What happens when a school psychologist, counselor and educator who works with special needs students embarks fully on a new career after retirement as an artist?
If you are Lois Donaghey, an extremely valued and well-loved educator who served Cotati-Rohnert Park students for nearly three decades, you mesh your educational experience with your artistic talents and rapidly emerge as a highly touted painter.
This month Lois will be celebrated in her own studio as she becomes stop number 11 on Art Trails 2018. Her work, displayed in more than thirty galleries and shows throughout Northern California, will be on display Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. at her studio located at 918 Slater St. in Santa Rosa.
Prominently shown will be her recently completed project, “50 Shades of Emotion/50 Faces of Emotions.” Lois believes that the fifty paintings, each done in one day are “most likely in response to my lifetime vocation as a school psychologist, counselor and educator.” The emotions displayed include shades of sadness, fear, disgust, anger, contempt, happiness and surprise. For subjects, she called on images from family, friends, selfies and photo files.
Lanny asked: “What is important about your 50/50 collection of paintings? Lois responded, “the paintings represent varied ethnic identities, races, gender, gender identities and cultural identities and speak to our common humanity and at least attempt to shine a light on how very much alike we all are…all of us.”
This set up a wonderful interview about the rise of this maturing artist. Lois’s answers connected her educational career an her life with her art.
Lanny: “Describe your journey with art? When and why did you begin painting? What is your favorite medium? What subject do you focus on?”
Lois: “My journey with art began when I was a child. I grew up in the very small Sierra village and railroad community of Blue Canyon. It was during long, cold snowed in winters that my love for art sprouted. My mentors, my mother and brother were successful artists. My mother gave me skill and confidence and my brother gave me the passion I have for art making. I have taken art classes all of my life. My favorite medium is oil painting. I love it. But becoming comfortable with oils was a long time coming. I have also studied metal sculpture, clay sculpture, silk dying, water color and print making.”
Lanny: “How has travel impacted you as an artist?”
Lois: “Ah, well, travel always impacts all aspects of one’s life. Light is important to all artists and the light one gets when traveling is different from region to region. For me, the light in Northern Italy has ochre feel and tint to it while France has a pink tint and feel. Bavaria’s light feels like it has a tint of brown, while Northern Germany seems like it has a blue tint and feel. And of course, there is the Middle East, which looks very stark and brilliant white. I think what I am seeing and feeling while traveling from one place to another is the sun’s reflection off the earth of that area. Also I am greatly influenced by the local art that I find in churches and museums when traveling. I see the colors, the light, the forms, and the way long gone and contemporary artists put paint on canvas.”
Lanny: “What are some of the things that have inspired your art?”
Lois: I think that spirituality has had the greatest impact on my art or inspired my art more than any other one thing. I am often in ‘another’ place thinking of my art making, feeling my art-making. The other place is filled with love, kindness, and forgiveness so much so that it almost does not feel human. I am not sure, but I do think this is a place most artists go to. Some call this place “Prayer” and others call it meditation or just being conscious and in the moment.”
Lois: “What motivates me to paint? I haven’t a clue. It’s like I cannot, not do it. Money? I made much more money as an educator. Fame isn’t exactly my thing in any area of my life. I don’t think of creating something original either. It is really like I just cannot, not do it.”
Lanny: Your open studio will take place where you have done the paintings. Describe your studio and how it came to be. Tell us how this environment has affected you as you create. How do you feel about sharing this personal space with those who visit Art Trails?”
Lois: “I think the studio is the most common issue for most artists. There are a lot of frustrated artists in the world. We are moms, or dads, or mates or partners. We have amassed all of the art supplies we need to blossom our skills out. But we have room to do so. So for most of my life I did not have a studio that I could leave my painting out on an easel to dry or leave my palette out. I used the kitchen, which worked fine, but as soon as I would be in the middle of a painting, I would be inviting folks to dinner which meant putting everything away, yet again. After doing this three or four times in two months, the art supplies just seemed to come out of the closet less and less often. Several years ago my husband and I remodeled our old garage into a stand-alone studio and I have been painting nonstop and with passion ever since. I have a stereo system in my studio and I paint to all kinds of music. Some of my paintings have paint strokes that look like little dances on my canvas. I love my art studio even when it’s at its messiest! And I love sharing my studio when I have my paintings hanging. I know this is full of ego, but I love my paintings. They just make me smile and in some odd way, tickle me pink.”
Lanny: “Describe your career in education; tell what jobs you did. Explain any connection that you may see between your work in education, especially as a psychologist and your work as an artist.”
Lois: I began working in Sonoma County at the Office of Education in 1979 and later in the early 1990s I started my twenty- year career for Cotati-Rohnert Park schools as a psychologist. Between those two
jobs, I worked as a school psychologist and special education coordinator in Germany. After retirement, I worked for the Department of Defense in Bahrain. My work as a school psychologist had an indelible effect on my artwork. It is part of that ‘going to another place’ that I mentioned earlier. As a psychologist, I worked with special needs children and their parents. It is from these families, from diverse backgrounds, yet having so much in common on a very raw and human level that I saw the love, kindness and forgiveness that it takes to be. Not that there wasn’t anger and other emotions. There were, but the love, kindness and forgiveness that I saw in these children and their parents and families helped open my heart, drop my guard and make pouring out my soul onto canvas much easier. My art is all what I am and have been. You can see it in my paintings.”
Lanny: “How has your art and its subject changed as you have progressed as an artist? Twenty-three years ago, I recall that you were painting clowns. Now I see subjects such as radishes and lovely flowers and colorful paintings that seem to be a mixture of impressionism and modern abstract modes.”
Lois: “All artists go through periods and we do for different reasons. For example, about a year ago I had two surgeries on my feet that pretty much made it impossible for me to stand up to paint. I adapted and started painting very small paintings and subject matters that I never thought I would be painting…flowers of all things. Right now I am in a figurative mode again. Artists are like everybody else. Our work reflects what is going on inside of us or in our environment.”
Lois Donaghey is an artist who is a work in progress. Nothing is ever lost and all of her experiences are ever present in her wonderful creations. No surprise that her art has been presented in so many places. She is a permanent gallery artist at Healdsburg Center for the Arts and this is her first year with Art Trails. So very many families in Rohnert Park and Cotati recall, as well as school district employees, the amazing impact Lois has had on so many lives. Now, this impact can be observed in her art which portrays her values and love for humanity and her sense of kindness and acceptance of all human beings.