Mother Daughter Duo


by Elaine Doremus 

Mary Riley and Mary Scalise have more in common than their first name.

They are both Lake Foresters. They both love art and fashion. They even share the same shoe size.

But the most important thing these two Marys have in common is they happen to be mother and daughter.

“I love working with my mom,” says Scalise, who joined her mother at Art Environments about 17 years ago after a successful career in commercial real estate. Turns out, Scalise also loves cold calling and the pursuit of new clients, which complements Riley’s talent for sourcing and curating art for their clients.

“I love art and being in the art world,” Riley says. “I love that every job is different, that every client’s choice of artwork is different. I’m always researching new artists and art mediums.”

But long before they became business partners, they were simply mother and daughter in a family of seven living and growing up in a rambling ranch house on Valley Road in south Lake Forest. As the only girl with four brothers, Scalise attended the School of St. Mary and Woodlands Academy and recalls carefree days of playing with the many kids in her neighborhood.

“We’d step outside our door and play Kick the Can, and I rode my bike to town often,” she says. “I had every curve and bump in those roads memorized.” Now, Scalise calls Glencoe home with her own family.

Back then, Riley’s priority was being a mom to Mary and her four brothers. She was active in The Church of St. Mary and also supported Catholic Charities’ work in the community. Now that she and her daughter have been working together for some time, she says their relationship has evolved.

“My relationship with Mary has taken on a new dimension now that we work together professionally,” Riley muses. “We’ve become friends. It’s fun to be a part of her life.” Riley cherishes her seven grandchildren; two are daughter Mary’s girls, who now also attend Woodlands Academy like their mom.

Riley first conceived the idea for Art Environments when her children were grown. “I decided that I should go to work,” she says. She’d always loved art, serving as a docent at the Art Institute of Chicago for many years. “Having my own business was important to me, for flexibility,” she adds.

So she married her passion for art with her aptitude at helping businesses curate art to create welcoming, cohesive office and common area environments. Hence, the name Art Environments ( established in 1982.

“We are experienced in curating creative and individual solutions for the many projects in which we are involved,” explains Riley. “We are like the interior decorator, but just for the art program.”

Art Environments clients range from corporate to healthcare and senior living facilities. And while they’ve landed and completed projects for many corporate and nonprofit clients, Riley feels most proud of some of the more meaningful projects in their portfolio.

“We selected and installed art for a crisis center in Milwaukee that serves abused women and children,” she explains. “I found a wonderful African American artist from Chicago who creates joyous pictures of mothers and children.”

“Mom’s on fire when she pursues art work,” Scalise adds. The process of working with clients involves assessment and concept development, budget and timeline planning, and art research, acquisition, and installation. Art Environments works in conjunction with the designers of a given space to obtain color palettes and fabric swatches for inspiration and coordination.

Then Riley embarks on the process of acquiring artwork in all mediums. Artists range from national to international, with many local artists represented in Art Environments’ finished projects.

“We visit all the art shows in this area to make sure we know the local artists,” Riley says. They’ve acquired art from Mark McMahon (Lake Forest), Sandie Bacon (Lake Bluff), and photography from Kerri Sherman (Lake Forest), to name a few.

“We love artists with Midwestern flavor, as well as art and photography of Chicago,” Riley adds.

After all, this is home, which is where this story begins and ends—in Lake Forest. Riley and Scalise take advantage of all the community has to offer and soak up every minute of their time together as mother and daughter.