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Painting Alpena's natural treasures on site

June 15, 2011
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

The Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary currently is engaged in the first of what could become an annual summer practice.

Landscape painter Dr. Catherine Jennings of Portales, N.M., is spending the month of June in Alpena as an artist in residence for the sanctuary. She has been painting on site and producing a body of work reflective of the sanctuary's unique landscape. Ultimately, Jennings will donate one of her finished paintings to the sanctuary.

"The dream goal is to have an artist in residence here every summer," said volunteer Karen Magness-Eubank. "We would get a new fresh water-themed painting each year from a different artist, and 10 or so years down the road, we would have a museum quality collection to hang in the proposed River Center."

Article Photos

News Photo by Diane Speer
Dr. Catherine Jennings of New Mexico, who is currently doing an artist in residence program through the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary, paints on site at the Duck Park.

While in Alpena, Jennings is working with sanctuary officials to explore the possibility of establishing just such a program. An associate art professor at Eastern New Mexico University, Jennings has completed previous artist in residence stays in Picton, Ontario, Canada; Joshua Tree, Calif.; and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in California.

"I'm working with watercolor and acrylics while here. I'm also keeping a sketchbook and taking lots of pictures," said Jennings, who relies on her sketches and photographs to continue with the painting process when she's not working outdoors.

Jennings puts in anywhere from five to 12 hours a day in conjunction with her residency program. That time doesn't always involve painting on site.

Fact Box

Artist in Residence

Dr. Catherine Jennings

  • Talk on her work: June 21, 7 p.m.
  • Reception and presentation of her painting: June 29, 7 p.m.

Location: Alpena County Library

"Usually when I'm in a place I've not painted in before, my work tends to be smaller," she said. "I spend time absorbing the location, including I've hiked in the sanctuary. It all contributes to my work. I can be obsessive when I get into it."

So far, Jennings has enjoyed the experience in Alpena and the chance to be surrounded by water.

"It's good exploring new places to paint," Jennings said. "One thing I really miss being in New Mexico, is there is no water. It's great to be back where there's water and trees and water birds."

She encourages those who spot her painting or drawing at the Duck Park or other area locales to stop by and ask questions.

"That's all part of the residency," said Jennings, who earned an undergraduate art degree from Smith College in Northampton, Mass. She earned an MFA in painting from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary fine arts from Texas Tech University. Her previous work hangs in public and private collection around the world.

During her time in Alpena, Jennings is staying in a carriage house provided by Dr. Avery and Marsha Aten.

"The artist pays for their travel expenses and food. We essentially provide a place for them to stay," said Magness-Eubank. "It benefits the artist because they get to paint in a new place. The host (Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary) benefits because they get a work of art. It's good for both parties. There are lots of rewards to the program."

Jennings will discuss her work in a special presentation June 21 at 7 p.m. at the Alpena County Library. She also will present one of her works to sanctuary board members at a reception June 29 at 7 p.m., also at the library. Both events are free and open to the public.



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