Catherine Wagner Minnery
When a very young Catherine Wagner Minnery’s family visited a hill top park in Cincinnati, Ohio, to see the flooded Ohio River, she remembers seeing a modest house, painted a pale turquoise blue, tilted off its foundation, surrounded by muddy water. “I was very young, it was in the 1950‘s, and I was amazed by all the water and the houses submerged! But that one block of blue surrounded by the creamy brown of the muddy Ohio River, is what really stuck in my mind. I could never think about that experience without recalling the blue of that unfortunate house. Maybe that was an early inkling of my life long pursuit of color”.
At this time she and her siblings and parents lived next door to her maternal grandparents farm, just outside the Cincinnati city limits. It was an idyllic place and the colors, textures and smells associated with that place gave her an early appreciation of the natural beauty that surrounds us all. Sadly, the farm was sold after the death of her grandfather, but her family’s home was there and she remained physically connected to what was left of this special place until she was a young adult.
Her formal art education started at the University of Cincinnati where she was a design student with the vague idea of pursuing a degree in fashion design. Her first year drawing instructor convinced her that her talents lay more in the field of fine art. So in the middle of her second year of study, she left the university and started her studies at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. She graduated with a fine arts certificate and later finished her academic degree at the University of Cincinnati evening college.
After graduation she obtained several positions in the field of advertising eventually working as an Art Director for a fashion shoe manufacturer. Along the way she married a fellow art student who had changed his major to architecture and when he graduated, they moved to South Dakota, where he started his career. Two more moves followed; to Mississippi and eventually upstate New York, where she freelanced as a graphic designer and illustrator while being a mother to three children. Knowing that eventually she would “get back into my own work”, it was her father’s illness and death, in 1986, that pushed her to find time to paint. A week‘s landscape painting workshop, with painters David Rohn, Marjorie Portnow and Richard Sheehan, at The Vermont Studio Center, turned out to be a great place for her to reacquaint herself with her early passion. Once back home she painted or drew any time she could, working plein air. Eventually painting dominated her creative pursuits and her design business efforts were replaced with other occupations, waitressing, lay ministry and retail sales. Gradually her work was shown more and collectors bought.
She has lived in the area of Saratoga Springs, NY since 1990. MInnery’s studio is in Schenectady, NY where she creates from photos and studies drawn and or painted on site. Its rare that a piece will be completed on site but working in the landscape is necessary to her landscape focused art. Time spent studying the landscape is absolutely essential. Revisiting the subject in the studio, she feels, helps her focus on the hidden essence of what first inspired her while in the landscape, recalling her memory or emotional response in order for her creation to be as personal as possible. This way of working has been years in the making and she likes painter Paul Klee’s creative credo, ”Art does not replicate what we see; rather it makes us see.”
“I am constantly inspired by the natural world,” she states, “the sunrises and sunsets, the ordinary upstate NY landscape that I see on a daily basis.
Of course, I also am deeply moved by the majestic; the dramatic rivers and streams and mountains that are part of this landscape and the underlying abstract and spiritual components of this and any subject matter (other locales, interiors, still lifes or some combination). I create art because I have a need to make visual the excitement I felt when I first looked at (or thought about) the subject at hand, searching for the unseen, not just the surface reality.” Like the excitement and wonder that she felt when seeing the blue house surrounded by muddy water and the idyllic day to day hours playing in the fields and barns of her grandparents farm.
As for the material she prefers, she works primarily in oil, but also enjoys working with watercolor and charcoal. “My charcoal work consists of strong contrasts and shapes. My watercolor work is direct and loose….not tightly rendered. I know that the drawings and the watercolors instruct and inform my oil pieces.”