Studio Visit: Barbara Curtis McDonnell.
Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, a chat with Barbara Curtis McDonnell. The artist, who is showing her paintings at the Danville Art League through July 31, recently chatted with News-Gazette reporter Melissa Merli. The Danville Art League, 320 N. Franklin St., is open from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays through Saturdays and 6 to 8 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. For more information, call 442-9264.
Q: What are you showing at the Danville Art League?
A: There are probably 33 to 35 paintings. They're oils and there are some pastel drawings and glicee prints. The earlier ones are from the '80s, and there's one I'm proud of, that was in an "All California" show curated by Henry Hopkins, director of the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.
Q: Did you ever live in California?
A: Yes, I lived in San Francisco from 1980 to '86. Before that, I lived in Albuquerque, and the art scene there in the '70s was really terrific. New Mexico was really happening.
I got my bachelor's in art education and my BFA in painting from the University of New Mexico. I taught at the K-12 level, first at a private school for a little while. Then that school folded and I had little jobs after that. And a friend and I got a National Endowment for the Arts-New Mexico Fine Arts Grant to put art on the Albuquerque Sun-Tram bus system.
I did wonderfully in Albuquerque. We started the Albuquerque United Artists group. It was just so exciting.
I thought I'd make the big time so I moved to San Francisco and had a studio with other women artists from New Mexico. Gordon Cook (1927-1985) had a studio down the hall. He was an important Bay Area artist; he was my mentor.
Q: When did you come back to Illinois?
A: I came back to Danville, where I'd grown up, in the late '80s. Mike (McDonnell) had come back too from the NFL — he coached the Buffalo Bills. We met — we actually had been in nursery school together — and married in 1991 and moved to Springfield. Then he got a good job at Centennial High School, so we came here in 1997.
Q: What's the subject matter of your art over at the League building?
A: Landscapes, and there are some figures. I have done portraits before. Those portraits (points to wall in her living room) are of my mom and dad — Dr. John S. Curtis and Mary Snyder Curtis.
Q: How and when did you first get interested in art and becoming an artist?
A: Our house was filled with art. Mother was a graduate of Juilliard, and she had a great voice, and dad was a medical star and they both loved and collected art and antiques.
I always wanted to be an artist. It was something I could do well — I was terrible at math. I've always loved a good book and reading and painting, and I love singing. I'm a member of both The Chorale and the UI Oratorio.
Q: How would you describe your style as an artist and has it changed over the years?
A: I see similarities in all my pictures. My work has always been representational. I was suckered in by Impressionism when I was in France, when I was 20 and spending a year abroad, studying. I couldn't get away from touching the canvas and painting what I see around me. But this year, I want to develop a more abstract sense of things.
Q: Are you represented by any galleries?
A: By the Cinema Gallery in Urbana. And the Tamarack Gallery in Omena, Mich., but I haven't sent them paintings in a while. I have every intention of getting back to them. I used to exhibit a lot — there used to be a lot more places to have shows.
Q: Did you graduate from Danville High?
A: No, I went to Ferry Hall, a boarding school at the Lake Forest Academy, which was the boys' school. In the late '80s, they merged. I went there because my mom's family sent their kids to boarding schools. From there, I went to Bennett College, a women's college, in Millbrook, N.Y. Bennett was a good art school; they brought in people from New York City. I was exposed to a lot there and around Poughkeepsie. There were a lot of good artists living in those hills in Dutchess County.