Suzanne Marinell: Her Life's Work

A quiet morning

By David P. Kozinski

Suzanne Marinell is a painter, writer and teacher who has often combined her talents in all three areas while creating projects both aesthetically pleasing and didactic. Although she frequently paints en plein aire (outdoors) she also works from photographs and from her memory. She particularly enjoys painting landscapes of places she has visited, both physical and emotional, and sometimes chooses an actual scene that symbolizes her state of mind.  Primarily a water-colorist, Marinell has also created abstract works using melted crayons.

Marinell cites regional locations such as, “the Wissahickon, Fort Washington State Park, the Morris Arboretum, the Schuylkill River, and the flowers in my own back yard and neighborhood,” as inspirations for painting. A trip to Yellowstone National Park three years ago yielded a number of paintings, as have multiple visits to Maine. The artist spends most of her summers on Squirrel Island in Boothbay Harbor, another inexhaustible source of subject matter for landscapes. The resulting watercolors range from impressionistic representations to abstraction.

An abstract work, “Flash – Steel Drums in a Thunderstorm”, interprets a steel drum concert in Boothbay Harbor during which the storm of the title occurred. The top of the picture plain features a yellow and white “flash” that intrudes on what can be seen as a dark sky. Below, the use of swirling colors suggests the water of the harbor as well as the bouncing, metallic sounds of a steel drum ensemble. “Sea Smoke”, while predominantly abstract, is clearly a landscape that depicts a tree on a rock formation in the upper left quadrant with smoky cloud formations in the sky behind it. The foreground is mostly rendered in chartreuse, navy blue, brown, and shades of light gray and conveys a sense of both ocean and the rugged land before it.

Water, the element crucial to living things, is a dominant theme in Marinell’s work. “Marsh at Ovens Mouth” has a forking stream running through its center, while “Quiet Morning” presents a sailboat, apparently anchored in a cove with morning’s mild light sifting through an overcast sky. The spare palette used in “Somewhere in Yellowstone” is appropriate to a place of stark beauty. Trees on either side of a lake, their reflections just visible in the water, frame the picture, rendered mostly in shades of gray, blue and brown. The peaks of “The Grand Tetons” anchor the background of another of Marinell’s Yellowstone paintings,  balanced with a lush and verdant foreground. Nestled between them are a pair of small islands in a placid lake.

Water’s absence and anticipated return is the theme of “Waiting to Go Out”, which offers a small dock and a dinghy moored to it, both mostly white, at low tide. A pier overlooking the harbor looms above this scene, in the background, while the sky registers as overcast, with swirling, pale green, blue and brown hues. “The Forest Behind Me” functions both as representation and abstraction, with its vertical shapes that both depict and suggest a variety of trees. The white barked birch in the foreground is the most closely examined of these, while a spectrum of colors is used to capture an impression of the rest of the forest. These paintings demonstrate the artist’s fluency with composition, most keenly felt in her handling of the way order and chaos are juxtaposed, and often blend, in nature.

In her Artist’s Statement, Marinell observes, “Even if I am not consciously doing this, when I look at my paintings, I always learn something about myself as well as about what I am painting. When I paint a landscape, whether external or internal, I want the viewer to know how I felt when I was there. I understand much better where I have been when I explore that place through my art. I hope that when people observe my work, they will go on interesting travels themselves as they explore my colors, shapes, and moods, and will perhaps want to go where I have been, or will realize that they have already been there.”

Marinell organized Hidden River Venture, an after school program for children that focuses on the Schuylkill River, while she taught science at Plymouth Meeting Friends School for 26 years, prior to her retirement in 2008. She wrote and illustrated A River’s Year, a children’s book that chronicles the cycle of life on and around the Schuylkill. She has also produced a Spanish translation of her book, both versions of which were published by Xlibris. She collaborated on three books with a colleague of her husband, the late Jim Marinell, who founded the Schuylkill Valley Journal and nurtured the publication through the first eleven years of its now 25-year existence, until his death in 2001. She has also worked with her father, Retired Judge Edmund B. Spaeth, to illustrate some of his poems about Squirrel Island, Maine and notes that she has, “some other ideas in the works.” .

In 2010, children’s artwork from Hidden River Venture was the focus of an exhibit

at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center (MRAC) titled, “Connecting Through Water”. Included were water journals that third graders from Plymouth Meeting Friends School created in art class, at the edge of the Wissahickon Creek in Fort Washington State Park, and in an after school program. Along with the journals,  students exhibited a banner, fish prints, and watercolors. Paintings created by a group of elementary and middle school students at the Montgomery County Public Library in Norristown were also part of the show. Marinell’s program deepened the children’s appreciation of nature as they explored, painted and wrote about the river. Some of the Plymouth Meeting and Norristown children’s work shown at MRAC had also been on display in Maine and became part of a joint exhibit with work by local students at the Squirrel Island Library. Prior to the exhibition’s visit to Maine, Marinell had sent copies of some of the children’s art to a girls’ school in Afghanistan that corresponds with Plymouth Meeting Friends School. The work was also on display at the library in Norristown in December, 2009.

Marinell’s landscape painting has no doubt benefited from her work in teaching kids to better understand and appreciate natural resources. She has exhibited her work in many Philadelphia area venues and art festivals. Of Marinell, former MRAC Exhibitions Director David Haugaard said, “Suzanne’s work is subtle and lovely, with a keen appreciation for nature, and the illustrations in her children’s book are just gorgeous.”