Donald Demers Coast to Coast: American Art Colonies Revisited

Generation to Generation

Introduction by Carey Vose

As gallerists that ate, slept, and breathed American art during the work week, my parents, Bill and Marcia, would often whisk me and my sister Beth off to experience even more art adventures on weekends. We would jump in the car and travel around New England, visiting museum curators, artists, fellow art dealers, as well as several historic artists’ colonies within a four-hour radius of Boston. My parents personally collected paintings by the artists who had worked at these colonies, as both teachers and students, focusing on the early American Impressionists. These unforgettable places, and the colorful cast of characters we encountered along the way, have left an indelible impression on me.

Carey Vose with her father, Bill Vose, and his 1965 Ford Mustang, 1975

When I joined the family business in 2001, my mother and I decided that we would resume handling contemporary realist paintings after a forty-year hiatus – my grandfather, preferring deceased artists because they did not ‘talk back,’ stopped representing living painters in 1960. I actually enjoy spirited dialogues with artists, so it was exciting to once again showcase the works of New England painters and sculptors, as my great-great-grandfather, Seth Morton Vose, had done as far back as the 1850s. We wanted to exhibit artists who had mastered the traditional methods, but were applying them in unique new ways.

Carey and Don out at Ocean Point, Maine, 2022

Sitting at my desk one day, I struck up a very interesting conversation with a visitor who was extremely knowledgeable about the historic American painters we had on view. He waxed ecstatic about the unbelievable talent of American masters such as Winslow Homer, Willard Metcalf, and Frederick Judd Waugh, as well as some of their more obscure contemporaries, including William Bicknell and Julian Alden Weir. He confided that he had first visited the gallery as an art student in 1977; after departing early from a field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art on Boylston Street during a performance piece that failed to interest him, he had wandered into Vose Galleries and discovered a treasure trove of 19th and early 20th century paintings, which motivated and shaped his own work. The artist I was speaking with was Don Demers. In the years following our first meeting, we have hosted four exhibitions of his paintings and we are proud to have the ability to showcase his talents alongside many of the artistic ‘heroes’ that inspired him.

Surf at Marginal Way, Ogunquit, oil on canvas panel, 15 x 24 inches

The idea that Don should revisit a number of the historic artists’ colonies across the United States was a natural one. I was curious to see how he would capture the sights and sounds of these settings, as I have seen hundreds of examples by his predecessors who painted and interpreted them in their own ways. In looking at the works in this exhibition, it is almost as if American masters such as John Twachtman, Willard Metcalf, George Inness, and Julian Alden Weir were standing beside him, helping to imbue each canvas with a sense of place. Don has an instinctual way of going beyond just the visual and invoking all the senses into his compositions in order to communicate the spirit of the experience of that particular moment in time.

Jake and Don cruising on his 1965 Lyman, 2021

Don and his partner Jackie have become close friends of ours, and we have spent time with them up in Maine each August in recent years. I am thrilled that I have been able to provide my son Jake some of the same amazing experiences that I did at his age, which hopefully he will cherish as much as I have for many years to come.

The Fog of Cape Ann, oil on canvas panel, 24 x 36 inches

The Lure of the Sea

There was never a doubt in Don Demers' mind that he would be an artist. His passion for the sea began during childhood summers spent with his grandparents in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. The passing ships, the surf, and the vastness of the scene enraptured him.

Along the Annisquam, oil on canvas panel, 15 x 30 inches
"My attachment to the sea began in childhood. I can still remember the scent of salt air and how it excited and comforted me. The sea's repetitive variation and cyclical rhythm have a transcendental effect. Much the way a crackling fire can hypnotize."

-Don Demers

Shadows on the Shore, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
"My internal and external selves merge when I am with the sea. I experience a sense of wholeness. The ocean is an all encompassing and very public phenomenon and yet, to me it is the most introspective, solitary and private place on earth."

-Don Demers

Cadence of the Coast, oil on canvas panel, 20 x 32 inches

Demers considers himself to be mostly self-taught. He attended the School of the Worcester Art Museum and the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston but, frustrated with the lack of instruction in traditional methods, quit during his junior year to go sailing, serving as a crew member aboard the schooner Fair Sarae, the brigantine Black Pearl, and the square-rigged Unicorn. Aboard the Unicorn, he serendipitously met John Stobart, one of the preeminent marine painters in the country. Stobart became a mentor and good friend over time, and Don considers him one of the most influential artists on his work.

