But first she’s planned a month-long celebration and the guest list includes a who’s who of Sakonnet and South Coast artists whose works have graced her galleries’ walls over the years.“A Fond Farewell” will open on Sunday, Dec. 1, with a reception to meet the artists from 1 to 5 p.m. It’s meant to “celebrate the artists who made it great and the loyal patrons who made it all possible.”
“It was a really, really hard decision and will be bittersweet,” Ms. Donovan said. “It has been such a great run, so many wonderful people I’ll miss.”
But ‘retirement’ from the gallery business means much more time for teaching and for painting at the studio off Francis Lane in Little Compton near the Tiverton line.
“It’s my little piece of heaven,” the place “I’ve never been able to spend as much time as I wanted — until now.”
The studio sits by Almy Marsh and overlooks Ferolbink Farm and the Sakonnet River.
“Every time I look out at that view I see something new to paint. I am blessed.”
The recent death of good friend Jim Weir, who owns the Donovan Gallery building and land “only confirmed for me that I had made the right decision, that the time is right to move on … It made me realize again that life is so short. Don’t put things off that you want to do.”
Ms Donovan said she knew she wanted a career in art at an early age.
She grew up in Swansea and went to Case High School where art teacher Clara Stewart (“she still lives in Westport”) encouraged her. “I did all the art for the school newspaper … (Clara) really got me excited about art.”
She met her future husband, Patrick, through another interest — racing cars. “We used to race in the parking lot of Horseneck Beach 42 years ago with the Sakonnet Sports Car Club.”
She was briefly a teacher and soccer coach (Tiverton Middle School), studied art education at Roger Williams College, and, in 1982, Ms. Donovan opened her first gallery/gift shop, the Thistle Gallery, at Four Corners. The gift shop part of that work was draining she said — “seven days a week” — and she sold it eight years later. Then came several associations with area artists — the Sakonnet Arts Center and Sakonnet Painters Cooperative.
She started the Donovan Gallery in 1994 as a place where she could sell not only her art but that of other artists from the area.
“That has been the best part, getting to know these tremendously talented, good people.”
Many of them have been with her since day one and are still key members of the gallery roster — she mentions Christine Bean, Al Albrektson, and Richard Harrington. “Al, he’s 94, called me just the other day and said, ‘I’ll be in Tuesday with a new work.'” She said she will keep a hand in the business by holding on to her website and phone number and representing clients in that way.
This isn’t Ms. Donovan’s first attempt at retirement.
A half dozen years ago she gave it a shot but after a short time away was soon back at it. This time, though, she says she means it.
She said she was blessed to have Mr. Weir as a landlord all these years. “He has been amazingly supportive. There’s no way my rent covered what it cost to keep that building up.” Mr. Weir put most of his Four Corners holdings up for sale about a year ago which contributed to Ms. Donovan’s decision to retire.
These are challenging times for the gallery business, she acknowledged, “maybe not on the very highest end but where we operate.”
She believes it’s mostly the economy — “people are cautious about spending their money.” She doesn’t necessarily blame the internet despite the competition it brings. “The internet also helps,” she said, noting that she just sold a painting for a Little Compton artist to a buyer in Seattle.
Retirement will bring opportunities to paint and teach all over (a travel company has offered her the chance to teach groups in Europe and elsewhere).
“But really, my favorite place to paint is right here … Lloyd Beach, the top of Peckham Road — there’s so much variety, so much beauty … I’m just in my own little world out there.”
One last exhibit
The new exhibit will include new works by Gallery favorites Deb Quinn-Munson, Cindy Baron, Kathleen Weber, Peter Campbell, Jeanne Tangney, Marieluise Hutchinson, T.A. Charron, Sarah Stifler-Lucas, Bill Chisholm, Jessica Pisano, Alex Dunwoodie, David Aldrich, Mary Elizabeth Post, David Witbeck, Debra Valeri, Jonathan McPhillips, Diane Harrison, Tom Deininger, Carol FitzSimonds, Bill Massey, Cristina Martuccelli, Cindy Wilson, Arthur Moniz, Peter Campbell, Del-Bourree Bach, John O’Brien, Mark Fernandez, Matthew Smith, and Arthur Moniz.
The reception is free and open to the public.
Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 to 5 on Saturdays, and 12 to 5 Sundays and by appointment. Visit www.DonovanGallery.com for more information.