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Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Paradise City Arts Festival: coast-to-coast talents by Samantha Merrillem>



It was the English poet Edward Young who said "we are all born originals — why is it so many of us die copies?" Today, as he works each day in his home studio, this centuries-old quote still resonates with local artist Leo Donahue.

"We all borrow elements from each other", Donahue said. "It's hard to not be influenced by others and to come up with something you feel is original and new".

Mount Fuji, JapanIn a technology-driven world where pressing print can produce infinite copies, the desire to go beyond what has already been done is the driving force for many artists. For Donahue, he has made a career out of creating copies, which is not to say each of his pieces isn't original and unique. Skilled in the art of etching and print making, he has been refining his craft for nearly 35 years, covering subject matters from abstract to absolute, observational to otherworldly.

From conception to completion, Donahue's pieces are in his hands every step of the way; through this process the prints are left with the artist's DNA, he said. After etching his images onto metal plates, he uses an aquatint to determine the tones that will appear in the print. After the plates are prepared, each piece of paper is soaked in water and blotted; ink is spread on the plates and then the image is pressed. While the hard-copy plate remains the same, all of the variables in this hands-on approach ensure that no two prints are alike.

"I want to keep the human element in my work," Donahue said. "I want to keep that little wiggly line. Some come out darker or lighter, but each one comes out the way it wants to come out."

Donahue will be displaying nearly 100 of his pieces at the upcoming Paradise City Arts Festival at the Royal Plaza Trade Center in Marlboro from Nov. 22 to Nov. 24. Artists from across the country and Canada will be traveling thousands of miles to showcase their trades and crafts in the weekend-long event. Donahue represents one of 46 Massachusetts artists who will be present.

Linda Post, director of Paradise City Arts Festival, explained that while the show is taking place in Massachusetts, no preferential treatment is given to local artists. The volume of local artists showcasing at Paradise City Arts Festival is a true testament to their talent, as they go through the same jurying process as every other applicant.

Each artist must submit five images that exemplify the work they plan to show. Through a highly juried process, 175 artists are selected who provide a diverse and eclectic mix of high-quality crafts.

"With every aisle people go down they will be seeing something different, something fresh, something new, something wonderful," Post said. "They aren't going to be able to not pay attention, because there will be something incredible everywhere they look."

Each artist creates a unique display, which often goes far beyond a table in a booth. With artists designing their own spaces, each booth feels more like an art gallery or jewelry store, Post said.

"An artist once told me that the whole process is art," Donahue said. "When you're doing shows, driving hundreds of miles, setting up your booth, dealing with the weather and customers and the artwork, it's all part of the art."

Donahue creates booths filled with a sense of wonder, not only from the sheer number of pieces on display, but from the diversity of images as well, he said.

"It makes me feel good that I'm creating a little space in time for someone to sit and meditate over my image," Donahue said.

When people contemplate his images, the whole process comes full circle, as the creation of a piece is meditative for him, Donahue said. It was this past winter when he was reflecting on an Asian pear tree in his backyard that he was inspired to create his piece "Symbiosis," which features the tree adorned with spiritual and religious symbols, along with a pair of eyes, all coming together to show the world's interconnectedness. This piece will be displayed for the "Hocus Pocus" theme at the festival.

Each season features a different theme for which artists can submit a piece. Around 35 to 40 pieces will create a cohesive display with the feel of a curated show, Post said.

"We try to push our artists a little bit outside of their comfort zones in terms of what they are making," she said. "Very often when an artist makes something specifically for one of our special themed exhibits it gets them going in a new direction."

Along with the themed exhibit and artwork around every corner, live music and food make the weekend event more than an arts festival, but a treat for all of the senses. Since 1998, Paradise City Arts Festival has been bringing artists to Marlboro. Donahue showed at that first show and will be returning this year for the first time in 15 years. This weekend will feature a mix of new artists, as well as returning faces, Post said.

"I hope that people love this show as much as they've loved all of our other shows," Post said. "I look at the work in this show and to me it seems like an extraordinarily beautiful collection of work this year."