
That rented room turned into a summer business once they opened a location on Boston’s Newbury Street, where they held exhibitions by Works Progress Administration artists and Eastern-bloc engravers.
Mary Ann told the Boston Globe in 1978, "I try to keep it non-elitist," and that "I would rather sell to students who are knocked out by the beauty of something than to people looking for a status symbol or something to match their curtains."
Mary Ann herself was knocked out by a mixed-medium printmaking method she discovered while running the galleries: collagraphy.
From pressing plants, stones, and what Mary Ann jokes is "trash" into glue, she experimented and wrote the book on the medium in 1978.
"I use a lot of junk," she said, “but it has to be thin, thin, thin." "The fun of it is using things like feathers, grass, just getting into all sorts of odd things."
Mary Ann relied on her husband’s eye as she refined her craft, and he often corrected the perspective etched into her plates. Though he’s become quieter and less able-bodied with age, she stills turns to him for his opinion, and describes his line drawings as "more abstract, ragged, but no less strong."
A few years ago, Mace asked one of their children for a set of carving tools for Christmas, and now dozens of his small, wooden bas relief sculptures decorate the coffee tables and corners of the house—and some are for sale, of course. Since he no longer drives, Mary Ann picks up the materials, like the large block of wood from Beverly he requested after waking up one recent day.
"He’s been possessed by the sculpture the way I was possessed more at the beginning with the printmaking," she said.
In their shared studio, steeped in natural light and covered in paint, Mace carves in a chair next to Mary Ann’s printing press. They used to work in separate spaces, and sometimes he’ll sit in the living room or outside, but not beyond being able to shout or hear, "Do you like this?"