Mathew Pierce O’Donnell was a 10-year-old kid in 1950s Bangor when his teacher at Harlow Street Junior High School first exposed him to real art. There was an exhibit of the works of beloved Maine painter Waldo Pierce at the Tarratine Club, just down the street. The young O’Donnell was transfixed.
“It was incredibly eye-opening for me,” said O’Donnell, who now lives in Wiscasset. “I’d never seen art like that. It changed my life.”
Since that formative afternoon, O’Donnell has spent the better part of life devoted to his art, painting hundreds upon hundreds of paintings, most of which have never been seen in public. Two of those paintings are on display for a few months in the children’s room at the Bangor Public Library; a homecoming of sorts for O’Donnell, who hasn’t lived in Bangor since he graduated high school.
The two paintings each display an open-ended invitation to the viewer to decide just what they’re about. “Beyond Nature” stacks a multitude of perspectives of a deer in the woods; “What Dreams Are Made Of” presents a visual riddle, which O’Donnell hopes the young people reading and learning in the children’s room will try to puzzle out.
“I hope it gets them talking and thinking and looking at it, going ‘Hmmm, what is it?’” said O’Donnell. “I like that idea.”
O’Donnell was born in Van Buren, grew up with 10 brothers and sisters in Bangor, and upon graduating from Bangor High School in the late 1960s, attended school at Maine College of Art in Portland and The Boston Fine Art Museum School before graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1977. Soon after, he moved to Searsport, where he lived for most of the ’80s.
It was there that he fell in with the fledgling midcoast arts scene, becoming a part of the Artfellows Cooperative Gallery, a group of coastal artists that had a downtown Belfast gallery from 1980 to 1987. While in Searsport, he began painting some of his favorite works, including images of cows in pastures, children playing in snow, and iconic figures from Maine folklore, such as Paul Bunyan.
“I keep prints of some of the ones that people really love, and I’ll give them to people if I know they need help paying for something,” said O’Donnell. “They can sell it or auction it off, if they want.”
By the late ’80s, he had moved to his current home of Wiscasset. His work has been seen in recent years at the River Arts Gallery II in Damariscotta, and at Betts Gallery and Aarhus Gallery in Belfast. His current projects include painting on birch bark, and a series of small paintings.
O’Donnell’s two works at the Bangor Public Library are up through most of 2014. For information, visit bpl.lib.me.us/Exhibits_Listing.html.