Mary Bucci McCoy

Vista, 2019; acrylic, iridescent acrylic, and marble dust on plywood, 10 x 7.75 x 1 inches

Bucci McCoy: A Grounding in Montessori


I am Italian American, or more specifically Molisana-American. All of my grandparents emigrated to the United States in the years 1910–1921, as children or teenagers, from the beautiful, rugged, mountainous region of Alto Molise in south-central Italy. My grandfathers were blacksmiths in Italy; one eventually became a plumber and the other a machinist in the United States. My grandmothers both sewed and did other handwork.


While so many aspects of Italian culture enrich my life and my studio practice, it is the educational system developed by the Italian physician and educator, Maria Montessori, that has been most critical to my formation as an artist. When I was three the company my father worked for moved from Manhattan to suburban Philadelphia, and so we moved from Northern New Jersey to a suburban Philadelphia neighborhood where we were not initially welcomed due to our ethnicity. Without playmates I was quite lonely, so my parents decided to enroll me in a pre-school. Fortunately for me they were interested in Montessori's educational philosophy, and Montessori education had recently been re-established in the United States. They found a school that followed Montessori's teachings closely and could offer me a place.


In the mixed-age Montessori classroom, specially prepared with carefully designed and crafted learning materials—sandpaper letters, binomial cubes, wooden boxes of sound cylinders, color tablets, and an array of blue-painted wooden geometric solids—and with teachers acting in specific roles, a self-reliant child could teach herself, using her eyes, hands, and mind together, developing herself through concentration, movement and the work of her own hands. Montessori believed that this way of learning from ages three to six formed the foundation for the later intellectual development of the child. It was a perfect match for me.


I attended public school after kindergarten, but the years in Montessori prepared me for six years of Saturday art classes at the local art league in which students from first through twelfth grades worked together in one open classroom, each child choosing their own materials and projects and consulting with the teachers as needed. And it prepared me for the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where work was not graded but evaluated at the end of each semester by a panel of faculty and students, with credit awarded or not. It was your responsibility to complete the work in the course of the semester in preparation for your review panel. At the Museum School each student determined their own educational path; there were no required courses, majors, or concentrations, and I largely focused on ceramic sculpture. After graduation and spending a year in Geneva, Switzerland, studying ceramic sculpture and glaze technology, my work gradually shifted away from sculpture and toward painting. I did not take classes in painting but rather worked it out, slowly, in my studio. I know I would not be the painter I am today without the grounding that Montessori gave me.


De Terra, 2020, acrylic, iridescent acrylic, and micaceous iron oxide on plywood, 12 x 14 x 1 inches

Otherworld, 2020, acrylic, iridescent acrylic, and marble dust on panel , 8.5 x 10.5 x 1 inches

Mary Bucci McCoy