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Art Museum exhibits 18 watercolors by Donald Holden

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Dusk at Lake Powell IX, 1999, by Donald Holden. watercolor on paper, 16 x 20 inches. Collection of the Springfield Art Museum.

Dusk at Lake Powell IX, 1999, by Donald Holden. watercolor on paper, 16 x 20 inches. Collection of the Springfield Art Museum.

Watercolor lovers will have a new reason to visit the Springfield Art Museum, located at 1111 E. Brookside Drive, beginning this Saturday, July 16th, when the museum opens “Donald Holden: Memory Painter.”

The exhibition brings together 18 works from the museum’s permanent collection by acclaimed landscape watercolorist Donald Holden.

The exhibit will continue through Oct. 16th. Another exhibit, “Watercolor U.S.A.” continues through Aug. 28th. Admission to the museum is always free.

Born in 1931 in Los Angeles, Holden studied at the Art Students League in New York City and graduated from Columbia University. He credits his professors at Columbia with teaching him that “painting was more than technique.” A frequent contributor to art magazines and journals, he is the author of more than 20 books, including Whistler Landscapes and Seascapes (1969), selected for the White House library of notable books on American art. In his paintings, Holden wanted to capture the underlying essence of the scene, rather than the topographic aspects.  When traveling to locations such as the Hudson River Valley, the Maine coast, the Adirondacks, and Yellowstone, he often makes crayon sketches of his favorite scenes.

Back in his studio, Holden uses them as inspiration for his watercolors. He often labors over a scene, creating and destroying several works until he produced the one that captured a sense of poetry and spontaneity, requirements for a great watercolor. Inspired by the Venetian painters, Holden applied one transparent wash over another to create optical layers that read like stained glass.

In 1994, Holden was elected to the National Academy, and continues to paint in his studio in Irvington, New York. His watercolors and drawings are in the permanent collections of many museums in the United States and Britain. The ethereal paintings featured in the Armstrong Gallery were all generous gifts from the artist to the Springfield Art Museum.

This exhibition focuses on two unique aspects of Holden’s work. First, he works intentionally on small scale paintings, creating the illusion of miles of sea and sky within a diminutive frame. The artist notes, “A big painting tells you to step back, keep your distance. A small painting, on the other hand, invites you to step forward and move inside. It invites a more intimate, more intense relationship.” Second, Holden bases his work on places that he has travelled to – Lake Powell, the coast of Maine, the Hudson River Valley – but he never paints on site. Instead, he recreates his memory of the landscape in his studio, letting his mind distill distractions and nonessential elements.

Of Holden’s work Curator of Art Sarah Buhr writes: “The resulting works are like fuzzy photographs from some strange, alien world. Holden’s ability to render light, through an incredibly subtle tonal range, makes each painting literally glow from within.” Holden’s use of color, brushwork, and artistic license all combine to imbue his small scale landscapes with an essence that is larger than life. This exhibition includes a free gallery guide and a video of the artist at work in his studio.

Founded in 1928, the Springfield Art Museum is Springfield’s oldest cultural institution. Its functions as a department of the City of Springfield, dedicated to enhancing the education and documenting the cultural heritage of the people of southwest Missouri through the collection, preservation, and exhibition of art objects. For more information, please visit

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