Famous Artist and Disability Advocate
Maeve McCormack Nolan
Birth: January 9, 1953
Died: April 16, 2022
Irish artist and disability advocate Maeve McCormack Nolan has died.
A painter of vibrant floral and landscape works in oil, McCormack Nolan rose to prominence in the 1990s with four sold-out shows at Dublin’s Guinness Hop Store, opened by President Mary Robinson, the United States Ambassador. United in Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith and other luminaries. time. Opening her exhibit in 1997, Kennedy Smith said, “Maeve McCormack Nolan is one of life’s unique people whose spirit pervades everyone she meets.”
McCormack Nolan has also exhibited at the Hunt Museum and Belltable Arts Center in Limerick and the Irish Life Center in Dublin. And his work is held in the public collections of IDA, Guinness, Shannon Development and An Garda Síochána College in Templemore, Co Tipperary.
As a champion of disabled artists, she regularly did interviews with newspaper reporters and appeared on television shows such as Kenny Live and Open House. At a time when many people with disabilities were living quiet, unrecognized lives, she said: “We must not hide, we are like you.
In 1991, McCormack Nolan was chosen as one of many disabled artists whose work was selected by the National Rehabilitation Board for exhibition at the headquarters of the European Community (EC) – now the European Union – in Brussels. during the Irish Presidency of the EC.
McCormack Nolan described painting as a form of self-hypnosis that allowed him to forget the pain caused by his illness. “The smell of canvas and oil is like oxygen to me,” she said in an interview.
Maeve was the second of six children, born to Paddy and Georgina McCormack. His father ran McCormack’s Joinery, in Ardagh, Co Limerick. She attended secondary school at St Leo’s College, Carlow as a boarder and won her first Texaco Art Award when she was 13. After her Leaving Certificate, she studied to become an art teacher at the Limerick School of Art, graduating in 1974. She then taught art for two years at the Moylish School of Technology (which is now part of Shannon University of Technology).
McCormack Nolan developed the symptoms of multiple sclerosis following a car accident at the age of 19, although full diagnosis took several years. She met Limerick businessman/farmer Val Nolan when she was still in her late teens and the couple married in 1973 and settled in Ardagh. Their son, Val, was born in 1982.
McCormack Nolan’s eyesight began to deteriorate when she was in her thirties, but she continued to paint, moving from small detailed watercolors to larger impressionistic oil paintings. She often talked about how her nose and face were always covered in paint because they were right against the canvas. And, she used to tell people half-jokingly that focusing so close to her paintings was a form of exercise for the eyes. Her son, Val Nolan, remembers how she worked so closely with wet oils that her hair used to stick to the paint and vice versa.
“MS affected my mother’s sight and mobility throughout her adult life, but she refused to let it define her life or her work. She often said that because a disability takes away [many] of your choices, you have to maximize the abilities that remain,” he said.
Anne Flood, who was the general manager of the Guinness Hop Store in the 1990s and later became close friends with McCormack Nolan, said she was a very positive person. “She never ceased to amaze me. She loved life and was never overwhelmed by her circumstances. She never lost her mind and for someone who couldn’t take notes [due to her disability]she had a marvelous power of recall for details in all aspects of life.
McCormack Nolan described painting as a form of self-hypnosis that allowed him to forget the pain caused by his illness. “The smell of canvas and oil is like oxygen to me,” she said in an interview. She continues to paint as long as she can despite the gradual loss of sight, constant pain, muscle fatigue and periods of immobility.
She was a long-time member of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland and her paintings graced the cover of her newsletters throughout the 1990s. In an interview with the Irish Times in 1992 she said: “If my life had taken a different path, I would not have acquired the knowledge that I have acquired.
McCormack Nolan has also worked to combat unconscious bias against people with disabilities. Taken aback by the lack of mirrors in disabled toilets, she wrote letters to various restaurant and mall managers asking them to install mirrors, which they subsequently did. She once claimed in an interview that the first time she saw the results of her campaign, she was tempted to pull out her lipstick and write “Maeve was there” in the mirror.
McCormack Nolan fought to maintain her independence for as long as possible. Over the last two decades of her life, her MS worsened, confining her to a wheelchair and largely depriving her of her ability to paint and participate in cultural activities and dialogues. Yet, thanks to her husband’s dedication and support, she lived much longer than her doctors had predicted.
Maeve McCormack Nolan is survived by her husband, Val, her son, Val, her sisters, Annette, Marie, Patricia and Elizabeth, her nieces, nephews and a wide circle of friends. Her brother, Paddy, predeceased her.