Donna H. Baron considers herself a fixer, whether it’s putting the finishing touches on her latest painting or making a difference in her community with her “scale-it-back” coalition. A North Potomac since 1981, she has been a vocal watchdog over Johns Hopkins’ plans for the Belward Farm property.
“I was offended at what the county and Johns Hopkins did to Miss Banks, and I needed to see if I could fix it,” Baron said. The late Elizabeth Banks owned Belward Farm.
Baron’s focus on keeping the property from becoming a “science city like Singapore’s Biopolis” began in 2008 and nearly kept her away from painting for five years. And when she was not painting, she admits to having been “one cranky lady…I think the whole county knew that.”
The number of residents adding their signatures to Baron’s letters to the county in opposition to the Hopkins plan grew from 165 to more than 500. Her vision for the property is a health and wellness concept that includes health care facilities with interlocking paths through healing gardens, an organic garden, a farm-to-table restaurant, and an artisan food village.
A native of Columbus, Ohio, Baron taught for a couple of years after earning a degree in elementary education from Ohio State University. She later earned a master’s degree in curriculum planning and development at the State University of New York at Albany, followed by a specialist degree in administration.
After moving to Maryland, Baron worked at LexisNexis for 12 years, training attorneys, paralegals and librarians to do legal research on computers, and “art was percolating under the surface.” After repeatedly hearing her express her wish to be painting instead, a colleague told Baron “Would you just start painting. I’m tired of hearing about it,” and the artist complied, starting to fit in classes and paring down her work hours at LexisNexis. “You know the way writers need to write, painters need to paint. And, there’s just something internal that just tells your brain that’s what you need to do and that was me,” she recalled.
When her daughter got her driver’s license, Baron was free to sign up for Saturday morning watercolor classes with Martha Siegel in Garrett Park. She perused art magazines to “see who did something that I wanted to know how to do and then I would go study with them for a week…so I was sort of getting this education in bits and pieces and on weekends, I was painting like a maniac.” She even traveled to Colorado to study with water media specialist Stephen Quiller, which honed her skills in watercolor, acrylics, and gouache (opaque pigments ground in water and thickened with a glue-like substance).
Baron studied en plein air oil painting with Walt Bartman at Yellow Barn Gallery in Glen Echo Park, thinking it “looked like fun, but when…your canvas blows, you end up with oil paint all over everything.” Oils didn’t suit her temperament. “Part of being an oil painter is patience because you can’t keep layering it,” she said. “If it was a beautiful day, I didn’t want to stop and wait until that painting dried, so I tried acrylic and I thought, this is my medium.” Baron defines herself as a “fast painter.” It takes her from nine to 15 hours over a three-day period to complete a work.
After several years of painting full-time, Baron began teaching watercolor with Montgomery College’s Lifelong Learning program and experimental water media at Rockville Arts Place; and now, on Tuesdays, she teaches experimental water media in the morning and more traditional, “in the tube” acrylics in the afternoon at Plaza Art in Rockville’s Federal Plaza to adults, ages 42 to 75, many of whom have been with her for more than a decade.
Baron finds inspiration in nature; her canvases are lush with the foliage and flowers she loves. To paint en plein air, she needs only to stand in her home studio that is nestled between a screened porch and a pond with a continuous waterfall, or step into her abundant gardens. “I find in the spring, I paint flowers because I’m hungry for the flowers to come out,” she said.
When her name is mentioned, Baron has heard folks ask, “Do you mean the painter or the activist?” “I always say I have a checkered past,” Baron quipped. “I started out as an elementary teacher, then an administrator, then sales, and then got to do what I really wanted, which was painting.” She also creates one-of-a-kind sterling silver and copper jewelry. Her paintings are featured in “Jewels of the Earth,” an exhibit at the Arts Barn in the Kentlands through June 25.
For more information, visit www.donnabaron.com.