“When I go to museums, I often close my eyes,” said Brenda Ferguson, a Dixmont resident and professional artist.
Making her way through Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Ferguson had happened upon a room full of impressionist paintings. Thrilled at being surrounded by Monet’s haystacks and several of Gauguin’s works, she sat down in awe.
“It was almost too much. I had to eliminate the outside distractions and just soak it in,” she explained. “I love to look at art, and I’m moved by it, and I’m inspired by it.”
Ferguson has always been an art fanatic. Just recalling her experiences at museums such as the Farnsworth in Rockland raises goose bumps on her arms.
Though drawn to art since she was young, she never considered art school but did become a teacher – spending 13 years of her career at the Etna-Dixmont School.
“It just never entered my mind,” she said of pursuing an education in art. Her increasingly successful career has sprung out of what had been merely a hobby.
It was Ferguson’s husband, Doug, who found a notice asking for artists to submit samples of their work to the Bangor Public Library, and convinced her to try her luck.
The selectors favored her work and before long, she had filled the Lecture Hall at the library with 45 of her paintings. When 30 or more of her paintings sold, she knew what to do.
“The timing was right, and I have absolutely no regrets,” she said of her decision to pursue art full time.
And Ferguson has been prolific. Her Web site, www.brendaferguson.com, features five years of her work, and this summer she hosted an artist’s workshop in pastels for the first time.
Most of the participants were more familiar with oils, graphite and markers, so it was a good opportunity for Ferguson to exercise her expertise. The group met at her home and also made a visit to Windswept Gardens in Bangor.
She brought to the workshop her experience in teaching and also as a guest art instructor for children. One time, Ferguson brought a passel of pears and arranged them in the center of a table with the children seated around. She instructed them to paint what they saw, the point being that each child would see something at least slightly different from the rest of the class.
“It’s not as easy to compare yours and say, ‘Oh, it’s not as good as theirs,’ because you’re not seeing the same thing,” she said. “The kids are so open to it and so uninhibited.”
Ferguson’s own children -Molly, 16; Lucas, 13; and Sadie, 10 – have some artistic inclination themselves, and some of their artwork is on her Web site. In what has become a yearly tradition, the youngsters and their father help Ferguson host a wintertime open house. The three-hour event in early December features refreshments like warm apple cider as visitors wander through the family’s home to view 70 pieces or more of her artwork.
But most of her walls are filled with artwork year long, not only for the open house. Many bear paintings from the floor to the ceiling.
Ferguson’s preference is to paint landscapes and still-life arrangements with her pastels, and her home is ideally situated. Across the street is Peacemeal Farm, an organic farm that grows beans, corn, garlic, herbs, tomatoes and more.
“I’m over there all the time, skulking around,” Ferguson said with a laugh, acknowledging what has become a prime location for her inspiration.
Another of her favorites is her own yard, where Doug nurtures scads of sunflowers each summer. From a porch adjoining their bedroom, she has a lovely view of their yard and, in the distance, the classic Maine landscape.
Though loyal to pastels, Ferguson has begun to experiment with other methods. In several paintings she has tried one process involving gold leaf and fairly strenuous rubbing, to brilliant effect.
“There’s literally a little of me rubbed off in each painting,” she said of the process. Ferguson figures to continue improvising and innovating in the years to come. “I don’t know the rules – I’ve never been taught them – so I just make up my own!”
As much as she enjoyed teaching, Ferguson is happy to have fallen into art. She will continue to teach schoolchildren, host open houses and artist’s workshops and, above all, paint.
As the energetic Ferguson puts it, “I always feel like there’s so much to paint and so little time.”
Brenda Ferguson’s art studio is located at 298 North Road, Dixmont, telephone 257-4215.