It’s a rare morning if Dahlov Ipcar has not had a chance to paint. After all, that’s how Ipcar usually starts her days. Most mornings, one of Maine’s most beloved artists goes to the studio inside her farmhouse, pulls up her stool or a chair, maybe sifts through a collection of rough sketches mapped out on slips of white paper, and works for an hour or two on her vibrantly colored images of animals.
Lately, however, Ipcar has had to put aside her typical routine work for more pressing matters. On one recent morning, a meeting with her publisher, followed by an interview with a newspaper reporter, ate into her precious painting time.
Things have only grown busier for Ipcar, now 92. She is working with Yarmouth-based Islandport Press to rerelease some of the more than 30 children’s books she has illustrated and written. A rug company is interested in using some of Ipcar’s designs. A group in Brunswick is planning a children’s park based on Ipcar’s images.
Down East Books recently published the first retrospective publication of her life and work, “The Art of Dahlov Ipcar,” with text by renowned Maine art critic Carl Little.
The concept of the book originated several years ago as more of a biography but changed later, Ipcar said recently while sitting in a patterned chair that faced her two most recent paintings, one a group of roosters and another with an antelope, bird, turtle and rabbit.
“I was sort of pleased that it ended up being an art book and not a biography,” she said, petting her cat Grindal, whose tortoiseshell coloring looks like something straight out of an Ipcar painting. “What I wanted was a record of my art and what I accomplished in life. I think they did a nice job on it. The colors are good, and that’s the important thing. I always believed in doing the best art I can.”
The 144-page book includes 120 color images from more than 70 years, along with several of those by her parents, the artists William and Marguerite Zorach.
In the process of looking for images for the book, Ipcar looked for the first time in decades at the work she created as a youngster.
“We opened up the crate and there were all these memories that went with all the pictures,” she said. “The thing that really surprised me is that I’ve been doing the same thing since I was 13 or 14, or even younger. There’s one of a jaguar being gored by a bull and I thought, it’s the same kind of subject matter I’m doing now.”
Ipcar said she has known Little for several years because he had requested works of hers for use in some of his previous books.
A Somesville resident who is the director of marketing and communications for the Maine Community Foundation in Ellsworth, Little also had worked on a film about Ipcar for the Maine Masters series.
“In working on the book my admiration for Ipcar grew a thousandfold,” Little said at a recent book signing in Damariscotta. “The more I learned about her life, the more I came to understand her passion and commitment.”
Nearly everything in Ipcar’s life in art would seem to have led to the point of a retrospective book. Her birth in 1917 was announced on a William Zorach woodcut, a print of which hangs on a wall in Ipcar’s studio. She had a one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1939, when she was 21.
In addition to hundreds of paintings, some of which are in collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, she also has illustrated more than 30 books, many of which she wrote. Ipcar also wrote four novels, and has worked in other mediums such as fabric sculpture.
The influence of her parents’ works was immense, but so was that of the images Ipcar saw in places such as the Met, where her father took her as a child. In fact, the influence of those sights remains.
“The things I liked were Egyptian art and Greek vases, Indian miniatures,” she said. “[The museum] had one giant carpet with animal combat scenes all around the outside. Here I’ve been doing that ever since.”
The Zorach family began traveling to Maine in 1919, Little wrote, where they met American modernist painter John Marin in Stonington, and moved to Georgetown in 1923. Ipcar came to know her soon-to-be-husband, Adolph Ipcar, when his family rented the neighboring farmhouse. They married in 1936 in New York City.
The next year, the Ipcars made a permanent move to Georgetown.
Dahlov Ipcar retreated from the hubbub of the art world, painting and creating in the farmhouse near Robinhood Cove. Although Ipcar has never traveled farther than Florida, she paints animals with the admiration and vibrancy of someone who has observed them live rather than in the pages of books and magazines.
For inspiration, Ipcar reads magazines such as National Geographic and International Wildlife. A worn copy of the book “The World of Animals” was stacked among some books on a nearby table. Discoveries of new species are welcome news to her.
Yet intimate observation isn’t necessary for Ipcar’s work. She doesn’t strive for nature studies; rather, her animals are those in her fantasy world where zebras prance in a line, antelopes are colored purple, and camels appear to flirt with each other.
In his book, Little posed the question of whether there was an animal Ipcar hadn’t painted. Indeed, just when you think Ipcar has left out an animal or two, the painting on the next page includes a polar bear, or a flamingo, or even a stegosaurus.
She has some favorite animals, including cats, cheetahs and zebras.
“Stripes and spots,” Ipcar said. “It livens it up.”
As expected, there are plenty of spots and stripes in “The Art of Dahlov Ipcar.” Just as those animal markings lend a sense of motion to her paintings, Ipcar is still working at a strong pace. In fact, she finished around 18 paintings last year, nearly double her average.
With everything else going on in 2010, however, Ipcar has completed only four so far through the first seven months of the year. She likely did not have a chance to paint the morning after meeting with her publisher and the interviewer, either. Ipcar was busy again, this time with a doctor’s appointment.
“My life is getting very complicated,” she said. “I’m a little behind this year. Too many things going on.”