WEST BATH – This time of year when long-distance hikers are finishing the 2,200-mile odyssey that is the Appalachian Trail, many will celebrate atop Mt. Katahdin. But few know the mountain as intimately as Maine artist Evelyn Dunphy.
This week as the watercolor artist works on a commissioned 6-foot panoramic painting of Cadillac Mountain, her largest painting yet, she is happy to reflect on Maine’s biggest mountain that she has painted more than 100 times. Simply put, Dunphy said Katahdin changed and shaped her career.
Dunphy started painting in 1996, and the very next year she went to Katahdin.
“Living down here, unless you go there, you don’t know it. I opened a magazine and saw the portrait of Katahdin and thought, ‘That’s it. That’s where I have to go,’ ” Dunphy said. “I love the north. I love that landscape. When I thought what will my work be about, almost immediately I thought of Katahdin.”
Her career took off. And in 2006, as a well-known Katahdin artist, she gave her paintings of the mountain to help the Trust for Public Land preserve the land around Katahdin Lake to give to Baxter State Park.
In 2009, Dunphy was the wilderness park’s first visiting artist.
In the last 18 years she has painted mountains in Japan and out West. She’s painted in Italy, France, Ireland and Newfoundland, and had her work shown in England, Louisiana, Boston and New York. But she said it’s her quiet times around Katahdin that have been the most rewarding part of a painting career that began at 55 and continues full-throttle at 73.
“It’s a shared relationship with Katahdin,” she said.
She said the “presence” of Katahdin is different, where it stands 5,269 feet tall — above all other peaks in the region.
“I’ve never felt an attachment to a place like that,” she said. “The more time I’m able to spend there, the more intense the feeling. My best times there are by myself.”
Dunphy hasn’t hiked Katahdin like author Henry David Thoreau did in the 1880s, nor has she blazed trails up to it like Lubec lawyer Myron Avery did in the 1930s when he helped establish the Appalachian Trail. She’s only painted it from afar.
But she knows and is connected to the mountain like its past pilgrims.
“We are part of that unspeakable beauty,” she said.
“It’s an experience, to be in the physical presence of it. Some great creative spirit created that. It’s the remoteness, the solitude, the unspoiled nature of it.”
Dunphy leads workshops at Frederic Edwin Church’s former painting retreat beside Millinocket Lake, and also at his home on the Hudson River in New York. But it is her time alone with one of his favorite subjects when she said she finds the most meaning.
The names she gives her Katahdin paintings say a lot about what a spiritual place she finds there, names like “Silent Grandeur” and “Glory.”
“The solitude, the silence, it detaches you from everything else,” Dunphy said from her West Bath studio. “You feel really alive.
“I don’t take it for granted. I don’t think there are words to even describe it.”
Named by the Penobscot Indians, Katahdin means “The Greatest Mountain.” And that’s Dunphy’s experience there.
It was in fact Katahdin that she felt spoke to her in a way, telling her as a painter beginning a career at 55 to let go of worry and enjoy.
“You have all the time in the world,” she said.
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: