Mary Lynn Portera
A native of Chattanooga, Mary Lynn has art in her blood: she remembers her grandmother always working with her hands and teaching her how to make lace. She remembers too being mesmerized by potters demonstrating their work at the art and craft shows her parents (themselves avid collectors) visited with their children.
She also has close ties to Baylor: her older brother, Charlie, was an '82 graduate, and Mary Lynn always wanted to follow in his footsteps. After studying graphic design for three years at Ole Miss (and spending a summer in Italy), Mary Lynn transferred to East Carolina, immersed herself in pottery, and won the Outstanding Senior Award in ceramics. There followed apprenticeships with several North Carolina potters, study of production methods, and study at the Penland School of Crafts.
Settling in Asheville, Mary Lynn worked as a potter before returning to Chattanooga. Her predecessor at Baylor, Bill Ashley, had taught Mary Lynn at GPS; when he could no longer continue teaching in the fall of 1996, the school asked Mary Lynn to fill in, and she was hired full-time the next year. Mary Lynn considered teaching at the college level (she has taught at Chattanooga State), but with the opening of the Ireland Studio Arts Center, she now teaches in a facility that is nicer than most colleges': "It's awesome," she says; "we can do things we couldn't possibly do before."
Also, Baylor students are easy to teach ("they're not slackers"), and she is amazed by the ideas they generate when presented with a challenge. For example, when she asks sculpture students to create a slab box with a lid that opens in a creative way, she loves to see the many approaches they take. Mary Lynn begins her pottery classes by demonstrating hand positions and tools. Once students understand a particular skill, she gives them the freedom to experiment with their techniques. By the end of the semester, Pottery I students can attempt a place setting, and Pottery II students know how to make larger and more sculptural forms.
Mary Lynn is very much a practicing artist; "I do the same thing I teach," she says. Always preparing for the next show, she works in many mediums: textiles, papers, wood, metal. She and her husband, Doug Schumaker, have a daughter, Mary Kathryne '18, and a son, Lakeland.