Textiles hanging on a rack

Connecting creativity and community: Mary Corcoran reflects on supporting Honours Bachelor of Craft and Design students

Newsroom authorby Jill ScarrowMay 22, 2024
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When Mary Corcoran joined Sheridan’s craft and design program in the 1990s, she was already an accomplished textile artist. In the decades before, she had built a name for herself exhibiting and selling her work — including fabric wall hangings, wearable art and artists’ dolls — in Ontario galleries. Later, she began experimenting with wood to design, craft and paint colourful caricatures that captured the pursuits and passions of her subjects. She soon caught the attention of some high-profile patrons, and she was commissioned to make a wood caricature as a gift for Charles Bronfman that highlighted the former Montreal Expos owner’s love for baseball.

Anne Barros, Mary Corcoran and Gord Thompson standing side-by-side
Mary Corcoran, centre, along with her friend Anne Barros, left, joined Honours Bachelor of Craft and Design coordinator Gord Thompson (right) on a tour of the craft and design studios earlier this spring.

Corcoran credits the confidence she needed to build a career in the arts to a group of teachers from Sheridan’s craft and design program who, in the 1980s, led summer workshops that she attended. A decade later, she wanted to deepen her knowledge further, so she decided to enrol formally in the program. Suddenly, she found herself a mid-career student taking courses alongside emerging artists. It was in those courses that Corcoran's love of textiles grew and where she discovered a passion for woodworking through elective classes in the furniture program.

“I loved the furniture class, but it was difficult. Everything had to be so precise. At the end of my time in that introduction to furniture class, I had a good mark because I spent so much time there,” she recalls with a laugh.

Those long hours in the studio also helped her discover something else: the deep sense of camaraderie among the students and faculty. It's something she credits to the ethos of the program’s founder, furniture maker and designer Don McKinley, who she first met in the 1970s when she visited his studio.

“Don McKinley was enthusiastic and full of energy and ideas. The whole philosophy of (Sheridan’s program), I think, emanated from him: that being a craftsperson is collegial — very much a group (where you share) what you know with other people,” she says. “And I think collaboration is essential in the world today. To share what you can and pass it on — that was one of the best things that I learned at Sheridan.”

That deep sense of community paired well with her own values, and her belief in education’s power to inspire others to create good in the world. As she neared the end of her craft and design studies, Corcoran began to seek out a way to help future students experience the opportunities she’d felt privileged to explore in the arts world, especially for those who may have struggled financially while studying.

“Collaboration is essential in the world today. To share what you can and pass it on — that was one of the best things that I learned at Sheridan.”

“There were other students who were going to school in the day and working overnight to pay their fees,” she remembers.

In 1998, she and her husband established the William and Mary Corcoran Craft Awards. Administered by the Ontario Arts Foundation, the awards provide $1,500 to one graduating student in each of the five disciplines that make up the Honours Bachelor of Craft and Design: ceramics, furniture, glass, industrial design and textiles. The award has supported more than 100 students in the 27 years since its inception, including this year's recipient Collin Walsh, who recently completed his studies in the glass program.

“Awards like this prove that a dedication to academic excellence is not without its rewards, and it will also provide greatly needed support to newly graduating students and emerging artists,” says Walsh. “I promise to do my best to uphold the virtues and legacy that inspired the creation of this award. I am truly humbled and grateful to be the recipient of the Corcorans’ generosity.”

Having this kind of impact is why Corcoran says she’ll continue to support her award at Sheridan for as long as possible.

"It is a joy to support the creativity and commitment of these tremendously talented students,” she says.

To learn more about supporting Sheridan’s students, visit our website or reach out to giving@sheridancollege.ca

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