Tim Newton, John Stobart, and Don Demers at John's home, 2020

With his dedication and wide ranging abilities to communicate as well as the immense popularity he enjoys among his peers, I see Donald Demers as a star, clearly visible from both east and west, who has become a major player in American Art nationally.’

-John Stobart (1929 – 2023)

When he returned from sailing, he began working as a marine artist and illustrator, fascinated by the narrative element of both genres. He quickly found success in his career: his paintings have graced several book covers and been featured in national magazines, including National Geographic, Field and Stream, Readers Digest, and Yankee Magazine. In the 1980s, he moved to Maine and shifted to easel painting, but his background in illustration has greatly informed his work. The underlying goal to convey a story remained, but had shifted to the experiential and emotional narrative of creating the painting.

Young Don at work in his studio, 1988

The Wreck of the Trashman, published in Reader's Digest

Southern Barbecue Comes to New England, published in Yankee Magazine

His close affiliation with the ocean remains an ever-present theme in his works, whether it be the rocky coast and endless waterways of New England, or the golden coast of California. His marine and seascape paintings have been featured in American Artist Magazine, Yachting Magazine, Nautical Quarterly, Nautical World, Offshore Magazine, Maine Boats and Harbor, and Marine Painting: Techniques of Modern Masters.

(left) The Coming Light, Mt. Desert, Maine, oil on linen, 16 x 20 inches; (right) Surf Building, End of Seawall Beach, oil on canvas panel, 11 x 14 1/8 inches
Island Arrivals, oil on canvas panel, 11 x 14 inches

"As an artist, as a kid, I had my heroes...Winslow Homer not because he portrays the sea as it looks, but he portrays the sea as it feels, and the power behind it. And that was the first indication that I knew that realism perhaps was not sufficient, that there's an underlying spirit there that you have to find."

-Don Demers

Surf and the Sisters, oil on canvas panel, 24 x 36 1/8 inches
(left) Vessels on the East River; (right) Tugboat and Schooner near the Brooklyn Bridge


Don developed his approach to painting by drawing on those artists he admired who came before him, and like many of these luminaries, he prefers to work directly from nature. Through plein air painting - rushing against time and changing light, enduring the elements and all the chaotic variables of the outdoors- he aims to capture the truth of the experience.

Lavande et Jaune, Provence, oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches

"When you get outside, the world is spinning around you. The light source is moving, the shadows are shifting, the wind is changing, there is every imaginable mutable component out there. Bugs, sand, snow, heat, cold, all of it. So you have to learn to bring it in, have discipline, and then free yourself to paint the way that circumstances ask you to paint. So there's an excitement, there's an adventure, there's an unknown- it's addictive."

-Don Demers

Leisure in the Gardens, oil on canvas panel, 16 x 20 inches

"You can almost smell the seaweed and tidal pools in Don Demers' ‘Cadence of the Coast’. Or taste the salt spray in 'Surf and the Sisters' painted from Bass Rocks in Gloucester. Or hear the conversations carry on the soft summer breezes in 'Leisure in the Gardens' in Boston. Don’s ability to evoke a response from the viewer, to go beyond literal representation, is a feat few artists achieve."

-Marcia Vose

Demers painting at Pemaquid Point, Maine, 2020

Whether wandering along the coastline or finding inspiration inland, Don records the experience in small-scale studies, later to be developed into larger canvases back in the studio. Through this method he is able to capture not only his interpretation of the scene, but the underlying experience of what it was to paint there- his thoughts, emotions, and impressions in the moment.

"I didn't want my paintings to be pictorially preoccupied. I wanted them to be more experiential, what it was I was feeling, and if I was freezing, I wanted it to show...if I'm out snowshoeing and I'm painting, or if I'm soaking wet down by the shore, just let the experience be the motivating force..."

-Don Demers

Soft Spring, Toward Cornish, oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches
Along Little River, East Boothbay, Maine, oil on canvas panel, 11 x 14 inches, private collection

Inspired by History

"Willard Metcalf, you could not find a greater, more accomplished landscape painter than he...Frederick Judd Waugh with the power of the sea...I was so hungry - voracious...for the imagery and to see what it all meant...George Inness, Theodore Robinson...and that's what led me to wanting to focus a lot of my attention on the art colonies in America...I have had a plethora of inspiration coming from these heroes that I've been witnessing all these years. It's a real joy to have them as mentors."

