Art inspired by travel

Colorado artist Mary Staby brings new life to Norway through her vibrant handcolored black and white photographs

mary staby picBy Tiffanie Davis

Seattle, Wash.

For the Norwegian American Weekly

“I’ve had a darkroom since second grade,” Mary said. “My sister’s husband at that time worked for Kodak and he gave me my first dark room.” Little did her sister’s husband know the investment he was making in Mary’s future.

Mary Staby is from Frisco, Colorado and has lived there most of her life, but her grandparents are all from Scandinavia. Her father’s mother is from Norway, about an hour and a half north of Bergen. Much of the family still lives there and Mary has been to visit on multiple occasions. Her other three grandparents are from Denmark.

It was about 20 years ago that Mary started handcoloring her black and white photography.

“I got interested in it. I purchased some. I ended up buying six pieces from an artist from Texas over the years and I just finally said, ‘You know, I’m a black and white photographer, I need to learn how to do this.’”

And so, that’s exactly what she did. Mary is self-taught, and there is nothing computerized or digital about her work. She takes the photos, develops them herself and then hand paints each picture. Her methods are traditional. She even purchases the oils from a company in Germany that made them back in the 1800s.

“As long as they’re still available, and I can still buy the fiber-based paper, I’m in business,” she said.

For nearly 20 years, Mary and her husband, Miles F. Porter IV, owned two ski resort newspapers and magazine, but in 1999, while Mary was recovering from a serious cancer, the couple sold their publishing company. It was just a few years later in 2004, when Mary took her art on as a full-time job. This will be her seventh year participating in the art show season.

It was Mary’s sister, a jeweler named Judy Hoch, who really encouraged Mary to get into the art shows and now that’s where she does about 90 percent of her sales. She has been to Høstfest in Minot, N.D., with her art four times and has a bunad in the same style as her grandmother’s that she wears to the Scandinavian shows.

“I meet so many wonderful people at the shows. That’s one of the reasons I really enjoy doing the shows,” Mary explained. “I get to meet everybody who purchases the work, and then people who call on the phone, I get to find out a little bit about their background and it seems like we always have some kind of a common denominator; their family came from some place around mine, or we know people in common, or we both speak Norwegian. There’s just a commonality there that’s so wonderful to hook up with and it’s so much a part of you and your heritage. Norway and Denmark are a big part of my life.”

Over the years, Mary has done a lot of traveling around Norway. She and sister Judy have taken the Hurtigruten three times, twice round trip and the last time they drove from Bergen all the way up to Kirkenes. Mary took photos along the way and her sister collected rocks and gemstones. Then they took their car on the Hurtigruten and went back down.

“Great trip!” Mary said.

Her artwork captures Norway in a unique, almost whimsical way. It could easily be described as imaginative with her unexpected use of bright colors.

“I get to create my own vision. I’ve seen places, but I don’t take a picture of what I’ve seen and then try to come home and copy it. I come home and paint it the way I’d like to see it, or the way it appeals to me. So, often times, I have more colorful buildings than what you might see.”

Mary said part of her inspiration comes from the bright buildings of Northern Norway.

“The farther North you go in Norway the more colorful the buildings are. I think it’s a reflection on the fact that most of the time there, there is no light, so they need something to make them happy and lift their spirits and so they paint their buildings bright colors. I’ve kind of incorporated that premise into a lot of my paintings.”

Mary’s framed and matted handcolored black and white photographs range in price from $295 to $1,500. She ships nationwide and all of her work is guaranteed. If a purchaser doesn’t like the work, they are welcome to send it back. Mary wants people to be happy with the art they buy from her, she wants it to put a smile on their face.

To learn more about Mary Staby’s work visit her Web site If you have inquiries about photographs from a specific location call Mary at (970) 668-0968.

This article was originally published in the Jan. 22, 2010 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email

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