Mary Swikle – The Villanovan

Mary Swikle opens up her Zoom meeting with her dog in the center of the screen. Hidden behind a very excited puppy is Swikle, a Villanova senior well known for her art, sitting down on her parents’ couch in upstate Michigan.

A passionate double major in Humanities and Theology with a minor in Psychology, Swikle’s path throughout her Villanova experience has not been easy, but while here, she has certainly come to cherish her time and value the power of her creativity. Originally, Swikle had set out to be a double major in English and Psychology, but upon enrolling in a Humanities course entitled “Epiphanies of Beauty,” she realized there was a route she had not considered that would ultimately change the way she looked at literature and understood human connections.

Swikle loves living in the intersection of these disciplines, especially when it comes to the relationship between queerness and Catholicism. She enjoys studying “where all the pain comes from, and how to find a way to fix it to maintain the balance,” Swikle said.

This understanding of beauty follows Swikle every day, especially in her art.

“Beauty has always been the guiding force for me,” she said.

Much of her art is fueled by her experiences in her academic disciplines over the last four years. She described her relationship with art in terms of organization as well as spirituality. For Swikle, making and selling her art has allowed her to make connections she would not have otherwise been able to make, if not for individuals buying her art over the last several years.

Swikle recalled that she spent much of her freshman year in her dorm room, choosing to stay in and paint, whether it be alone or with her roommate. By selling her art to both local businesses and students, Swikle found that her creativity was a “consistent force of connection,” and it led to her carving out a niche of her own here at Villanova.

Nowadays, Swikle’s ideal workspace is not the desk of a small dorm, but rather the floor—specifically the floor of an apartment she shares with some of her friends. Often joked of as her “playpen,” Swikle’s routine is to roll out a tarp across the floor of the communal living room, dim the lights, turn on a movie, sit on the floor, and get to work. Apart from some minor backaches, Swikle is completely content with the set-up. While Swikle did lament the lack of open studio space on campus, a common issue for many campus artists, she looks back on the evolution of her workspaces fondly.

In terms of future endeavors, this upcoming summer, Swikle is taking the leap and becoming a full-time artist. She plans to sell her art in local farmers markets and hopes to start her own business. She has already started to print off business cards, remarking how in awe she feels upon seeing her name on the card.

As for her artwork itself, Swikle said she wants to focus on “painting things that matter.” She explained how passionate she is about addressing social justice in her work and how she wants to be more vocal about these causes through her work. One cause that is particularly close to Swikle’s heart is the LGBTQ+ community. As a way to do her part, 10 percent of Swikle’s commission is donated to The Trevor project.

Per her Swikle’s Art Instagram page, The Trevor Project is “an organization focused on supporting LGBTQ youth by providing funding for and access to mental health resources.”

In 2020, after selling a beautiful array of work and convincing local community members to match her donations, Swikle’s effort resulted in approximately $1,000 being raised for The Trevor Project.

Upon being asked for the reason why this particular organization was chosen, Swikle explained that privilege and mental health are intertwined, and she is very thankful to have access to healthcare, insurance and therapy, and wants to be able to provide that same opportunity to others .

“I have been in therapy since I was a freshman,” Swikle said. “Therapy changed my life.”

If Swikle wants people to take anything from her experiences, it is that therapy is powerful and has had a positive impact on her life and the lives of others.

“I love promoting therapy,” Swikle said. “It is my personal mission to normalize [going to] therapy.”

When she described her guiding philosophy for mental health, sheepishly laughing, Swikle said that, “I hold onto the things that make me talk really fast.”

She explained her desire to seek out and hold onto the things that excite her and get her excited “to get out of bed and do something every day.”

To be a creative person advocating for the destigmatizing of mental health among other things is to be vulnerable in a way that causes others to stop, take it in and reflect on how to emulate the qualities that appear to come naturally to Swikle. The reality of Swikle’s case is that these attributes are hard-won, and it is clear to see in her work, her ambitions and her values.

Check out Swikle’s art @swikpaints on Instagram.

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