Pennsylvania woman's paintings featured in solo show

July 25, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Donna Bingaman's upstairs studio is quiet, not to mention a bit steamy since an air conditioner in the corner is silent. Vertical blinds are drawn to obstruct a bright afternoon sun.

The room is awash in canvases in several stages of completion; many of the Waynesboro, Pa., resident's subjects have hands clasped in prayer, a nod to her faith.

Hanging from a bookshelf next to the door are dozens of ribbons won at various regional competitions, a dazzling array of purples, whites, reds, greens and yellows that rivals her palette.


Welcome to Bingaman's sanctuary, where the artist can block out distraction and focus on her craft, sometimes too completely.

"I forget time," she admits. "My husband will often say 'You're going too far.'"

Her life-long hobby reached a crescendo this summer with a one-woman show at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

"This is exciting, very exciting," the 51-year-old says. "I never thought my art would go this far."

Her work has been displayed at the Hagerstown museum before as part of other exhibitions. But this is the first program Bingaman is carrying.

On display are two dozen portraits, augmented by two other images - a painting of a swan and another of her cat, Picasso. Also in the exhibit will be a work in progress placed on an easel with a drop cloth on the floor and a faux palette.

Contacted by museum Director Jean Wood about doing the show last year, Bingaman enthusiastically agreed to show her work.

Associate curator Amy Metzger says the museum had their eye on Bingaman for quite a while, seeing her work consistently place in competitions such as the Cumberland Valley Artists Exhibition.

"She's great at capturing the personality of the people that she paints," Metzger says. "All of her portraits seem so realistic and full of life, and very three-dimensional."

Natural talent

Bingaman began sketching people's faces when she was a schoolgirl. When she got married and had two children, they became her muse. Today, she enjoys painting her three grandchildren as well as other subjects.

Since it is rare for an individual to have the time or inclination to sit for their portrait, Bingaman works from photographs. She spends time observing her subjects, talking to them to get a feel for the person she will be immortalizing on canvas.

"I try to position them in a place that brings out their unique character," she says. "I watch how they tip their head, the expression on their face and I can usually tell when it's natural, when you see that person throw their head this way or throw their hands that way."

Metzger appreciates Bingaman's mastery.

"It's something most portrait artists aspire to, and it takes a lot of talent,"

Metzger says.

A fan of capturing different personalities in oil - she fell in love with the paints after using chalk and pastels early on - she nonetheless says portraiture can be taxing. It is why she must work with as few distractions as possible, focusing all her energy, strength and concentration to create accurate renderings of her models.

As a result, she turns to landscapes to relax.

"They don't have to be so precise. A tree can have a branch different ways and it won't matter. People will still know it's a tree," she says. "(With portraits) you have to be more exact, because they don't want one that doesn't look like them. ... I try to find what makes them beautiful to me."

A true avocation

In the summer, painting takes a back seat to spending time with grandchildren, so she tends to be more productive during winter months.

Still, Bingaman will usually find time to spend in her studio, though she follows no set schedule. Some days she will paint early, others in the late morning or early afternoon.

As much fun as painting is, and as easily as she could turn it into a vocation, she is determined to keep it an avocation.

"I do not want it to be a full time job. It's exhausting," she says. "I think it would be less fun if it was a full time, have-to job."

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