Carl Little showed up at Dahlov Ipcar’s door with coffees in hand.

The writer had come down early one morning from his home near Ellsworth to interview the illustrious Maine painter at her home in Georgetown. Polite man that he is, Little did not dare show up without at least a token of appreciation.

Ipcar did him one better.

She graciously accepted the coffee, then sat Little down at her kitchen table and proceeded to make him crepes for breakfast.

“I tried to tell her no, but she insisted,” said Little, noting that the artist, 91 at the time of the interview, navigated her way around the kitchen with the help of a walker.

“I kept trying to help. ‘I can help, I can help,’ I told her. But she insisted, ‘No, I can do it.’ And she did. She was flawless. She has this youthful vibrancy, this spirit. She seems eternally youthful, but also very aware of her mortality. She often says, ‘I can’t believe I’m still here.’ “

And the crepes?

“There were delicious,” Little says.

Little, a longtime observer of Maine art, has teamed with Camden-based Down East to publish “The Art of Dahlov Ipcar.” The 128-page hardcover is the first retrospective publication of Ipcar’s art.

She is best known for her colorful, kaleidoscope paintings of animals, and lately has enjoyed renewed interest in her work as a writer and illustrator. Yarmouth-based Islandport Press has reissued several children’s books that Ipcar illustrated many years ago. She also has written four novels.

The daughter of artists William and Marguerite Zorach, Ipcar was born into a world of art. Her painting career spans parts of eight decades. She had a one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1939, when she was 21. Now in her 90s, she still paints every day and shows her work in an every-other-year cycle.

She began her career as a realist painter, and has moved steadily over the decades toward work that mines her fanciful imagination.

Little talked about Ipcar in a recent phone conversation. 

Q: What is it about Dahlov that makes us love her so much?

A: She has a very straightforward way about her, but also has this incredible imagination. So I think it’s a combination of that. In some ways, she’s a back-to-earther kind of person. But in her mind, she is often in an African jungle looking at these animals bounding by. 

Q: What was it like to sit with her and hear all of her stories?

A: My first real encounter with her was when we did the Maine Master film with the Union of Maine Artists group. We spent at least a day or two with her in her studio in the early 2000s, so I have known her 10 or so years.

I gained enormous admiration for her at that point. To sit with her and hear her talk about her life and about the things that were happening in the world and everything she has seen and lived through, it’s just incredible. She is very current on things. When we first got together for this book, it was November 2008 and Obama had just been elected, and she had a lot to say about that. She was very excited about that.

I was thinking this morning, I have not heard from her since this oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I imagine she is deeply disturbed by that, knowing her love of all creatures. This has just got to be killing her, more than you or I maybe. She’s a died-in-the-wool environmentalist. Her work is her statement, though she does not like political work. Flora and fauna are her unspoken agenda. 

Q: Where does Dalhov fit into the larger world of contemporary art?

A: I think she is fiercely independent. She was on her way to establishing herself as a New York artist and could have gone that way, and then I think she just decided that wasn’t the direction she wanted to go, and that is when she moved to Maine. She was more interested in a certain lifestyle, maybe living on a farm and living in a rural area rather than the city. I think she is one of those artists — and Blackie Langlais is like this too — who goes off on her own. In the history of American art, she may not appear in the regulation art history book, because she was so independent and does not fit in any of the -isms. 

Q: Do you think Dahlov could have become the artist she is without her lineage? In the book, you talk about the discipline she learned from her parents, but she also assumed their sensibilities and lifestyle.

A: I think very much so. I think it was an incredibly nurturing environment for her. The fact that they let her do what she wanted to do, and that they supplied her with the material and said, ‘Do what you like,’ that was absolutely key to her growth as an artist. Being surrounded by Fauvist and Cubist art, she just took it all in, just absorbed it all from day one. It became part of her being. So here is another inter-generational Maine art family like the Wyeths, but very, very different. 

Q: What did you enjoy most about working on this book? What was the greatest revelation?

A: The greatest revelation for me was the consistency of the subject matter and the vision over 80 years. The animals that she painted in her youth would reappear years later. That was really a revelation for me. She has consistently had this subject matter, though it has changed so much over the years.

As far as a favorite thing, for me as an arts writer, the greatest perk of it all is being able to go into the studio of the artist and to witness the process and get the inside scoop. To be sitting there with Dahlov in her studio, to be surrounded by her own work and her parents’ work, and this painting on the easel under way — it’s a privilege, really. She is so giving of herself. 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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