Dahlov Ipcar stares across her painting studio and sees shadows.

The longtime painter, beloved for her children’s books and her richly stylized paintings of frolicking animals, is losing her vision to macular degeneration, and she worries her November show at Frost Gully Gallery in Freeport may be her last. The exhibition opens Nov. 16 and includes 16 paintings that she completed in the last two years.

A year ago, her vision was fine. Now, she can barely see what she’s doing. “I feel like the powers that be hit you where it hurts,” said Ipcar, who turns 98 on Thursday. “My eyes are the most important thing to me. Most of the time I feel like I’m in a thick fog.”

Her doctor tells her that her vision loss likely won’t worsen, and her health otherwise is fine. But she can’t stand the idea of losing any more vision. “I’m happy I am painting. I can’t give it up,” she said.

The exhibition, simply titled “Recent Paintings,” includes about 40 oil paintings as well as seven drawings dating to 1945. The show is on view through Dec. 28 and is dedicated to Ipcar’s friend and Frost Gully founder, Tom Crotty, who died in August.

This is the first show at Frost Gully since Crotty’s death, and it will be the last at least until spring, said Rachel Walls, who is friends with the Ipcar and Crotty families and is organizing the exhibition. She also curated a Boston exhibition this summer that included works by Ipcar and her parents, William and Marguerite Zorach.


Viewers will notice the change in Ipcar’s recent work. Ipcar still paints in a style she calls “non-intellectual cubism,” her colors remain vibrant, and her subjects and visual elements are the same as in her older paintings. But there is less definition to the recent work. Ipcar’s style has become looser and more open, with fewer patterns and sharp edges. In some recent paintings, there are blank spots on the canvas, which Ipcar simply couldn’t see.

“And yet,” Walls said, “because she is still so talented, the work is still gorgeous. Even in a visually impaired state, she can still create some amazing pieces.”

Macular degeneration causes vision loss in the center of a field of vision. It can make it hard to judge contrast, distinguish color and adapt to changing light.

Everything feels dark and cloudy, Ipcar said. She was diagnosed a decade ago and has managed to paint with vision loss in one eye for much of that time. But this year, she said, “the fog set in. It’s a struggle to see at all.”

Ipcar lives at the end of a long driveway in Georgetown, surrounded by trees and farmland. Her parents came here from New York when she was a child. She married and stayed in Maine and made her life on the farm. Her paintings come from her imagination. She conjures exotic animals that she’s never seen and casts them on rhythmic plains. Her most recent painting, “Tooky Up a Tree,” is from memory: Her yellow cat, Tooky, lounging in a tree and her dalmatian at the trunk, trying to climb up.

This one, she said, “was completed with much struggling.” She is not giving up, and cannot imagine a day without painting. But she is frustrated at having to do simpler paintings. After a lifetime of feeling at ease with her art, she now feels out of place.


Ipcar’s parents encouraged their daughter’s innate talent, and like many small children she began drawing animals at age 3. But her art was exceptional. She had her first New York show at age 21, and her paintings are in the collections of major museums, said Jessica Nicoll, who curated an Ipcar retrospective at the Portland Museum of Art in 2001 and now works as director and chief curator of the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The Ipcar retrospective at the PMA coincided with an exhibition about the Zorachs and their creative life together. “One of their great creations was their daughter, who was very much her own individual creative self, but heir to her parents’ legacy in interesting ways,” Nicoll said.

The Zorachs rented the farm that Ipcar now owns. She and her husband, Adolph, ran the farm and raised their own family there, as Ipcar pursued her painting.

She is best known for her children’s books, which she wrote and illustrated by the dozens over 30 years beginning in 1945, and her murals are in schools and libraries across Maine. Nicoll compared Ipcar to illustrator Robert McCloskey, whose children’s books with Maine themes share self space with those by Ipcar.

“She is part of the visual culture of Maine in a real way,” Nicoll said. “She evokes a real sense of time and place that is not the present. There is a lovely nostalgia associated with the work.”

Walls enjoys talking to Ipcar, because she always learns something when she does. In addition to being an artist, Ipcar is an intellectual. She is well versed in American history and world affairs, and she has experienced a century of change. She is able to contextualize her life with personal anecdotes that are interesting and insightful, Walls said.

These days, Ipcar is given to reflection. This show is poignant to her. It will be the first time in years she has shown her work without Crotty’s direct involvement, either as an advisor or as curator. She misses their conversations. “I knew him almost 50 years, and I keep finding myself wanting to ask his opinion,” she said.

Very likely, he would see the beauty in her new work. He would recognize her palette and the whimsical, playful nature of the animals.

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