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Friday, May 24, 2024

Mary’s Gone Wild, where art, charity and God coalesce

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Mary’s Gone Wild Folk Art museum, in Supply, Brunswick County. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

SUPPLY — Mary’s gone wild, but she’s not crazy.

Mary’s Gone Wild is a folk art museum, located on a back road a few miles north of Holden Beach. Owner, artist and Brunswick County native Mary Paulsen has welcomed people from around the world to see her artwork. Paulsen produces two different and distinctive types of work: painted antique glass windows and what she calls “bottle houses,” structures built almost entirely from glass bottles.

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Inside Paulsen’s bottle lighthouse. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

“I’ve talked to all kinds of people. Magazines and reporters come out here, they always say I’m crazy,” Paulsen said. “Folks say, ‘Why would you do all this?’ But people come here, and it makes them happy. And if it makes people happy, it’s not crazy now, is it?”

While Paulsen usually finishes a painting in a day, the bottle houses can take weeks, even months. For some, this labor-intensive timeline is the reason people call her “crazy.”

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Paulsen usually paints on antique window panes. She said God tells her how to price them, so that ‘people can pick one based on what their pocketbook can handle. There’s something for everyone.’ (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

For others, it’s not the art, but the story behind it.

“It started 20 years ago,” Paulsen said. “I was fixing to wash my dishes. It was Saturday evening. It just came right over me. Bang. A vision. And I’d always had visions, but this was something else. This was a vision from the Lord.”

Paulsen means this, quite literally. She describes a direct message from God, telling her to create painting on used windows, sell them and use the profits to feed children in need.

“The Lord said to me, ‘Mary, feed the children,’ and then he said, ‘this is how.’”

The vision showed Paulsen not only what to paint, but how as well.

“He was taking my hand, and showing me how to layer the paint. I knew nothing about nothing when it came to painting,” she said.

Paulsen said her family treated her with the same loving skepticism she’s come to expect from visitors and reporters alike. But when Paulsen’s painting sold the next morning, “for almost a $100, before most people finish breakfast,” her family got behind her mission. Paulsen started painting regularly, as well as beginning construction on her bottle houses.

Mary’s Gone Wild was born.

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‘The boat,’ as Paulsen calls it, took two months to build. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Every party of the folk museum was guided by visions, Paulsen says. What began as small doll houses 37 years ago became progressively larger structures — including an intricate model riverboat — and eventually the full-size bottle houses.

The detailed interior of one of Mary Paulsen's botte houses.
The interior is meticulously detailed. (Photos by Benjamin Schachtman)
The detailed interior of one of Mary Paulsen's botte houses.
Paulsen said she spent over a week on this room. 

Paulsen says she never knows what she will paint until she gets a vision. Sometimes the meaning of them is clear to her – at Christmas Paulsen said she received visions of the nativity and a series of panels representing the 12 days of Christmas. Other visions are more mysterious, even to Paulsen.

“I remember waking up, and lying in bed, and I was praying, which I do every morning. I prayed, because I didn’t know what to paint that day. And the Lord said, ‘Mickey Mouse,’ and showed me how to paint him. And I know He knows what he’s doing, but I had to ask. He said, ‘Yes, Mickey Mouse,'” Paulsen said. “So, I did a couple of Mickey Mouse paintings. And that night I was watching TV, and I saw it was Mickey Mouse’s 88th birthday. I didn’t even know he had birthdays. He’s aged so well. But the next day morning, a man came through a bought one, he was a collector.”

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Mickey Mouse, on his 88th birthday. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Paulsen’s story is explicitly religious – she sees herself as an instrument of God. Her zeal is natural, unapologetic and unironic. Paulsen said, “He tells me, ‘listen to me Mary, this isn’t your place. This is my place. You’re doing my work.’ He tells me all time.”

Paulsen’s is a belief at once tinged with grandeur and humility; it may strain the credulity of believers and agnostics alike. But the scale of Paulsen’s charitable work suggests that, if she is mad, there’s arguably some method in it. Paulsen’s art sales — combined with donations from visitors to the folk museum — have allowed her to make significant contributions over the years to charities like St. Jude, Feed the Children and several Evangelical groups doing outreach work in Israel.

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One of Paulsen’s certificates from Feed the Children. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Paulsen says her pieces always find buyers, and – however unlikely it might seem – she feels that each piece is meant for someone.

“There was a woman from Finland who came here. She kept repeating, ‘we don’t have anything like this at home,'” she said. “If flies had been flying, she’d of had a mouthful. She was just walking around with her mouth open. There were a couple few pieces that she really liked, that really spoke to her, and she had them shipped home.”

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Paulsen flips through a guest book dating back to 2008. She keeps dozens of books from the past years. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Mary’s Gone Wild is also home to something of an antique store. The cluttered room in may look like a hoarder’s den, but Paulsen explains its real purpose is a kind of dignified charity.

“People come here, and they might need formula for a baby, or to pay their power bill, and they don’t want a hand out, but they don’t have much,” she said. “They might sell me a pair of salt and pepper shakers, or an old china set. I’ll buy it from them. You know I’m not concerned if it’s a fair price. I’ll pay them whatever they need. But people are proud, and they don’t always want charity.

“Sometimes I can resell it, sometimes someone comes through and I have just the piece they’re looking for,” she said. “Believe me, I’m not a hoarder. I’m happy to sell this stuff. Only thing not for sale in here is my washing machine.”

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Paulsen’s collection, items she’s purchased or bartered in the past. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Not everything is for sale, though. Paulsen’s latest project was a chapel, built at the far end of the lot.

“The Lord told me to build a chapel, and I did. It’s just for people to come to, they can pray, or just sit and think, listen to the music. And you can see how I was able to use all these things I had, laying around, you can relate anything to the gospel. But I was worried, since it’s here at the back of the property, how would people know it was here? But the next day, the phone rang. It was another reporter, saying they were on his way,” she said. “He might say I’m crazy, but he’s part of the plan, just like me.”

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Paulsen’s chapel, the latest addition to her property. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

After 37 years of visions, Paulsen says she has no plans for retirement. Her property is dotted with stacks of glass bottles, stripped and cleaned, ready for her next project.

Mary’s Gone Wild is located at 2431 Holden Beach Road in Supply, NC. For contact info and more of Mary Paulsen’s story, visit Mary’s Gone Wild.

Take a tour of Mary’s Gone Wild (video).


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