Mary Byrd doesn't paint.
Though she is a master gardener, Byrd doesn't sculpt, work in mosaics or in any other media to create art.
Still, the Evans resident learned to love the creative process so much from longtime friend and artist Lynell Widener that she started supporting artists.
For 25 years, Byrd has provided scholarships for Columbia County students attending Augusta State University to study art and music. This year, she started new scholarships for select art students to take part in travel studies.
To honor her longtime patronage, Augusta State University recently renamed a gallery for Byrd.
The Mary S. Byrd Gallery of Art in Augusta State's Washington Hall was dedicated on Sept. 30.
"I was completely surprised," Byrd said of learning about the gallery renaming. "I've always been sort of a low-key person. I've never wanted to be in the spotlight."
Widener, a famed artist in Columbia County, was the first to inspire Byrd to find beauty in the seemingly mundane.
"She would pick up a rock or a piece of wood and show me how to look at it in just the right way to find something beautiful in it," Byrd said of Widener. "She is such a gifted artist who taught me how to love art."
Though not having the gift for art herself, Byrd knew she wanted to inspire young artists to follow their talent for creation and established the scholarships to further their education.
"I'm constantly amazed by the creative process," Byrd said as she strolled earlier this month through the gallery named for her looking at mosaic works created by Kath Girdler Engler.
"Look at this one," Byrd said as she pointed to one of Engler's creations. "There's this piece of a broken doll. There's a piece of a broken rocking chair.
"Most people would just throw these things away. But an artist can find something beautiful in it to make this kind of ... assemblage."
Alan MacTaggart, chair of Augusta State's art department, was the first to suggest renaming the gallery for Byrd.
"When (the art department) first occupied (Washington Hall) four years ago and created a gallery ... they didn't have any particular name to put on it, so they called it the New Space Gallery," MacTaggart said. "That's kind of catchy, but it's not a new space anymore.
"Putting a name on the gallery, a real name of somebody as sweet, thoughtful and considerate as Mary Byrd, was a nice suggestion endorsed by the faculty committee and president of the university."
MacTaggart also was the first artist to display works in the renamed gallery.
"I'm in my second year here and (Byrd) was one of the early people I met who had been a supporter," he recently said. "Her generosity seems to be limitless. Just last week she let me take some students to her beautiful home to paint landscapes."
The professor said he was especially thankful that Byrd agreed to help some students take part in study tours he's planning for New York next month and Greece in May.
"That's one of the greatest, most transformative experiences a student can have; to see things first-hand -- the architecture and art of great civilizations," MacTaggart said.
For her part, Byrd said she is thankful to have a role in expanding students' horizons. Hopefully, she said, they will learn what she learned so long ago from Widener.
"Art is anywhere and everywhere you choose to look for it," she said. "We live with it everyday without realizing it."
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