Awash in color
Artist Donna Bieren speaks to a group of 40 women during a recent presentation in Barnesville.
Don't ask artist Donna Bieren which medium she likes best.
She'll tell you she likes everything.
And don't ask if she considers herself an illustrator in perhaps the realist style or abstract style.
She'll tell you that she doesn't go for labels.
Labels are for canned vegetables, not artists.
"My thing is not the style, it's the medium and how I can make it work," she explains.
And with that perspective, Bieren has established herself over the past decade as ambassador of the visual arts in the Carbon-Schuylkill region.
A Boston area native, Bieren moved to Carbon County in 2001 to help one of her two sons during his years in the military.
"My son was living here and he went to Iraq. So I came here to be with my grandson," Bieren explained. Bieren was a total stranger to the local area.
She arrived in Nesquehoning and spent time at her son's place. Bieren quickly adopted the area as her new home and bought a house in Lehighton. Then, shortly later, she relocated to Tamaqua to immerse herself in a growing arts movement in the Schuylkill County community.
She's been moving forward artistically, culturally and socially ever since.
Bieren is a champion of virtually all forms of art. She sketches and paints using a variety of techniques and styles.
She is particularly fond of working in oil.
"I like oil because I can manipulate it. It doesn't manipulate me," she notes.
"This is a gouache (pronounced gwash, rhyming with squash)," she says during a recent presentation to 40 women of the Blickley Breakfast Club, Barnesville, hosted by Lorraine Zukovich Blickley.
Gouache dates back to ancient Egypt and is similar to watercolor. However, gouache colors tend to be more saturated and intense.
Bieren also designs and creates stained glass windows.
"I work in foil, but also some lead."
She also excels in pencil, charcoal, murals, faux painting, photography, pastels, alabaster sculpture, poetry illustrations and custom framing.
"I love anything to do with art," admits Bieren, 70, a native of Chelsea, Mass.
Bieren is largely self-taught, although she attended the University of Lowell, studying studio arts. She also studied the oil discipline privately in Cambridge with Fazal Chowdhry, artist of the European School.
She dabbles and experiments - always adding her own special touches and innovation.
That's part of the magic of art. In many cases, art has elements that are "givens." But art also can be totally avant-garde."There are basic truths," says Bieren. "You learn the rules and then you learn to break them."
Much of her art focuses on nature and scenes of her home area in rural Massachusetts and New England.
Whether it's the lighthouse of Truro or rowboats of Gloucester, Bieren's art paints a vivid story of bucolic harbor life.
Bieren also has won accolades in various media.
Her autumn photo of Stourbridge Village, Mass., took Best of Show at the Provincetown Art Museum.
So what sparks Bieren's prize-winning creativity? Oddly enough, it sprung from illness.
Bieren suffered from rheumatic fever as a child, requiring extensive hospitalizations over years. To pass the time, she copied the illustrations on the "girlie" calendars owned by her father, who served in the U. S. Navy.
Bieren smiles as she explains the situation. What child artist actually starts on their passion by painting girlie illustrations from Dad's ship calendars? Well, when it comes to art, anything is possible.
Bieren's work history is as varied as her art talent. She served as a waitress, then a corporate security officer, before becoming an administrative secretary as the Port Jefferson Free Library and for the William Floyd United Teachers.
"Now that I'm retired," she says, "my goal is to fill my life with the art that I love and bring it to the front burner."
Bieren is enjoying her role as ambassador of art in the Greater Tamaqua Area, where the community not only welcomed her, but embraced her.
She serves as senior aide to the Gallery at the Tamaqua Art Center, member of the Schuylkill County Council for the Arts and the Carbon County Art League.
To put it simply, Bieren lives art.
And in just a few short years, she has shown local residents that art, at its best, is not something you do.
Art is something you are.