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Oh, Canada!
Artist Dietrich Maune, who teaches with technology, rediscovers the joy — and permanence — of art without computers.

By Janet L. Smith

Dietrich Maune
Dietrich Maune

A six-week visual art residency in Newfoundland during James Madison University’s fall semester proved to be a touchstone for Dietrich Maune of the School of Media Arts and Design.

Absorbing the natural beauty of the Canadian province and conversing with other artists, the associate professor rediscovered his passion — fine art — at the Pouch Cove Foundation.

“The experience was very invigorating,” Maune said. “It’s very different than the workplace, where I’m daily entrenched in working with technology in teaching the computer and using a tool that is so formal and academic and is so divorced from your hands. This was the opposite of that. This took me back to where I started and what I really love.

Click on photo to see full size
Photo by Dietrich Maune
Photo Courtesy of Dietrich Maune
Maune photographed the Northern Gannet at Cape St. Mary's Ecological Preserve and then painted from his photos. The preserve and New Zealand are the only places in the world where the Northern Gannet can be viewed in large numbers on land. The bird, which can have a wingspan of six feet, spends most of its time at sea. It returns to the rocky cliffs to breed and raise young.

“My passion isn’t for technology,” Maune said. “It’s exciting and interesting to me as part of a livelihood and a creative process, but it’s not the top of my list.”

Maune holds degrees in studio art with emphases in painting, drawing and multimedia and print design. His paintings often include animals and wildlife, especially birds.

“The fine art work has a permanence that the digital work really doesn’t, with the exception, perhaps, of digital photography,” Maune said. “For the most part, things I’m engaged in — print media, Web sites — they get changed, they go away, they are used for a certain time period. They don’t have the permanence that a piece of artwork or a book or a film has. For me, that is one aspect that is very appealing.”

From mid-August to early October in Pouch Cove, and since returning to Harrisonburg, Maune has witnessed a transformation in his artwork.

“I know that if I look at my work, even over the past 10 years, I see how my process became much more technical and tightened up,” he said. “I think it was affected by the time I spend with technology — the precision, the accuracy — that came into play and spilled over into my work.”

“This residency and the time JMU gave me allowed me to free myself of ‘the effects of the machine’ in my work and allowed me to loosen up quickly. I started painting much larger. I started becoming much more aggressive in my mark making and really shifting back to a more pure painterly approach, which is great.”

The competitive residency in Pouch Cove, about 20 miles north of Newfoundland’s capital, St. John’s, included ventures to other parts of the island. On one “field trip” to Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, Maune and the five other artists (who hailed from New York City, Toronto, Montreal and Ireland) observed hundreds of great Northern gannet, the largest of the booby birds and a subject of some of Maune’s earlier paintings. The birds with wingspans of over 6 feet, number about 20,000 at the reserve, a rookery for many seabirds.

Maune in the studio
Photo Courtesy of Dietrich Maune
Maune at his craft in the studio.

Maune photographed and sketched gannets, as well as moose and caribou from the Avalon Peninsula, and then painted in his Pouch Cove studio. He is continuing to paint from scenes of Newfoundland in preparation for a fall 2006 exhibition in JMU’s Leeolou Alumni Center.

“I’m finding myself wanting to somehow capture that expanse of space (that he discovered in Newfoundland),” Maune said. “That’s different for me in terms of subject matter. I’m not a landscape painter necessarily, but I think I’m finding a way to do that in the style that I like to work.”

“This type of experience allows you to look at everything with new eyes and to really challenge yourself to determine what you want to do with this experience,” Maune said. “It usually triggers new ideas.”

For more on Dietrich Maune, including his journal and photos of his residency in Canada, go to http://smad.jmu.edu/maune.html. For more on JMU's School of Media Arts and Design, visit the Web site at http://smad.jmu.edu/.


Published January 2006 by JMU Media Relations