Donna Brown in her studio. Photo by Tom Groenfeldt.
A conversation with Donna Brown
Boredom doesn’t bother Donna Brown for very long. The Sister Bay artist can go from watercolor to oil, cold wax or monotype printing. And if that’s not enough, she can create sculptures from paper or fabric and wax polish, or design earrings from leaves and twigs found on walks in her lands or in the parks of the Door County. In a pinch, she can always rework an already “finished” painting, like that of a barn that sits on the floor of her White Barn Gallery just south of the AC Tap on Highway 57.
“I should have taken a picture of each version,” Brown said. “You know, when they do these x-rays of what’s under a painting. If they did that to that barn, no one would believe it.
But the layering creates interest.
“So as long as you leave a bit of the underlying layer and don’t totally cover it, it’s still part of the process,” she said.
Friends have become accustomed to Brown’s method of working, which is to rework a piece and then rework it again.
“Everyone is rolling their eyes. It’s like, ‘You did it again,'” she said. just not quite right.
Brown worked with encaustic for several years, then realized it would work on paper, which absorbed some of the wax and turned translucent. She could hold this paper up to a window to enjoy the image, but so what? She sewed the artwork into cylinders, which are now ready to be placed on a small, round, flat light on a table to become a decorative light. Others are shaped to hang above a wall sconce.
“One thing leads to another,” she said of her creative process.
Brown has won numerous awards at juried exhibitions, and her work resides in collections across Wisconsin, including those of the Miller Art Museum, Door County Memorial Hospital, Marshfield Clinic, Appleton VA Hospital, and Northwestern. Mutual Insurance, as well as in private collections across the country.
She and her husband, Errol, moved to Sister Bay from Portland, Oregon, in 1994 and purchased a small house and barn on six acres, where they raised a son and a daughter, as well as numerous pets. For years they spent part of the winter in Mexico – most recently in Oaxaca, where they built a tiny house 12 years ago. This year they sold it because the neighborhood was getting too crowded for their liking.
Nearly 30 years of creative work created between the two locations has generated piles of papers and canvases.
“Creativity is great, but it’s not always the neatest of undertakings,” Brown said. “So at some point, yeah, you have to start over, throw a few things away and empty the decks.”
She sells her work in her studio-gallery — open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., or by appointment — and through Fine Line Designs north of Ephraim.
Brown enjoys talking to people who visit her, especially when they react to the sentiment of her work or want to watch her work.
“When someone else comes in and can connect to that feeling, there’s something extremely special about it,” she said. “It’s the emotion. Art should be emotional.
And it is not uncommon for these fortuitous encounters to turn into friendships.
“I’ve made some amazing friendships through the interaction of what they love,” Brown said. “Some people have come for years just to see what I do. They may have a piece they bought 20 years ago. It’s quite interesting because my work has changed so much in terms of style, but so have they.
Although some of his work can be seen as controversial and political, tackling issues such as abortion rights, Donald Trump or the environment, most of it is soothing.
“One of the nicest things anyone has said about my work is that it’s very spiritual,” Brown said. “I never thought it was, but I started watching it and I thought, ‘Yeah, maybe it is. It has to do with the mind.