Mary Alice Kellogg never got over Tucson’s desert.
Not when a job with Newsweek took the budding journalist to New York City and not when a career as a freelance writer whisked her to more than 120 countries.
Still, Southern Arizona called to her.
Sunday, Jan. 10 to Friday, Jan. 22 is a homecoming for Kellogg, whose collage series, “The Desert Reimagined,” will be on display at the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun’s Little Gallery, 6300 N. Swan Road. The collection has 65 pieces, featuring succulents flecked with gold and hummingbirds hovering beside saguaros.
“This exhibition, I will tell you, it’s a love story to the desert, because the desert has always been a source of strength and inspiration for me,” Kellogg, 67, says.
ALWAYS A WRITER
Born and raised in Tucson, Kellogg left for a job at Newsweek after graduating from the University of Arizona in 1970 with a degree in journalism.
Kellogg always planned to be a writer. As a 10-year-old, she saw her name in print for the first time — the magazine Western Horseman published a paragraph she wrote about riding a horse in the desert. She was hooked.
“We all knew Mary Alice Kellogg would be a writer because she was so multidimensional and related with people so well,” says Paula Riback, who became friends with Kellogg when both were freshmen at Tucson High Magnet School.
In the early years of her career, Kellogg also worked as an editor for Parade magazine before becoming a full-time freelance writer.
She has since written and edited for more than 200 magazines, including Condé Nast Traveler, Delta Sky Magazine, Bon Appétit, Glamour and The New York Times Magazine. For at least a decade, she specialized in travel writing.
On the side, she has worked as a corporate consultant in the media and travel industries. The Internet undercut Kellogg’s freelance career, giving rise to amateur writers willing to work for pennies.
“I have done stories on everything from presidential candidates to reindeer herders in Lapland, and what it teaches you is to be open to the experiences of others and to be flexible,” Kellogg says.
Bora Bora, Bermuda, Copenhagen and Paris are some of her favorite places — outside of New York City and Tucson, of course.
“I have reported from 127 countries and am familiar with a lot of big cities, but there is something very distinctive about Tucson,” Kellogg says. “It’s in you, especially if you were born and raised in Tucson.”
About 10 years ago, Kellogg began dabbling with visual creativity.
“I realized I had a lot of magazines lying around, and I found myself just cutting out images,” Kellogg says. “It was very relaxing but also creative in a very different way from the way that I have been creative for four decades as a writer.”
She began layering images from magazines and old books — a petal here, a cactus there — and painting around the collage with recycled acrylic house paint to add texture, she says. Art was just a new style of storytelling.
For friends who always saw her as a writer, the transition was unexpected.
“It was a surprise, but when I really thought about it, I knew I had just forgotten that when we were younger, she was one of those folks who had that creative spirit in everything,” says Riback, a retired high school teacher.
Beth Murfee DeConcini spends part of the year in Tucson and part in New York City, where she met Kellogg in the 1970s. One of Kellogg’s images of a vase of flowers hangs in DeConcini’s New York apartment.
“Nothing knocks Mary Alice down,” DeConcini says. “Whatever hard things happen to her, she just bounces right back. This metamorphosis into an artist is just like, ‘Well, the freelance writing market is basically nonexistent since the Internet, so what else can I do?’ She just found another aspect of herself she didn’t know was there.”
And just as Kellogg wrote about the gems of a location that often went unnoticed, she now applies that observant eye to recording visual beauty, DeConcini adds.
THE DESERT’S APPEAL
Despite putting down roots in New York City, Kellogg traveled back to her hometown four times a year if she could manage it. Her mother lived here, and she plans to move back some day.
After the death of her mother about two years ago, the tug of the desert intensified, inspiring her art. She began making collages of cacti, succulents and owls — but no coyotes or cowboys.
“There is something about the sense of possibility that the desert, if you’re reinventing yourself or evolving, inspires,” Kellogg says. “My touchstone is always the desert.”
Her Southwestern homecomings always require some obligatory activities — a trip to Gates Pass, a walk in Sabino Canyon or a mission garden and a stop at the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, where she will display her work this month.
Riback also remembers hiking Tucson with Kellogg to smell the creosote after a storm or watch the sunset.
“When I see her work, because of our love of Arizona’s heritage, I feel all of the memories and I smell the smells...” Riback says. “Whatever she does, I can still see the desert in it.”