-Don Demers

(upper left) Hibbard's Bridge, oil on canvas panel, 9 x 12 inches; (upper right) Don painting Hibbard's Bridge in Jeffersonville, Vermont, 2023; (above) Covered, Gruppe's Bridge, Jeffersonville, VT, oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16 inches

Throughout his career, Don has studied and learned from great artists of the past. He drew on N.C. Wyeth, Dean Cornwell, and Frank Schoonover during his time as an illustrator, for their graphic intelligence and their ability to convey a story and subsequent emotions through a static painting. His land- and seascape paintings have been informed by a myriad of artists, including Andrew Wyeth, Julian Alden Weir, Willard Metcalf, John Henry Twachtman, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, and Frederick Judd Waugh. From them, he learned to see beyond his physical settings to the underlying essence, and to capture his personal interpretation. He was inspired by the artists he has studied throughout his career - to follow in their footsteps and venture to the historic art colonies of the United States.

(left) Weir's Autumn, oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches; (right) Study for 'Sail and Stone', oil on canvas panel, 8 x 12 inches
"I cannot help but think and feel about what those nights at the Florence Griswold House must have been like...or Edgar Payne and William Wendt on Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna, and somewhere nearby, Steinbeck is writing...I have such a romantic preoccupation with that part of it."

-Don Demers

Wind from the West, oil on canvas, 20 x 32 inches

For Demers- an avid lover of art history and a romantic at heart- to paint where the bastions of American art history once painted is as enriching for his soul as it is for his craft. In Jeffersonville, Vermont, Don stood where Aldro T. Hibbard and Emile Gruppe had painted years ago to capture with superior subtlety the array of colors to be found in midwinter. Down in Connecticut at both the Weir Farm and Old Lyme Colony, he channeled some of the earliest American Impressionists, John Henry Twachtman, Childe Hassam, and Julian Alden Weir. He has also traveled across the country to Laguna Beach, California, where Edgar Payne captured the sunlit coasts and vast beauty of the West. He has focused on the regions entrenched in history to learn and relearn from these and many other renowned American artists.

Spirit of Spring, Hassam's Church, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches

“I believe the man who will go down to posterity is the man who paints his own time and the scenes of every-day life around him…A true historical painter, it seems to me, is one who paints the life he sees about him, and so makes a record of his own epoch.”

-Childe Hassam

Traces of Winter, oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches

Don's masterful approach to painting is revealed in a series of plein air transcriptions of the sites that have inspired artists for generations. He embraces the unique qualities of each setting and seeks to capture the atmosphere and mood of his firsthand experience, while being cognizant of their role in art history.

Snowed In, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches

In addition to the many private collectors who own Demers' work, his clients include American Airlines and the National Park Service. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Marine Artists, an elected member of the Salmagundi Club and the California Art Club, and a signature member of the Plein Air Painters of America. He has won an award from the Crystal Cove Invitational in Orange County, California, two awards from the Artist Renewal Center International Competition, three awards from the Laguna Plein Air Invitational, including Best in Show, four awards from the Society of Illustrators, New York City, and a record twenty-one awards from the Mystic International Marine Art Exhibition in Mystic, Connecticut. He has also conducted numerous workshops and lectures around the world.

(left) Don teaching a class on Cape Cod, Massachusetts; (right) Don painting in Sheridan, Wyoming
Ledges and Crows, Old Lyme, Connecticut, oil on canvas panel, 10 x 16 inches
'Coast to Coast: American Art Colonies Revisited' will be viewable online & in the gallery November 16th - December 28th, 2023.

Vose Galleries

238 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116 - (617) 536-6176 info@vosegalleries.com www.vosegalleries.com

Digital Catalog Design: Molly S. Lynch

Writing: Courtney S. Kopplin & Molly S. Lynch

Editing: Carey L. Vose

Photography & Videography: Gabriel J. Chevalier

© 2023 Vose Galleries, LLC. Rights reserved. The right to copy, photograph or reproduce the works of art identified herein is reserved by Donald Demers.