Mark C. Donovan, holding a cello he built. Photo contributed by Mark C. Donovan

After 22 years as a full-time woodworker and luthier, Mark C. Donovan of Bowdoinham will be featured in his first art gallery exhibit this Memorial Day weekend at the Cathance River Gallery in Bowdoinham.

The show will feature instruments including violins, violas, bass, cellos and guitars, handcrafted by Donovan. Some of the pieces in the show have been loaned back to him by former customers who commissioned his work.

He uses many varieties of wood in his work but prefers to hunt for it himself in the forests of Maine.

“I will be driving around and notice a large tree that has been cut down, if it’s still there in a couple days, I’ll inquire about it, and sometimes it is a desirable piece of wood,” he said. “I have found beautiful pieces locally by doing that.”

A violin and viola to be featured at Mark C. Donovan’s exhibit. Photo contributed by Mark C. Donovan

Over the years, Donovan has made cabinets, furniture, sculptures and instruments from his findings. He said he uses hardwood, primarily maple and anything with character, that’s twisted, or has a crooked grain.

“Typically, I’m not going to find what I’m looking for at a lumber yard. There are no two-by-fours that speak to me,” Donovan said.

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Donovan’s passion for woodworking began at a young age.

“As a child, I was interested because my grandfather was a professional ship carver and model maker in Rockport,” he said. “I would visit his shop and loved everything about it.”

Mermaid electric guitar, made by Mark C. Donovan. Photo contributed by Mark C. Donovan

With a deep appreciation for guitars and rock n’ roll, Donovan made his very first guitar in 1983 for a high school senior project.

“I’ve been making them ever since. I’ve always been fascinated with the instrument itself,” said Donovan.

Formerly an IT analyst, Donovan switched career paths in 2000. He said his job in computers wasn’t satisfying because his work was never fully appreciated.

“I did a one-eighty and made things that have the potential to outlive me and be enjoyed by others. It’s nowhere near the same money, but I decided that wasn’t the most important thing,” said Donovan.

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In 1995, he found his very first piece of curly maple, deeming it the right size to make a violin. He then grabbed a copy of “Fine Woodworking Magazine” and decided to make the instrument himself, he said. He admitted the project became so time-consuming that he had to reach out to Windham woodworker John Cooper for help.

“I would bring him parts in process, and he would say, ‘this is good’ or ‘this isn’t.’ He would steer me in the right direction,” said Donovan.

A guitar Mark C. Donovan worked on in his Bowdoinham workshop. Photo contributed by Mark C. Donovan.

All the lessons Donovan learned from Cooper in violin making were applicable to other forms of woodwork, he said. Cooper taught him methods to create a smooth finish, curved shape or how to avoid the appearance of scratches on a piece, he said.

“I don’t ever make the same thing twice. The closest is a violin, but I don’t ever mass-produce anything. Everything is handmade one at a time. The guitars, I can make look more like a piece of artwork than an instrument. Each one is unique.”

All of his instruments take hours to build, but the violin is the most time-consuming, sometimes taking up to 200 hours, he said.

“The parts are so fine. They need to be exactly right, or you throw it away,” he said.

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To give the exhibit an interactive feel, Donovan has invited several of his musician pals. He said they will be encouraged to play the very instruments he made, creating a fun atmosphere.

The exhibit will take place Memorial Day weekend, at the Cathance River Gallery, located at 18 Main St. in Bowdoinham. The hours are Friday, May 27 from 5 – 9 p.m., Saturday, May 28 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, May 29 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information about the show visit www.facebook.com/mcd.finewoodworking.

Or visit the Cathance River Gallery website, cathancerivergallery.com

For a preview of Mark C. Donovan’s work follow him on Instagram @Donovansbench, or @ Mcdguitars.

Mark C. Donovan and a bear sculpture he made. Photo by Mark C. Donovan


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