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Donna Bisschop in Conversation

July 20, 2023

Donna in front of her piece ‘Some Wildlife’ displayed on the traffic box on the Colborne Street, Fenelon Falls

By Sophie Kaloudas

Part of what makes being an artist exciting is never knowing what to expect. From creating world peace paintings, to murals, artists are always finding new ways to be creative and inspiring. Donna Bisschop works in many different media, and in all the ways that she creates art, she has an eclectic style that is all her own.

Donna was born and raised in a small town in New Jersey. Her father was a millionaire, and was a difficult person to live with. As a result, she found safety and solace in completing artwork and writing poetry from a young age, as she could easily express her thoughts and feelings onto paper. If ever questioned about a career, she always replied that she would like to be an artist. Donna attended an elite High School in New Jersey where she had the opportunity to major in art classes. The art room at her High School became a safe space and provided her with the option to create more art and experiment with different mediums. 

After High School, Donna’s father offered to send her to the Sorbonne School of Art in Paris but Donna refused. Instead, she flew to Toronto at 18, which Donna admits was scary to leave her country, family and friends. In Canada, Donna’s first job was being a silver jewellery maker, a fitting job for an up and coming creative. Then, Donna was hired as a governess for famous Canadian Actor Al Waxman (known for the King of Kensington and Twice in a Lifetime.) Donna was hired, partly because she was not struck by the fame Al had, and partly because she had a desire to learn how to raise children. Donna worked as a governess for a couple of years before having children of her own. During this time, Donna kept her art and her jobs largely separate. Although she worked at creative jobs, and sometimes did art with the children she was a governess to, most of the time she completed her artwork at home. 

Donna understands that when you are a full time artist, you do other things as well. Donna worked as a timber framer, a cleaner, and a gardener. Donna was also a graphic artist for a number of years. She did not enjoy the job as it did not allow her to be creative. For instance, Donna worked at Canada Playing Cards and designed cards, however she was overloaded with work and pressure from others. These experiences pushed her to do artwork more and more. “I will be an artist, I am an artist. I do other things, but I will always do art.” Donna says. 

Speaking in art, Donna has worked in practically all mediums. She jokes that she can’t just stick to one medium, and instead prefers to try many different ones instead. Donna sketched with watercolour paints and also tried watercolour painting, but did not like it as much as other mediums. For a long time, Donna did pointillism (pen and ink art), but her eye doctor encouraged her to find other mediums after her eyesight rapidly decreased. Donna has also spent time doing wood carvings. One notable piece Donna has created is the wood carved sign in Minden along the river. Now, the majority of Donna’s artwork is paint or leather work. 

Donna taught herself to paint. At first, she liked control on the canvas, especially when she used colour on her paintings. It took her a long time to realise that part of her creative process is being freer on the canvas, and being more organic in what she paints instead of confining herself to lines and rules. Donna also spends time carving leather into lifelike 3D objects. One such example Donna displays at her home is a vase of leather flowers so lifelike it is hard to tell the difference between real and fake. “Winter is long, so I like to have flowers around,” Donna reflects. 

Throughout her career, Donna has spent time creating art for people from all walks of life. One of Donna’s favourite art pieces was a collection of sketches that was made into stained glass windows for the Chabad Lubavitch Synagogue of Markham. Another special piece Donna created was a painting of herself and her two sons walking in a forest. The piece is not for sale and it never will be. “It is a piece of my heart. I feel like I really captured my sons. It is probably my favourite piece I have ever made.” Donna has created multiple paragon pieces, including one carved out of leather, and even more paintings involving animals and nature. After 9/11, Donna created a painting called ‘Prayers for All Being’ that included different religious symbols and nature motifs. 

When a man cut down a sacred tree called Kiidk’yaas (or the Golden Spruce) in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Donna was disturbed. A few months later, she met a man who had a connection to the tree, and she told him if he ever wanted an art piece done about the tree he could call her. A few years later, she got a phone call from, wondering if she could create a painting for him. The man was involved in the World Wildlife Fund, and Donna eventually travelled to Atlanta, Georgia for a conference and brought the painting with her. While in Atlanta, Donna met a medicine man from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.  He was a carver, and showed her a carving of the tree, pointing out how similar Donna’s painting was to his carving. Now, the painting Donna created lives in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia. “I feel very honoured.” The painting has since been featured in the movie, The Green Chain, released in 2008. 

