Hers are ‘the hands of an artist’
By ANDREA GRANAHAN / West County Correspondent
Marylu Downing’s luminous paintings light up the west county.
She currently has shows hanging in Sebastopol at Wine Country Realtors Group and Palm Drive Hospital, as well as several group shows. She also is one of the Donkey Barn artists, a collective that met for years in a donkey barn converted to a studio, many of whom have become well-known.
We found her working in the garden studio of her home near Freestone.
Have you always known you were an artist?
When I was a child in Hollywood, I was always drawing and painting. My grandmother was a Southern woman. She worked as a nanny-housekeeper and had a lot of Hollywood contacts.
She was a creative, exciting person and was constantly crafting things. One day she took my hands and looked at them carefully. She told me, “These are the hands of an artist.” That had a big impact on me.
Were your parents artists?
My father was a builder and used to put his blueprints on the dining room table and explain each job to us. I learned a lot and years later was able to be the contractor when my own house was built. My mother was a very talented seamstress.
They encouraged me, and back then the L.A. city schools had great art programs. We moved to the beach, and I spent a lot of time by the water or surfing. Southern California has a strong Mexican culture. The bright colors, the sun, the sea all influenced me.
From Southern California you moved here?
In stages. I moved to Mill Valley. By that time I had my three daughters and couldn’t easily paint. I made puppets instead, quirky ones with strong personality, and I sold them.
I met a lot of artists. I always gravitate towards them. One of them hooked me up with a Sausalito gallery. That launched me, but I wanted to live in the country so we moved here.
I got divorced, then met my present husband Roger House, a software engineer. We’ve been together 27 years. We raised my three girls and his two boys, a real blended family.
You worked as an artist here?
I first opened a fabric store. I wanted to be surrounded by beauty all day. I began creating wearable art, hand painted silk clothing. Then I got a major order from Nordstrom. By the time I filled it I was burned out. I closed the fabric store to go to graduate school to get my masters degree in counseling.
I taught fabric design at a vocational school, and I taught at the junior college. Then I began painting full time and got into Art Trails 20 years ago.
Don’t you work with a lot of organizations?
I helped start the gallery at Occidental Center for the Arts and the Graton Gallery. I’ve belonged to a lot of cooperatives.
I belong to Sebastopol Center for the Arts, am on the Art Trails Committee. I started the Occidental Center for the Arts book launchings.
I’m on the Sonoma County Book Festival Committee. I can’t even think what else.
It’s the typical retirement schedule when you wonder how you ever found time to work. I have a hard time saying no. And I appreciate that Sonoma County has become so supportive of the arts.
What’s a typical week?
I spend two or three days painting, about six hours a day unless I am preparing for a show, when I ramp it up. I go to meetings and such for the groups I work with.
I work in my garden and baby-sit for my five grandkids. I have four boys, one girl. They range in age from 13 years to six months.
Do you have future plans?
I am working on a book, “Tales from the West Pole.” I am doing the paintings to illustrate it right now and hope to have it done in six months.
Roger encourages me. He likes giving my paintings funny nicknames. For example, I did a painting of a woman holding a lizard. He called it “Avon Calling.”
As you can see, I keep busy.