‘Snapping Turtle Pond,” an oil painting by Marsha Donahue, will be on view at L/A Arts. Image courtesy of North Light Gallery

In her evolution as a landscape painter, Marsha Donahue cites several people who have influenced her decision to use more color in her work.

One is her contemporary, Connie Hayes. “She gave me the courage to go after bright colors. I like bright colors, and saw she was so successful at it,” Donahue said. Another is the Swedish painter John F. Carlson, whose book about landscape painting is considered something of a bible. (Hayes gave Donahue a copy of the book).

The third person who affected Donahue’s sense of color is her late father, the Rev. Donald Hinckley, a Unitarian-Universalist minister whose work took him and his family to rural and community churches across central and northern Maine. Donahue spent much of her time as a kid sitting among stained-glass windows, waiting for her father to finish his sermon and take her home. “This windows were mind-blowingly beautiful, and they obviously had a big impact on me,” she recalls.

When she thinks about rural Maine, she is reminded of the colors of the stained-glass windows of churches in Pittsfield, Oakland and Houlton.

Donahue will exhibit some of her more colorful recent landscape paintings beginning this week at L/A Arts in Lewiston in the exhibition “The Color of Wild: How the North Woods Sparked a Lifetime Love of Color.” William Low, curator at the Bates College Museum of Art and informal curator at large for the L/A Arts gallery, curated the exhibition. It includes more than a dozen oil paintings and watercolors, all completed in the woods around Donahue’s Millinocket home. The exhibition is up through March 1 in the L/A Arts Gallery, 221 Lisbon St., Lewiston. Gallery hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

“There are many fine painters and practitioners of plein air painting in Maine, and Marsha’s work is right up there with the best,” Low said. “Marsha fits into the tradition of artists recognized for their landscape work and dedication to the North Woods. I am reminded of Carl Sprinchorn’s gestural brushwork and bold, colorful imagery, for instance.”

He described the North Woods as “a place of extraordinary and rugged – and to some, mythological and spiritual – beauty” that has attracted artists willing to make the effort for generations.

Like a lot of people, Donahue left Maine after growing up, relocating to Washington, D.C. As her painting career began showing promise, she faced a choice: Move to New York for better professional opportunities or move back to Maine to get closer to her subject.

She moved back to Maine – to the Portland area in 1985, and then to Millinocket in 2004, where she remains. In addition to her own painting, Donahue operates the North Light Gallery in downtown Millinocket, where she shows her own oil and watercolor paintings and those by other artists who specialize in inland Maine.

“Vernal Pool” by Marsha Donahue. Image courtesy of North Light Gallery

Donahue is among the finest of the contemporary painters working in the North Woods today. Her paintings are geographically specific and imbued with layers of knowledge. As she looks into the water of a stream, she comes back not with just the reflection of light on the surface, but all that lurks below and above. What she sacrificed in career opportunity by not moving to New York, she gained in inspiration.

Moving to Millinocket might have kept her from becoming a star, but it has given her endless material for her paintings. “It’s really isolated up here, but it’s wonderful in terms of blocks of time to really think about what it is I need to do as an artist and to follow my nose, as they say,” she said. “But all of a sudden, you wake up one day and say, ‘I am still emerging.’ Everyone calls me an emerging artist. I am a perpetually emerging artist.”

She laughs at the notion, but it’s a knowing laugh. Going into the woods day after day for all these years, she said, has made her a better painter.


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