Monday, December 4, 2023

Downtown Divinity

Joint art exhibit explores state of womanhood

Take two strong, talented female artists, put them together in one of Downtown’s art galleries, and you get Divine Dimensions, the new exhibit featuring the works of Michelle Arnold Paine and Martha “Marti” Gaustad. Organized by 20 North Gallery curator and local storyteller Condessa Croninger, the exhibit “celebrates the female figure, her spirit, and the space she inhabits.”

Opening with a special reception on Friday, April 12 and running through June 29, Divine Dimensions is a thought-provoking and fascinating look at womanhood through the lens of canvas, paper, shadows, and light. Toledo City Paper spoke with Gaustad and Paine about their respective art backgrounds and what they hope audiences get from Divine Dimensions.

You’re not from Toledo originally. How’d you end up here?

Martha Gaustad: I grew up in a large family in Buffalo, New York. In 1980, I accepted a professorship at Bowling Green State University to prepare teachers for the deaf, and retired as Associate Dean of the Graduate College there in 2010.

Michelle Arnold Paine: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, then went to college in New England and spent ten years there and three years living in Italy. We moved to the Toledo area in 2015 for my husband’s job.

What first got you interested in painting and photography?

MG: This is perhaps a bit conventional as a response, but painting and photography have been life-long loves. I remember as a young child, requesting an “open me first” camera for Christmas one year, then bothering the neighbors with photo shoots of fences, old porches and yards. Painting began early also, with a “paint by numbers” kit. When my married sister moved next door to my parents, I set up a painting studio in her attic and experimented with acrylic paints and watercolors.

MP: Drawing is just something I have always done, starting when I was a toddler. When I was in elementary school I drew animals, faces, and designed the floor plans and interiors of my dream mansions. In middle school I drew fashion designs. So really this interest in architecture and the female figure goes way, way back. I naturally went on to take all the art classes in high school and then college and really just couldn’t quit.

ShutterPencilBrush I by Martha Gaustad
ShutterPencilBrush I by Martha Gaustad

You’ve both had quite varied careers as artists. Name some galleries where you’ve previously exhibited.

MG: Art is a second career for me. Education, job and family responsibilities left little time for art for a large portion of my life. Keeping a promise to myself, when I retired, I returned to the university as a student in art. After five years of classes, I began to exhibit my work, then took a studio in downtown Toledo in 2016. Along with many local and regional group exhibitions, I have participated in international, national and regional juried gallery and museum shows including Manifest Gallery’s NUDE, the Butler Institute’s National Midyear Exhibition, and most recently in UNC-Asheville’s Drawing Discourse. Last fall, I had my first solo exhibition at Findlay’s Marathon Center Fisher/Wall Gallery. My work has also been selected twice for international “exhibitions in print” of contemporary painting.

MP: Since earning my Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Hampshire I’ve rented studio space in several artist communities in the Boston area and taught Art and Design and several colleges in Massachusetts. My drawings, paintings and prints have been exhibited at commercial, university and non-profit spaces for the last fifteen years. I’ve also had my paintings and prints published in several publications which focus on the intersection of art and faith.

Reflections, On the Edge by Michelle Arnold Paine
Reflections, On the Edge by Michelle Arnold Paine

What do you hope people take away from your exhibit?

MG: As a woman who came of age during the Women’s Liberation era, I am making art in this time when there remains frustrating contentiousness about women’s equality. Both the narrative composition and the rendering of my work is meant to highlight the real simple beauty that can be found in the everyday lives of today’s woman … as well as the notion that a woman can be strong, independent, and successful yet still be engaging, sensitive and feminine.

MP: Art to hang on their walls! I hope everyone that views the exhibit will have a renewed awe of the beauty and mystery of the human person.

Divine Dimensions opens with a reception from 6-9pm on Friday, April 12 at 20 North Gallery, 18 N. St. Clair St. The exhibit will be on view through June 29. For more information on the exhibit and biographies of the artists, visit

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