The Art of Lifelong Learning

By Braden Turner

Artist Terri deNatale (ΦBK, University of Maine, 2013) opened her first solo exhibition at Texas A&M-Texarkana in February. Titled Go West, the exhibition’s 38 featured pieces explored outdoor environments ranging from her former home in Maine to her relatively new residence in Linden, Texas, where she lives with her husband and two dogs.

The outdoors has always been deNatale’s great inspiration. Raised in a remote area of northeastern Minnesota along the north shore of Lake Superior, deNatale says she was provided a unique opportunity to explore the woods and lakes of the area as a child. Despite the secluded nature of Lutsen, her childhood hometown, deNatale managed to attend painting courses in the artist-rich neighboring community of Grand Marais. She also became interested in making her own jewelry. These courses as well as early experimentation with paper and pencil instilled in her a lifelong curiosity about art.

Art was not always her main focus, however. Beginning in the late 1970s, deNatale spent four years on the U.S. Ski Team, eventually going pro. She credits this experience with not only furthering her love for the outdoors, but also with providing her the spatial awareness and creativity necessary for painting in her free, creative style. In the 80s, she moved to Maine with her husband, who encouraged her to renew her art education.

Around 1988, deNatale attended an adult-education watercolor class in her community. Ever since, she explains that she’s “been painting and drawing, taking courses… learning all the time.” In 2012, she earned a B.F.A. from the University of Maine, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. “I could’ve stayed in school longer,” says deNatale. “I really enjoyed it.” She especially loved math and found art history and filmmaking fascinating. She finds that a liberal arts education can make a person more well-rounded.

A distinguishing aspect of her work is that she refuses to box herself into one or two specific methods: “I do paint all the different mediums that I can possibly get my hands on,” she says. Any subject as diverse and vast as the outdoor world certainly requires flexibility. Her artist statement includes the following description: 

“I am able to express this love [of the outdoors] through my painting using a range of textures, which include rice paper and different types of grounds, combination of colors and mediums where the viewer may become involved emotionally as I do with nature. The range of mediums and techniques keep me involved and motivated.” 

She finds working in encaustic and watercolor especially exciting, and often creates “en plein air.” And just like when skiing down a slope, deNatale recognizes a need for creative improvisation: “At times, I am able to start a painting not knowing what it will become and extract ideas through the various movements the pigment presents to me.” A few subjects from her recent exhibition include her neighbor’s cattle in Texas and maple trees from Maine.

When teaching people to explore their own artistic potential in the studio, deNatale encourages them not to be afraid of making mistakes. “It’s not a failure,” she advises. “It’s a great experiment.” Failure and pushing one’s limits, deNatale finds, is essential to growing as an artist. “When I teach people, I actually teach them to just push it… because when you push it, you find out how far you can go. And you won’t ever know if you don’t push it.” She believes that, in the end, people have nothing to lose by giving it their best shot. “I tell people, ‘It’s only paper!’” 

Her enthusiasm for teaching is something she hopes to bring to the Linden, Texas, community that she’s found so inviting over the past two and a half years. She describes the people of Linden as “warm,” “friendly,” and “so compassionate and helpful to their neighbor[s].” Learning about Linden has created a desire in deNatale to “develop a little art community or feeder program with the kids, with the students in this area” to promote their art and creativity; the ultimate goal would be to create an overall better art program in the area.

Braden Turner is a senior at The University of Tulsa majoring in English and minoring in history and economics. He became a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2017, during his junior year. The University of Tulsa is home to the Beta of Oklahoma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.