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Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 10, 2018
Artist Frederica Marshall carries on Japanese brush painting tradition

Brush work

Artist Frederica Marshall demonstrates using a single hair from her brush in her Deer Isle studio.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

In her 38 years of teaching sumi-e, or Japanese ink painting, watercolor art and calligraphy, artist Frederica Marshall estimates 23,000 students have passed through her classes.

Marshall has held painting classes while floating down the Yangtze River in China, on the Florida coast and, for the last 15 years, primarily from her studio in Deer Isle, where she also runs an art gallery. She is one of only 15 sumi-e teachers in the United States.

The daughter of a U.S. military officer, Marshall moved to Japan at 1 year old when her father went to fight in the Korean War, growing up first in Sendai, and then Okinawa. “Those were my earliest memories,” she said.

After graduating from art school in Ohio, she returned to study Japanese calligraphy and brush painting with a sumi-e master for 10 years. “In Ohio, no one knew what I was talking about. They mentioned Asian art for two weeks,” she said.

And, she missed the ocean. So when she visited Deer Isle from Florida in 2002 to teach an art workshop, she said she fell in love.

“It reminds me of Japan. The fishing boats, the fog coming through the pine trees, the little islands, and the different cultures. I said, ‘okay, here’s some place I can be comfortable.’”

She and her second husband moved into a Deer Isle 1830 sea captain’s house the following year.

In her nearly four decades as an artist and teacher, Marshall has exhibited her work in the Tokyo Fine Art Museum and galleries and shows from New York City, Florida, Washington, D.C. and, naturally, across Maine. And also on skin, as sumi-e tattoos.

“Someone’s skin is like the ultimate compliment, in a way,” she observed.

Her recent show, Haiku Project, at the Blue Hill Public Library, combines her work as an artist and a teacher. Renga scrolls of sumi-e art with haiku calligraphy are the work of Marshall and a haiku class she formed several years ago.

A traditional Chinese aristocrat would be a master poet, painter and calligrapher, Marshall said, and a scroll would show all three skills.

The show runs through May 31, with a reception on Friday, May 18, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

In her Deer Isle studio, Marshall leads workshops and classes, including family classes, where grandchildren, parents and grandparents can all come and create sumi-e art together, grinding the ink and learning a few of the 270 basic brush strokes.

She demonstrates, dipping her horse-hair brush in ink and, in seconds, creating a painting on traditional rice paper.

“People say, ‘you did that in two minutes.’ Yes, two minutes and 50 years,” she laughs.

Her brush collection numbers in the hundreds, made from everything from Mongolian mountain pony hair, mouse fur, cat whiskers, chicken feathers, and peacock feathers, to add gold dust to a painting. The ink pot is in the shape of a dragon, and the grinder a fine work of craft.

“I think in Asia, they think it takes beauty to make beauty,” she said. “In the West, our supplies are [viewed as] tools.”

What Marshall hopes to bring to her teaching is “not just the creative aspect but teaching people to appreciate Asian culture….I like passing these traditions on,” she said.

Art tools

A horse hair brush, ink pot and grinder are used for sumi-e painting.

Photo by Anne Berleant
Brush work

Artist Frederica Marshall demonstrates using a single hair from her brush in her Deer Isle studio.

Photo by Anne Berleant
Renga scroll

A Renga scroll on exhibit at the Blue Hill Public Library.

Photo by Anne Berleant