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Hoboken Scenes: Paintings on Pressed Tin by Donna O'Grady

September 18 - October 30, 2016

While most of us are busy documenting our travels and daily lives with cameras that fit in our pockets, Donna O’Grady carts along a full pochade box, a traditional painter’s supply case with an attachable tripod easel, to capture scenes from her travels and her favorite places in her adopted hometown of Hoboken.

She takes her pochade case everywhere: To many of Hoboken’s sidewalk cafes, on business trips around the world as a financial software product manager, on frequent artist workshops in Italy, and even on a boat, where she lived for two years sailing around the Caribbean. She paints to preserve her memories of these places, or sometimes to barter for the catch of the day, painting portraits of fishing boats and their crews in exchange for a hearty meal of fresh scallops.

Like the Impressionists, she paints in oils on location, en plein air, and uses an Old Masters’ technique called underpainting, roughing out the major elements of a composition in dark and light monochromes before applying colors and details. This helps infuse a painting with light and depth, giving them a deeper dimension and a realistic atmosphere. (See examples on her blog,

O’Grady has been painting all her life – she can’t remember when she didn’t paint, from her early years in Jersey City and high school years in North Haledon, to her early adult years in Ringwood, NJ. Along the way, she has taken classes at the Art Students League and the School of Visual Arts, both in Manhattan. She likes studying with different teachers to learn different techniques and styles, and has taken to listening to podcasts by artists, too.

Her parents, who had worked so hard to be able to move the family out to the suburbs, couldn’t believe it when she chose to move to Hoboken about 14 years ago, but she says she felt an irresistible pull to the Mile Square City.

“I love Hoboken’s architecture, day or night, there’s so much detail,” she raves. “I love the factories, cafés, the train terminal, the waterfront — there’s so much life on the streets of the city.” Her artist’s eye is drawn to interesting details wherever she goes. She quickly sets up her easel and captures the local architecture, landscape and portraits of the people she meets. She even enjoys chatting with strangers while she works.

Hoboken’s architecture has inserted itself even more directly into her paintings lately, as she has begun painting on salvaged antique ceiling tiles made of pressed tin, once ubiquitous in older Hoboken homes and businesses. “My neighbor had bought some at a street fair and she gave me the idea to paint in the flat center area – a perfect painting surface with a built-in frame,” O’Grady says. “Now, I find them at craft fairs and order vintage tiles online – the older the better, with cracked and peeling paint.”

She’s chosen about 12 new works, mostly on these tiles, for her latest exhibit, “Hoboken Scenes: Paintings on Pressed Tin,” on view from September 18 – October 30 in the Hoboken Historical Museum’s Upper Gallery. O’Grady is an active member of the local hob’art artists gallery, and exhibits her work in shows in Jersey City and Ocean Grove, NJ.

The exhibit is supported by a block grant from the State/County Partnership program for the Arts, administered by the Hudson County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.

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