Diana Roper McDowell has devoted much of her life to nonprofits. Currently a member of the NRCM board of directors, she recently retired, after 20 years, from Friends of Acadia, and spent substantial time at others as well. While the mission of local nonprofits inspires her heart, it is the nature of Maine that captures her eye. A resident of Lamoine for the past 44 years, Diana is surrounded by the beauty of Maine’s environment. She enjoys hiking and swimming at Acadia National Park, and traveling to wild places.
Diana studied art at the University of Maine. When asked what it is about painting that calls to her, she says, “Simply put, I like to mix colors and then see what comes out of my brush on the white paper. I like to capture a moment in time, whether it is a tree, a boat, a view. I like to walk and if I see something that catches my attention, I take a photo and try to recreate the feeling I had when I saw it.” For her, painting also is a way to hold on to what has been lost. “I painted a house I really liked in Lamoine, and it has since burned down. I painted an apple tree that has since died. I have them captured in a painting, so I can still enjoy them.”
Painting since about age three, Diana didn’t so much “discover” it as she did just had fun doing it. When she moved to her house in Lamoine, she switched from oil painting to watercolors, for practical reasons. “It was a small house and I had no place to leave a wet oil painting for days on end. I started using watercolors primarily, which are also easier to clean up, and I like the challenge of using them.”
Diana is drawn to artists who put themselves out there. She names N.C. Wyeth, Picasso, Cézanne. “I also like Richard Estes, who is a photorealist but has extremely abstract compositions. Rockwell Kent has some beautiful, stark landscapes that intrigue me.”
“Abstract Realism”—that is how Diana describes her own work. “I usually draw the outline of my subject in a realistic manner, but love to play with abstract shapes of color to complete the inside of the image. I’m dyslexic, so I have to have a fairly complete drawing before I start painting. I have a tendency to draw a line in the opposite direction. It’s difficult to change that if you are applying paint, but hopefully I notice if the drawing is incorrect and can change it before it’s too late.”
In viewing Diana’s portfolio, it is impossible not to notice that a number of her works feature several particular species of birds. “I love crows and ravens,” she says. “They are smart, loud birds that get themselves noticed. If I hear crows making noise, I go to the window and can usually see what’s bothering them. It could be a raven, an eagle, a bobcat—crows are nature’s alarm! In [her painting] Corvid Congregation, the crows are definitely opportunists. “If I’d had bigger paper for that painting, I would have included some Blue Jays who were up above the crows. They are also corvids and hassle the eagles.”
Most people who love Maine—artist or not—agree that there is something about Maine’s natural beauty that lends itself to art. For Diana, that perspective is, literally, even more personal. “All but one of the paintings I sold last year was either the view from my house or from Little Long Pond in Seal Harbor where I walk—I lived near there in high school and walked around that pond
hundreds of times. I found it fascinating that those were the best sellers.”
Diana’s art is currently showing at Artemis Gallery, 1 Firefly Lane, Northeast Harbor, and, for those who are boating, at the Keeper’s House in Burnt Coat Harbor on Swan’s Island. Her work has been featured in books, public spaces, and elsewhere. To learn more, visit her website at roperart.com.