by Leta Currie Marshall
Marlyn Munter has spent most of her life on Lopez Island, working, gardening, raising a daughter, and making art in spare moments. In recent years her work has begun to get more time and attention, both from Marlyn and the world at large. Her art can be seen at Gallery 10 in Lopez Village, and her studio will be featured on the 2008 Annual Studio Tour, Labor Day weekend.
“I always drew as a kid,” says Marlyn, who is mostly self-taught. As a girl she took art at Lopez School, taught at that time by the shop teacher; but at least there was time set aside for art and she could experiment with various media. It was then that she first dabbled in acrylics, currently her primary medium. She also took a watercolor workshop from the late Shirley Johnson, but they both decided Marlyn was not meant to be a watercolorist.
When her daughter was young, Marlyn made her a long-legged leaping frog from paper, glue, and paint. Estelle Strong, then organizer of art shows for the Lopez Library, happened to ask Marlyn if she had anything to hang on the Library walls. Marlyn thought, “Actually, yeah!” So up went the 18” frog. She also made large papier-mache animals, such as the life-size bulldog built around a plastic bucket for holding a plant. Frugal as well as highly creative, Marlyn is always on the lookout for stuff to recycle into art, from fabric to fishing floats. The bulldog, for example, was formed from pieces of styrofoam and packing peanuts.
A few years ago she learned from a magazine article how to paint sheets of lineolum with acrylic paints, then give them several coats of varnish to create tough, colorful floor cloths. There are several of these on the floor of the house Marlyn shares with partner Geoff Holmes. Despite years of wear and tear and being scratched by dog claws, the rugs still look great. Marlyn hung some of the cloths in a show at the Lopez Post Office, where artist Debbie Collins saw them and contacted Marlyn for more information. The two artists showed their work together on the next Studio Tour. Colleen James, owner of Gallery 10, was also interested in the floor cloths and asked to see more of Marlyn’s work, so Marlyn showed her some lamps she was making. Colleen offered to show those at Gallery 10, and since then Marlyn has added her acrylic paintings and prints, as well as intricately painted gourds, to her display.
Marlyn has a detached studio near her home, and plans to open it for the Studio Tour; but at present her workspace takes up only a corner of the house, just inside the door. She’s working on a large painting of an old pickup truck in a field, parts of the chrome grill still shiny but the bumper rusted. Next to that is a lovely painting of a thimbleberry blossom, its white petals delicately shaded with the merest hints of pastels. Marlyn likes fast-drying acrylics, and overcomes difficulties in blending by using her own technique of rubbing in “paint on top of paint” to add a subtle cast or hue. She prepares her own canvases and continues to experiment with various types – she still hasn’t found the one that gives her just the results she’s looking for. Geoff mounts the canvases on frames for her, and also makes frames for her finished works.
Regarding subject matter, Marlyn says, “I’m trying to figure out what people want,” although she readily admits to a preference for animals. She loves their expressive eyes, and shows me a stack of photos of past portrait subjects – a friendly pig, a blackfaced sheep, a border collie with one blue eye and one brown eye, a cat on a tree limb. Marlyn uses a digital camera to take photos that she can print several versions of, adjusting contrast and color to get the effects she wants. The paintings hanging at Gallery 10 are saturated with color and light – poppies, horses, water lilies, chickens. Marlyn also loves insects, and to look at her huge white foxgloves, painted from a bee’s-eye view, is to get some sense of what it might be like to crawl right into an enormous flower. In another painting, the creased petals of a hot-pink poppy, having just unfolded from the bud, are crisply portrayed and glow with sunlight.
Making art is an essential in Marlyn’s life, and she strives for balance between art, work, and planting and maintaining two acres of garden, lawn, and trees.
“I feel guilty when I’m not working outside,” she says, and yet, “I find if I haven’t painted in a while, I make designs in the garden, or the food I make is really pretty. I’ve always done art – because I had to.”