Marsha Donahue’s work will be featured at our 2015 Art of Giving Gala, September 17 in Portland.
One of Maine’s finest native artists, Marsha Donahue is the owner of North Light Gallery in Millinocket, an important showcase and social center for artists from the interior of the state. Donahue herself is well known for her clean, clear sure-handed watercolors of the Katahdin region and for her strong advocacy for its conservation. Born in Waterville, she grew up in Pittsfield, West Paris, and Auburn, and studied art at Portland School of Fine and Applied Art (now Maine College of Art) and American University. She worked in art galleries in Washington, D.C., and Portland before moving to Millinocket 11 years ago.
Your use of watercolor is very different from the soft, washy look of traditional watercolor. How do you achieve that crispness and clarity?
I had painted only in oils for 18 years before I returned to Maine in 1985. Then [painter] Connie Hayes asked me to teach watercolor at Maine College of Art. I got watercolor books out from the school library and taught myself the plain wash/single stroke watercolor technique. You wet an area. and while it’s wet, you drop color in and let it dry. Then you go on to another area.
I lost all my supplies in studio fire in 1986, but I was convinced I could get the same vivid colors with watercolors as I did with oils.
What part does Maine play in your art?
Maine is who I am — white, sapphire blue, deep green, gold, and black. The best an artist can communicate is what they know and what they live, and I am in my element in the woods near a stream.
How did the move from Portland to Millinocket impact your art?
I am from the interior of Maine, so the palette up here is indigenous to me. I like the light and the sun of the coast, but the dark and dangerous look of the interior landscape reverberates in me. I’m going to paint here the rest of my life.
How did you decide to submit Outlet, Chimney Pond to the Art of Giving?
Making a pilgrimage to Chimney Pond is a concerted effort. Not every artist who paints Katahdin paints Chimney Pond. Chimney Pond is the spiritual center of the mountain. Standing at Chimney Pond is like standing in church to a lot of people. Outlet, Chimney Pond was almost the only work I produced two winters ago. After a friend’s death, we spent almost all winter serving coffee and processing his death in the gallery, which is also my studio. After two months, I was able to concentrate on this work without interruption and had gone over the approach to and the process of painting it so many times that I was absorbed in it the next two months. Everything I felt about this beautiful scene was poured into it, and it took me a step further in accomplishing better technique.