By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Feb 04, 2013 at 4:19 PM

After painting with oils for nearly 10 years, artist Mary Overman says she felt a widening gap between her environment, values and art-making. So in 2008, she started experimenting with environmentally-sound materials such as fibers and animal parts, primarily rabbit collagen and cow blood.

"I was a vegetarian then," says Overman. "I was surprised by the sense of guilt. I've never butchered an animal before and I felt a lack of responsibility for my actions."

So, after a year, Overman stopped painting with cow blood because she could no longer justify it based on her beliefs. However, after eight years as a vegetarian, Overman started experiencing fainting spells and consequently decided to change her diet. She started eating meat.

"My life and my work changed when I began eating meat and I decided to return to using blood in my paintings," she says.

Overman created many paintings with blood and currently is showing 16 of these pieces in a show, "We Are Dust, Like The Moon," which runs through March 5 at the Lakefront On Langdon Gallery on the first floor of the Memorial Union at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The gallery is open Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to midnight.

As the exhibitions coordinator at the Walker's Point Center for the Arts, Overman says showing her work at WPCA would be a conflict of interest.

Overman, who is 27, grew up in West Allis. At the age of 15, she received a scholarship from the Rotary Club of West Allis to do a one-month study abroad in Igualada, Spain.

While attending the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Overman studied abroad in Thailand. She also returned to Spain for a four-month stint. Overman, who received a BFA from Stout, taught a life drawing class at Chestnut Avenue Center for the Arts in Marshfield. She currently lives in Riverwest.

Although no longer a vegetarian, Overman is very conscious – almost reverent – of the fact that she uses animal remnants as her choice medium. She believes it generates conversation on an almost spiritual level – as a means to talk about cyclical time, the sacrifice that an animal makes for humans, rebirth and death.

"This fixation with death lies at the root of so much of what we do and think," she says. "I'm still working to reconcile my values, my choice of materials and my approach to obtaining those materials."

Overman obtains the cow blood from butchers.

"There are people in the area who purchase cow's blood for things like blood pudding or blood sausage," she says.

Blood as a "paint" has an immediate impact on people. Overman says it produces a strong reaction for many reasons, primarily because of personal experience, the vibrancy of the color and the fact our bodies are filled with it. It suggests wounds and menstruation; both illness and health simultaneously.

Viewers often question the source of the blood, especially considering she does not disclose that she uses cow blood when displaying. And although she expects there will be some public criticism for her choice of medium, so far the response to her show has been positive.

"However, my audience thus far has primarily been those active or educated in the visual arts. For those familiar with contemporary art and art history, I don't think it comes across as a strange deviation or has as much shock value as for those who aren't as acquainted with the contemporary art world," she says.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.