Donna describes herself as a bit of a restless spirit, and has moved around Ontario. Prior to living in Fenelon, Donna lived in Haliburton in a small house with a large amount of land. Despite loving the nature there, she did not end up getting admitted to the Haliburton Studio Tour and eventually decided to leave Haliburton. She bought an old house in Lindsay with serious problems, and then sold it a couple months later. When Donna was touring houses in Fenelon with her real estate agent, they found a house in Fenelon Falls that had not been lived in for many years. Although it also had some problems, Donna looked out into the backyard and fell in love with the house and property. She knew that there was a reason she found this house. That came a few months later when Donna was pulling up shag carpet during renovations on New Year’s Day. Under the carpet, Donna found a newspaper clipping that said ‘Happy New Year’s Day 1955.’ Donna was born in 1955 and took that as a sign. In the 9 years Donna has lived in Fenelon Falls, she has found a home. ‘I can’t imagine leaving here.’

Donna is actively involved in the local community. She partnered with the Fenelon Falls Curling Club to create a historic mural. Donna enjoyed the research she did on local history to create the mural. She also painted a 3 year mural series for the Kinmount Fair, each mural depicting the fair 50 years apart. Last labour day weekend 2022, the three murals were installed together at the fair for all to see. Just recently, Donna entered the Traffic Box art contest, and her art piece ‘Some Wildlife’ was chosen to be displayed on the traffic box across from the Bank of Montreal on Colborne Street. It was also chosen as the cover for the City of Kawartha Lakes Municipal Calendar for 2023. Although Donna did not get paid for these art pieces, she did not mind. “This is the community that I live in and love. I will always do art, it is not about the money to me,” she said. 

In addition to being an artist, Donna is also a published author. When she was 22, she wrote, illustrated, and published a children’s story that was featured in articles such as the Toronto Star. In 2011, she published a book called A Raccoon in Sheep’s Clothing, a fiction novel that discussed pollution and how it is unsustainable for the earth. “I like to think I develop interesting characters,” Donna says, “Writing is more oriented towards people compared to some artwork.” Donna considers herself a lifelong learner, and likes to encourage other people to think, through both her writing and art. She draws inspiration from things she learns about, such as history. “History always repeats itself, it fascinates me and helps other people think.”  Donna does not own a television, instead she spends her free time cooking, baking, sewing, and reading. 

Another thing that inspires Donna is the nature all around her. “The natural world so intrigues me,” Donna says. Donna likes to complete artwork that reflects the environment and nature, she is captivated by living things. Nature is reflected in practically all pieces of her artwork. Donna learned how to garden, and spends time on her half acre growing flowers and vegetables. She considers herself an environmentalist, and does all that she can to help the environment, including not owning a car. “My generation has left a huge mess for other generations.” Donna says. 

She is a lead singer in the band Dig the Moon. A few years ago, Donna was at a jam session at Sweet Bottoms in Fenelon Falls, when a band member asked her if she would like to play drums for the band. One night after practice, Donna started singing. She was reluctant to sing for everyone else at first since she considers herself an introvert. Donna eventually warmed up to the idea, and has been the lead singer ever since. ‘Music does magical things,’ Donna says, ‘People love to be entertained, especially by songs they know and love, and I am here to do that.’ 

Last year, Donna opened her home and welcomed a Syrian Boy soldier who lived with her for a few months. Although it was not always easy, Donna felt that she learned so much from that experience and other ways of living. “People didn’t really want me to volunteer my home. But it felt right.” 

Donna continues to create art, write, and sing with her band. She looks forward to continued music performances with Dig the Moon, as well as future artworks to come. The majority of Donna’s artwork is displayed at her house, 18 Murray Street, Fenelon Falls where she is available by appointment or by chance! 

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