The stories in faces: Artist’s portraits capture the essence of a subject

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Artist Donna Horsfield exhibits at The Left Bank Shop and Gallery in McGregor. Her work is largely portraits of people—both well known and everyday figures. Her favorite piece is “Lily of Laos.” (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Donna Horsfield often works from photographs, clipped from publications like National Geographic. Subjects have included political characters, musicians, artists and writers. One drawing at The Left Bank, for example, shows singer Billie Holiday. Another depicts humanitarian Mother Teresa.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

 

Walking through McGregor’s Left Bank Shop and Gallery, Donna Horsfield is continually inspired.

 

“Pottery and carving and oil painting. All the different kinds of jewelry. It’s so eclectic,” she said. “It’s just amazing what people are doing and thinking about, and where they get their ideas.”

 

“I was in the planning stages of this, before we had a building,” Donna recalled. “How wonderful that it’s evolved. It offers so much for different ages. If I come over here and walk around, I’m always inspired, and then sometimes I’ll go home and draw.”

 

Some of those drawings end up at The Left Bank, where Donna is one of dozens of regional artists who exhibits work.

 

Drawing has been a life-long love for Donna, who grew up in Racine, Wis., and continued to move west across the state for jobs and school. She met her late husband in Dodgeville, Wis., and they moved to McGregor three decades ago because his parents had a place in Prairie du Chien.

 

“I didn’t take a lot of art in school—I think I had a class in grade school and one in high school. I consider myself mostly self taught,” she shared. 

 

Her love was nourished through work in group homes and long-term care, where she also had an opportunity to do art therapy. 

 

“That was fun. It was really interesting to see what people would do, even people with dementia who could stay focused for a couple hours and draw,” Donna said. “The only negative was people would think they weren’t good, and they always were.”

 

Donna has exhibited her own work at different venues and shows. Her artistic focus has shifted over the years.

 

“I’ve done like sci-fi stuff, illustrations for a children’s book I thought I would do. But for quite a while I’ve been doing mostly people portraits,” she explained. “I like showing cultural diversity and also the aging process—that beauty isn’t limited to the young but all through the aging process.” 

 

“I just love people’s faces. The stories in their faces,” she added.

 

Donna’s portraits are usually done with graphite or colored pencil, chalk or watercolor.

 

“I do a lot of black and white with a little extra color in there sometimes,” she said. “And sometimes I’ll add embellishments like sequins.”

 

She works from photographs, clipped from publications like National Geographic. Subjects have included political characters, musicians, artists and writers. One drawing at The Left Bank, for example, features singer Billie Holiday. Another depicts humanitarian Mother Teresa.

 

“When I did Mother Teresa, it was mainly thinking of hope for the future, that things would get better in 2020,” Donna recalled.

 

Art, she said, “is a chance to do social commentary on things that are happening in the world. It makes people think.”

 

But inspiration can spark from everyday subjects too.

 

“I’ll take pictures of people and ask if it’s OK if I draw them,” Donna said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand or Vietnam and do drawings from different cultures.”

 

During her work at McGregor’s Great River Care Center, she dreamt of creating a series on the “Faces of Great River.”

 

“The lines of wisdom are there and the things they’ve done,” she said.

 

Donna’s work is realistic, but she stressed it doesn’t always look exactly like the person.

 

“But to me,” she said, “ it captures their essence. Something about them.”

 

Her favorite piece, entitled “Lily of Laos,” is at The Left Bank.

 

Donna’s talent captures not just the life etched in the elderly woman’s face, but in her work hardened hands. It’s perseverance. 

 

According to Donna, that’s important in the arts, be it drawing or music or theater—two other areas she’s dabbled in.

 

“I think a lot of it is to persevere and keep at it and keep going. It’s something you can do your whole life—music and art. It’s always a learning process,” she said, “and I like trying new things.”

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