Michaela Mahady’s journey to creating widely lauded art and architecture began in the summer of 1974, when she was a recent graduate of Macalester’s art program with a new job at Gaytee Stained Glass Studio in Minneapolis. By the end of Mahady’s first day, her skill and personality had already impressed another young colleague, John Pietras, who asked her for a ride home. In the car, he boldly suggested the two start a glass studio of their own.
A year later, Mahady and Pietras got married. The following year, the couple established Pegasus Studio, which eventually moved to their property in Stillwater, where they designed and fabricated massive art glass projects.
Mahady and Pietras were partners in life and work until her recent death, on Oct. 22, of acute myeloid leukemia, at age 68. Friends, family members, colleagues and clients remember Mahady as a Renaissance woman with boundless talent and an astute empathetic intuition.
A few years after starting Pegasus, Mahady decided to pursue a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Minnesota, and embarked on a second career.
One of her professors, Dale Mulfinger, quickly recognized Mahady’s ability and offered her a job at the architecture firm he ran with Sarah Susanka. Mahady made such significant contributions that she soon became a partner at Mulfinger, Susanka, and Mahady (which later became SALA Architects). At the time, it was rare for women to be partners in architecture firms, and particularly unusual for a majority of the office’s partners to be women.
Though Mahady grew up in the Twin Cities and Bismarck, N.D., she made many trips to Austria, her mother’s home country. Mahady’s designs plumbed her early memories of visits to her grandmother’s house in a mountain village, Pietras said. She was influenced by Art Nouveau and had “an artistic sense of design,” Mulfinger said.
Mahady often incorporated arcs and curves into her work, knowing an eyebrow window or an arched entryway could make a home feel more inviting. She infused warm colors into her designs, combined materials of varying textures, and added windows in unexpected places.
“She loved little niches and breakfast nooks and places to cuddle up with a book,” Mulfinger said. “Her homes were beautifully and considerably detailed inside and out.”
Mulfinger called her a “phenomenal” nurturer of talent, who inspired many young architects with her design and interpersonal skills. Architect Meghan Kell, who worked with Mahady for many years at SALA, described her mentor’s work as timeless and lush. “It would not only be functional, but playful with your heart,” she said.
Mahady’s projects have been featured on PBS and HGTV as well as numerous print publications. A house plan she created for Better Homes & Gardens was so popular that the house was built all across the country.
Mahady’s book, “Welcoming Home,” examined the characteristics of buildings that make us feel most comfortable. “We are given our bodies, minds, and spirits as tools with which to understand our environment and our lives,” Mahady wrote. “We need to find a manner of building that addresses all these parts of our being.”
Mahady was also a painter, sculptor and fiber artist who could free-knit elaborate “vestments” while watching Netflix. Several of her pieces will be exhibited at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wis., Dec. 4-Jan. 10.
Pietras said that people often responded to his wife’s creative work in ways that were heartfelt and genuine. “And that’s what her work was, too,” he said.
In addition to her husband, Mahady is survived by her daughter, Yana Pietras of St. Paul and brothers James of Vashon, Wash., Mark of Carmel Valley, Calif., and Shawn of Woodbury. The family plans to hold a summer memorial.