Mary's Singular Live/Work Studio

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Name: Mary Sprague
Profession: Artist and Art/Art History professor (retired)
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Size: 4500 square feet
Years lived in: 27 years; owned

Mary's home and studio is an aggregation of 50 years of art. An active and longtime member of the St. Louis artistic community, she's also one of those women you want to be when you're in your 70s — whip smart, creative and kind. While many of the features of her space can be described as utilitarian – even her bed is a twin — the luxury comes with the amount of space she has to work with, and how the light moves through it throughout the day.

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The native northern Californian moved to St. Louis with her four children and then-husband in 1968. In the mid-80s, when all her kids moved out, she decided to invest — with a handful of other art-centric and forward-thinking folks — in a five-story former lightbulb warehouse in a rough and mostly commercial neighborhood in midtown St. Louis. The building was totally raw, with just a freight elevator and no interior walls.

Over the years, Mary carved out a home in her portion of the building, as need and opportunities arose. This included trading artwork for a 50s-style metal kitchen and "wallpapering" with printing plates left behind by another artist friend. In the process, her paintings and sculptures grew up around her, as much a part of the space as her furniture or fixtures. Yet the large, mainly open space is carefully organized, with distinct areas for sitting and sleeping. Even the many bits and pieces of found objects that comprise her sculptures are carefully displayed.

Creativity runs deep in her family, as shown by her daughter's realistic sink sculpture in the bathroom (complete with ceramic toothbrush and holder!) Similarly, her mother’s collection of Kachina dolls, and trinkets from her own travels, encompass her sleeping area. A small-scale totem pole, hand-carved by her father, occupies another honored corner.

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style:  Realist/Absurdist. 

Inspiration:  Just about everything I see.

Favorite Element:  Right now, form. 

Biggest Challenge:  Finding the right tool, either mechanically or in my head. 

What Friends Say: "Are you out of your mind?" 
"I don’t know what you are, but you’re no minimalist."

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Proudest DIY: What’s that - do it yourself?  That was my major you know. 

Biggest Indulgence: My summer house on the St Lawrence River which I actually bought before my place here [in St. Louis].

Best Advice:   Try to keep it fun. 

Resources:   My mind, my library, my memory, the dumpster, the bottom drawer. 

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Thanks, Mary!

(Images: Ann Manubay and Dabney Frake)

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