A City’s Canvas: Marsha McNeely Hierl


What is success? Some say it is achieving goals that you have aspired to your whole life. Others say it is finding happiness and contentment in your family and friends. For others though, success is a term used to describe actions toward others, or to be more direct, making a difference in another’s life. It is the latter that artist Marsha McNeely Hierl has found the most happiness, and it is in that place that she brings her works and talent to downtown Winston-Salem.

Born and raised here in Winston, Hierl attended Mount Tabor and Reynolds High Schools and later received her bachelor’s from Wake Forest University. She continued her education at Gardner Webb and achieved her master’s degree. Hierl retired from the WSFC School System in 2009 after teaching and being a curriculum coordinator for 30 years. In 2011, trying to find her new direction after retiring, Hierl rented a space in the downtown Winston gallery, Woodland Moth, from a friend. When she left to pursue other interests in 2013, Hierl opened Studio 7 and the McNeely Gallery at 619 N. Trade Street. Thus began Hierl’s new life as a downtown artist.

“I never planned on being an artist. I wanted to be a Rockette, but I was too short,” says Hierl. “I did like to doodle, however, and always doodled in meetings and when I was bored. As a teacher, I incorporated art into my lessons. Kids learned better when they could use their hands and imaginations. We painted, made pottery, drew, wove baskets, sewed, did tin punch pieces…whatever we could think of to relate to the curriculum. Photography became something I enjoyed and shared with the kids. After I retired, I had the chance to continue art and explore different mediums,” she continues.

“Photography and paper are my true loves, but I am a very eclectic artist that changes styles in search for my true identity. My first really large piece of art was an installation of a fairy tree made out of white duct tape. It made it through the transitions of the seasons and then headed to the trash. But I loved making it. Over the past 4 years, I have experimented and floundered with style, techniques, and subject matter. It seems like I have finally hit upon a style that I find comforting. And it goes back to my doodling days. I love to sketch. This is reflected in my photo transfers, where I take the basic photo and transform it into an altered state by sketching in new details, changing features and details” Hierl adds.

Although Hierl’s work and her creative process are very important to her, it is her work for others that bring her the most satisfaction. “My proudest accomplishment has been opening the McNeely Gallery and producing consistently excellent shows of varied work by some of the best local artists in North Carolina. When I opened Studio 7, one of my goals was to work with new artists and help them have their first public showing of their works. I have been fortunate enough to launch the North Carolina career of many young, and not so young, artists,” she comments.

“Another goal has been to involve the community in art. The Summer on Trade Saturdays allowed Studio 7 to work with children of all ages in the street on projects and introduce them to different mediums. When the downtown public library closed for remodeling, I was able to provide the children’s librarians a place to hold their summer reading programs and their through-the-year monthly program. I even have had the opportunity to start a summer preschool reading program for children from 18 months through 1st grade. Studio 7 has also been able to introduce actors, musicians, poets, and authors to downtown Winston-Salem, as well provide space for raising funds to help those in need, such as the Ecuador earthquake victims through the selling of Katherine Valier’s butterflies. In the winter, Studio 7 gives out ‘blessing bags’ to those on the street for the day (includes protein snacks, water, gloves, socks, and hand warmers to tide them over until the homeless shelters open in the late afternoon). So what makes me the proudest? I guess it’s doing good for others and giving others a chance to become the best they can become,” she concludes.

Realizing dreams and achieving personal goals can, and should, be important in one’s life. They can give one’s life drive and purpose. However, as Marsha McNeely Hierl can attest, so can helping others and making a difference in others’ lives and the community. A truly special existence can be found when you can do all these things. There is a quote that says, “Success isn’t just about what you accomplish in your life, it’s about what you inspire others to do.” Hierl has made her home in this place, and although it may not be a road traveled by many, it is a road that Hierl marks as her true success, and in the end, downtown Winston is the better for it.