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Pittsburgh woman comes home, brings painting with a twist

By Lori Pometo

Photo Courtesy of The Paint Monkey’s Facebook page

Mary Lou Bradley lived and worked in New York City for decades but after a lifetime of achievements she didn’t want to stop there.

She didn’t let age stop her from pursuing a new chapter in life but instead she attended culinary school in Orlando and started a new business with her artist boyfriend back in her hometown of Pittsburgh.

The pair opened Paint Monkey, a painting studio where they teach painting classes with a twist, where students can enjoy drinks.  Almost a year after opening, Paint Monkey serves as a creative melting-pot of painting and alcohol in Lawrenceville and the greater Pittsburgh area and the owners hope to someday incorporate Bradley’s baking into the mix.

“If someone would have told me I’d be back in Pittsburgh…” Bradley trailed off, “HA!”

Paint Monkey is the brainchild of Bradley and her fiancé, Joe Groom. It is a new business located in the historic Ice House in Lawrenceville that offers BYOB painting classes to those 21 and older.

All painting supplies are provided including a pre-sketched canvas of the night’s painting. They also offer specialized children’s birthday parties, group or family parties, and bachelorette parties.

Colorful is one way to describe Bradley as she sits in her and Groom’s newly acquired painting studio amidst paintings full of bold, vivid colors such as Kandinsky, Lichtenstein, O’Keefe and Warhol along the floor-to-ceiling yellow brick walls, white paper-lined tables and rustic gold picture frames. The paintings are all samples that Groom did as examples for patrons. They are not for sale.

Dressed in jeans and a cherry red cardigan with a multicolor floral scarf adorning her neck and blue drop-earring contrasting her dark hair, Pittsburgh native, Mary Lou Bradley, 56, is a free-spirit with a long history of following her heart and finding a great deal of sentiment in everyday life.

She lives with Groom in a “funky” 50s style house in Churchill with a little yard. But more importantly, she lives with her black pug, Dude.

“I never pass up an opportunity to show Dude,” said Bradley excitedly as she pulled out a calendar of Dude that Groom made for her.

Bradley grew up in the Overbook as a child, but when her parents divorced in 1967, she lived with her grandmother in O’Hara Township for four years.

At 24-years-old, she married 3WS News Director, Michael Bradley at Heinz Chapel in Oakland. Three years later the couple moved to New York City for Michael’s new job at ABC Radio. A few short years after moving, she had her daughter, Dana.

Dana describes her mother as her best friend.

“Sometimes I’m sad that she doesn’t have other children then other people would know not only how great a person she is, but how fantastic of a mother she is,” said Dana in an email.

In 1982, Bradley worked for DLT Entertainment, the creator of the popular television show “Three’s Company” as an Operations Director where she would send video to television stations and made sure the show got on the air.

She was promoted to telephone sales where she worked for 13 years. Her main focus was to call the top two hundred television markets in the country.

From there she went to work for eight years as the Operations Director for Tapestry International, where, again, she helped producers get shows and material ready to go on the air.

Soon after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Bradley was laid-off.

“It was really sad for a very long time,” said Bradley.

“When N.Y.C. hurts, she hurts,” said her daughter Dana.

After 9/11, Bradley was out of work so she began volunteering at her daughter’s school where she became the president of the PTA. She got to know a lot of elected officials during her time in the PTA and was soon hired on as a Constituent Service Director and event planner under New York City Councilman, David Yassky.

In her personal life, things weren’t going as well, and her and her husband, divorced. Bradley took some time off of work and did some freelance event planning for a while.

In 2008, Bradley and Groom moved from their New York City life to Orlando, Florida. They wanted to be near Groom’s family and take advantage of the booming housing market, but quickly found that with a bad economy, “things didn’t come together,” said Bradley.

She didn’t let that stop her from pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a pastry chef. At 53-years-old, Bradley received her Associates Degree in Patisserie and Baking from Le Cordon Bleu.

With less than two years in Florida, the time had come for the pair to leave Orlando where Bradley describes the gated community where they lived as “sterile and dull.”

Their first choice was to return to New York City, but they figured it would be too hard to “get back” in the swing of things since they’d been gone so long.

Groom suggested they move to Pittsburgh because he liked the area when visiting Bradley’s mom.

They wanted to try their hand at the BYOB painting craze before Bradley’s cousin told them about Lawrenceville.

Lawrenceville, with its new and upcoming art vibe, was exactly what they were looking for.

They also wanted to find an animated space for Groom to paint and teach others how to paint.

“There’s a renaissance going on,” said Bradley.

They were advised to check out the Ice House studios and when they did “the clouds parted and angels wept,” said Bradley.

In January of this year, they opened the doors of Paint Monkey off of 43rd Street in Lawrenceville. Paint Monkey offers low-pressure two or three hour BYOB painting classes in a relaxed and artistic atmosphere. Before arriving, Groom pre-sketches each canvas for everybody attending class.

Patrons watch as Groom gives them step-by-step instructions, telling them what colors to use for Warhol’s “Flowers” or how to airbrush the dots for Lichtenstein’s piece while sipping on their favorite beverage and snacks. Bradley walks around offering encouragement, takes photos and sometimes paints if the class isn’t too big.

“The class wasn’t that full around Halloween so I sat down and painted my own painting of “Cats and Bats”,” said Bradley. “I inverted all the colors to look opposite of how it should and it didn’t turn out so well.”

Groom and Bradley encourage their guests to be creative and to even think outside the box.

“We had a guy paint the Batman signal in place of the moon before on “Starry Night” by Van Gogh,” Groom said.

When everyone has finished their painting, they place it inside the “magic frame” [dubbed by a customer] a large, gold frame that lets artist see their finished product and giving them the impression it’s hanging in a museum somewhere.

Soon after that, the pair was a guest on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live to talk about Paint Monkey.

“In a class the next day [after the show], we were invited to teach a class during the Gallery Crawl at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Hotel and it was an honor and so nice to be a part of,” Bradley SAID.

Bradley’s next step professionally is to figure out how to fuse baking and Paint Monkey.

“If I could include baking into this [the paint studio], I’d have the motherload,” Bradley said.

Personally, her next move for 2013 is for her and Groom to be married. They were engaged aboard the Duquesne Incline this past February.

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