Master of Local Landscapes
    Ron Donoughe

    Ron Donoughe

    It is likely that no one knows Western Pennsylvania better than Ron Donoughe, Lawrenceville’s outstanding landscape painter.

    Donoughe (pronounced Donohew) is most at home away from home, working outside in all sorts of weather. There he sets down his personal interpretations of this region’s countless aspects, its hills and houses, factories and fields, rivers and side streets. They are often captured in his oil paints in a day or less.

    Pittsburgh is blessed with many artists, some of them often having a hard time selling their work. After graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Donoughe labored at many jobs, from digging graves to being an installer at the Frick Art and Historical Center, in order to paint in his free time. He has become one of the region’s most successful artists and has for many years lived completely off his talent. His work is represented in more than 21 corporate, foundation, and private collections.

    One of Donoughe’s most notable achievements was creating from reality a large painting of a Lawrenceville alley. That painting won an award at the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh’s centennial exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art in 2010. His small study for that piece was an inspiration for his depiction of Ninety Pittsburgh Neighborhoods, a large series of vignettes.

    Through a Pittsburgh Center for the Arts program, he presented a one-man exhibition there, and wrote and designed a 130-page book on these paintings. Through a public fund-raising campaign together with financial grants from three Pittsburgh foundations, the Senator John Heinz History Center was able to acquire the suite, all 90 Pittsburgh neighborhoods, and they are on permanent display on the center’s fourth floor.

    Natrona Way, 16x20, oil on linen, 2017.

    Natrona Way, 16×20, oil on linen, 2017.

    Sporting a gray mustache and brown hair under a wide-brimmed hat—along with his sketches and easels at the scenes of his everyday subjects—Ron Donoughe is easily identified as an outdoor painter. He sees himself as working in the manner of Edward Hopper, George Bellows, and other masters of the early 20th century’s Ashcan School who chose everyday subjects over fancier fare. “I guess I see myself as a throwback,” he says. “After painting for 30 years, I’ve come to appreciate what my first painting instructor said: paint what you know. Lawrenceville is my neighborhood in the city of Pittsburgh. I have no need to make paintings of the Grand Canyon when such rich subject matter exists here.”

    The artist was recently honored with an exhibition and illustrated book depicting 100 paintings of Cambria and Blair Counties at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto. The Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, has acquired “Essence of Pittsburgh,” a very long wall of Donoughe’s medium-sized landscapes, for its permanent collection. The artist was also honored this past spring with Indiana University of Pennsyvania’s Distinguished Alumni Award. His works have also graced Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s office.

    Those who know Donoughe’s normal reticence may be surprised to hear him compare himself to the late Andrew Wyeth, not in terms of talent or fame but for their dissimilar orbits.

    “Wyeth traveled between Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and Cushing, Maine,” Donoughe states. “I move between Lawrenceville’s design zone with its many craftspeople and my late parents’ home in rural Loretto, Cambria County, where I was born. I have a second-floor studio in Lawrence-ville where I sell my paintings, and I live in a small house a mile away.”

    One of eight children, Donoughe has an identical twin brother, Don, a commercial artist who heads Donoughe Design, a successful communication design firm in San Mateo, California, near San Francisco.

    Donoughe shares his life with his partner, Catherine Berard, a Pittsburgh-born stained-glass artist affiliated with the Prism Stained Glass studio in East Liberty. Donoughe’s former wife, ceramist Tracey Seder Donoughe, has been part of Penn Avenue Pottery in the Strip District for 30 years. They are the parents of Seth and Emma Donoughe.

    Seth, a doctoral candidate in biology at Harvard University, recently made Ron a grandfather. Daughter Emma studied biology at college and works in retail. She helps her father market his paintings and is upgrading an old house in Lawrenceville.

    Smoke Dreams, 9x14, oil on panel, 2017.

    Smoke Dreams, 9×14, oil on panel, 2017.

    Since he has seen and painted so much of Western Pennsylvania, one might think Donoughe has many favorite places to revisit. “I am intrigued with painting long alleyways,” he says. It offers the challenge of drawing the viewer farther and farther into the composition.

    “My favorite place is Spring Way in the Strip,” he says (it is located behind Plantscape Inc., 3101 Liberty Avenue at 31st Street). He finds capturing the alley’s depth of field realistically a perennial challenge.

    Donoughe’s painting technique is blending planes of color to correspond with what he sees, noting how shadows add the illusion of dimension. He generally pre-mixes the colors he will be using most before blocking in the design, explaining, “I call them the parent colors because I’ll blend them slightly, alter them to warm or cool, or light to dark. Everything stays in harmony that way.” He may use photographs as a memory aid.

    Donoughe enjoys the familiar walk to and from his studio and house. “The light is constantly changing and there are different paintings every day,” he says with excitement. Asked where he would like to paint that he hasn’t yet, Donoughe quickly states, “There is nowhere else I would prefer to be. I see myself painting here forever.”

    Donald Miller wrote and published, and Ron Donoughe designed, the 2000 book Aaronel: The Art of Aaronel de Roy Gruber. Miller was co-juror of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh’s 2010 centennial exhibition. Donoughe maintains an illustrated website under his name.