First Friday Mary Ruth Dana

Watercolorist Mary Ruth Dana seeks out challenges

sbarr@newsobserver.comOctober 30, 2013 

  • Want to go?

    First Friday, from 6 to 9 p.m., is a monthly art event in downtown Raleigh. Galleries stay open late, and many restaurants offer special deals. To learn more, go online to

  • More First Friday

    Adam Cave Fine Art, 115 1/2 E. Hargett St., “Flotsam,” paintings by Jimmy Craig Womble II.

    Artspace, 201 E. Davie St., “Trials by Fire II,” collage by Eric McRay; “How to Fold My Heart: Three Mothers, Daughters and Wives,” origami crease diagrams by Heather Gordon.

    Blake Street Shops & Studios, 300 Blake St., work by the City Market Studios collective.

    CAM Raleigh, 409 W. Martin St., “Surveying the Terrain,” work by various artists.

    Designbox, 307 W. Martin St., “Sea by the Lighthouse,” paintings by Paul Friedrich.

    Flanders Art Gallery, 302 S. West St., “Duality,” sculptures and oil paintings by Holly Fischer.

    Gallery C, 540 N. Blount St., “Unfound: The Glass Rains of Planet Azure,” geochemical sculpture by Sally Resnick Rockriver.

    LGBT Center of Raleigh, 411 Hillsborough St., acrylics by Robin Perron.

    Litmus Gallery, 312 W. Cabarrus St., “Anything Goes,” work by various artists.

    Lump, 505 S. Blount St., “Kiss Without End,” an installation by Tim Harrington.

    The Mahler, 228 Fayetteville St., “Casting Light,” oil landscapes by Chris Stephens.

    Nature Art Gallery of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, 11 W. Jones St., works on paper by Robert Johnson.

    Nicole’s Studio and Art Gallery, 719 N. Person St., “Art of the Landscape,” paintings by Lori Putnam and Jean Grunewald.

    Visual Art Exchange, 309 W. Martin St., “Touch the Sky,” a paper installation by Sarah Goetz.

— Artist Mary Ruth Dana doesn’t mind trying something new when she’s working on a painting.

She’ll mix pigments just to see how it goes. If they work together, great. If not, she just tosses it on the scrap pile.

“I like to challenge myself and see what happens,” said Dana, who is part of the Local Color Gallery art collective.

She compares experimenting with pigments in her whimsical watercolors to knowing how best to care for children.

“You have to know which ones play together,” she said with a laugh. “And which ones need to play alone.”

A selection of Dana’s work will be on display at Local Color, 22 Glenwood Ave., this Friday from 6-9 p.m. The show features recent work, including the still lifes and figures Dana most often paints.

Dana earned her BFA with a major in drawing. But when she found herself scraping by with a job framing pictures, she decided to head back to school and earn a degree in civil engineering.

Today, she’s the geographic information systems manager at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. She said the work allows both her artistic and engineering backgrounds to shine through. Just like a picture, the geographical data she works with can be worth a thousand words.

Dana grew up in Michigan and earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of South Carolina. In 1983, after finishing school, she moved to Raleigh.

While her children were young, it was practically impossible for her to find time for art. She decided to focus on rearing them and on her day job.

“I just made a conscious decision,” she said.

But as her children become more independent, art again became part of her life. About a decade ago, she started painting and later joined Local Color. She’s always looking for ways to improve her skills and to make her watercolors sparkle.

Dana jokes that she doesn’t think any museums will be calling soon. But that’s fine by her, as long as her art is affordable and accessible to viewers.

“I like to think I bring art to the everyday person,” she said.

Barr: 919-836-4952

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