By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – A trio of artists awaited guests at the fine arts studio in the upper level of the Manno Clothing Building, 23810 Michigan Ave., April 15 during an April Arts Month gallery hop.
Artists Martine MacDonald, Janet Kondziela and Kathleen O’Connell welcomed guests to the gallery, sharing the stories behind the work filling the walls.
MacDonald said she makes the hats and outfits she wears in the reference photos, which she uses to create her self-portraits, and often displays the hat and clothing with the finished portrait.
In her most recent work-in-progress self-portrait in oil, “The Matriarch,” she uses blue jays as a symbolic family perching on an Apollonian web, a trellis of abutting circles which do not intersect or nest, in the background.
MacDonald also plans to include in the self-portrait the first names of women in her matrilineal line, going as far back as 500 years.
“Every circle touches another circle, so it’s kind of like every woman has touched another woman as matriarchs,” she said.
Kondziela, who is part of MacDonald’s artistic circle of women, has been at the Manno Building studio since 2014 with O’Connell.
She and O’Connell previously had a studio above Howell’s Bar, which was destroyed by fire nine years ago, taking most of her work with it.
“It was my ‘happy place,’ and I kept taking stuff there,” Kondziela said. “I lost 40 years’ worth of work.”
She said the positive side of the fire was that she got rid of a lot of “bad paintings” and was free to start anew.
“I didn’t have that optimism immediately,” Kondziela said. “It was a journey.”
She said working together in the Manno Building studio allows them to share input.
“Having the three of us here, we can bounce ideas off of each other,” Kondziela said. “We can call each other in and say, ‘Something’s not right – can you spot something that’s not working?’ or, ‘What do you think of this?’”
O’Connell, the third of the trio, said that while she has been drawing as long as she can remember, she took up oil painting at the dawn of the new millennium, and will occasionally do watercolors as well.
“I always wanted to do it,” she said, referring to her landscape oil painting. “My dad gave me an easel for my birthday, so I went to Ireland, and that’s where I started.”
From there, O’Connell said she sought like-minded artists who enjoyed painting outdoors. Paintings of Michigan landscapes fill her studio.
She also does portraits of pets, working mostly from photographs.
“It’s pretty hard to get a pet to hold a pose,” she said with a laugh. “I love doing animals.”
O’Connell said she grew up with dogs and cats, but her love of horses inspired her to start drawing when she was 3 years old.
“I was trying to somehow capture their image,” she said. “Of course, at 3, the results were very disappointing, but I kept working at it and they got better. When you are that age, everything is a wonder to you.”