Mary Waterfall: Island artist keeps busy in retirement

When most people retire, they choose to relax, take it easy and chill.

Not Mary Waterfall. In fact, the Hilton Head Island resident found a completely new career using her artistic skills.

She and her husband, Gene, both originally from Wisconsin, had a condo on the island since 2001. When Waterfall retired as an executive secretary after 18 years on the job, she started to focus on her arts and crafts skills.

“We had moved to Atlanta, and my husband was traveling the world (in his position as president of a packaging machinery company). I decided to start my own business,” she said. “That allowed me to work when I wanted to but still go with him on these trips. I was really artsy and crafty, so I decided to go in that direction.”

When Gene Waterfall retired, they moved to the island permanently.

When they moved here, Mary Waterfall’s arts and crafts supplies took up a whole truck. The supplies also filled up a whole floor of her home, one that’s now devoted to her artistic pursuits. Those pursuits range from creating high-end Santa Clauses and Easter bunnies, along with illustrating a popular children’s book.

First, however, come the Santas and bunnies.

The Santa figures are about 3 feet tall and have wooden bodies, which Waterfall makes herself with woodworking equipment. She also makes all of the add-ons that come with the Santas, which can include sleds, toys and small Christmas trees. She makes the faces out of clay by hand, hand-paints them and then sews all of the clothing. She follows the same pattern with her Easter bunnies, but they have soft-sculptured faces.

Her creations, which she has been making for about 20 years, are truly exquisite and one of a kind, and have been sold at Dillard’s and featured in Better Homes & Gardens magazine. Locally, they are sold at The Greenery. They are not cheap, however, and go for about $375 each.

“They are expensive,” said Waterfall, “but they’re really made for people who really appreciate them and will become a family hand-me down.”

She added that she loves doing the detailed work.

“It’s really fun. A lot goes into them, but when I’m working on a project I go up there at 7 a.m. and work until 7 p.m. and not even know that the time has passed,” she said.

Waterfall also has been using her painting skills to illustrate a children’s book written by her brother, author R.J. Kinderman, a former school principal.

The first book, “Beans and Lolo’s Big Bike Ride,” takes the young reader on a bicycle trip with Beans and Lolo and their buddy, a cute frog named Hop-Along, as they pedal their way around the U.S. The book was inspired by a cross-country bicycling adventure that Kinderman and his wife took part in.

“One of the nice things about the book is that it stresses that kids need to get out and ride their bikes,” said Waterfall, whose bright illustrations for the book are actually watercolor paintings.

“It was a pretty long process,” she said. “He had the story line and would tell me what he wanted on each page, then I’d paint it, take a picture of it on my phone to send it to him and then he could make suggestions for changes. We really collaborated on it, and we didn’t kill each other in the process, which is amazing!”

The book has been endorsed by former first lady Barbara Bush, whose focus has been on literacy since her days in the White House.

The next book in the Beans and Lolo series will be about biking the heartland of America. “These are really fun and educational books,” said Waterfall. “They also seem really appropriate here on Hilton Head with our emphasis on biking and bike trails.”

The Beans and Lolo books are on sale at