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Portland Painter Maria G. Raffaele

Portland Painter Maria G. Raffaele

Photo by Mercy McNab

I was more than slightly overwhelmed by the sight of Maria’s basement gallery space. She has displayed her personal work in a manner much like traditional royal galleries. Floor-to-ceiling, with every inch covered in one after another gorgeous oil painting. All of it came from the mind—then the hand—of Maria Raffaele. As a professional art instructor, I suppose one would easily acquire a large amount of artwork. To think, however, that one woman made all these paintings is truly an inspiration. Canvases hanging perfectly in such a manner literally made my jaw hit the floor. Maria has been painting since she was about 18, and she’s 91 now—so you could say she’s been at it for a while.

ELEVEN: Maria, what is your medium?

Maria G. Raffaele: Macchiaioli oil technique. It’s a traditional style of oil painting that originates in Italy. I studied under a master, and I taught this method for several years at Mt. Hood Community College.

11: How did you learn this technique?

"Untitled" oil on canvas, 1986
“Untitled” oil on canvas, 1986

MGR: I saved up for several years and went to school in Italy. I studied under Nerina Simi. Her father was a very famous painter named Filadelfo Simi. Filadelfo came to my studio one time and said my work was very good, and we were all happy and danced around in celebration. He thought my painting was the work of his pupil, not his daughter’s pupil. It was a very proud moment.
My family was always supportive of my choice to paint, but said I would only appreciate the education and finish it completely if I paid for it myself. It took me years to save up enough money to get to Italy, but I finally did—and that was fantastic. I did study here in the States under Syndey Brown, who studied at the Royal Academy of England. I studied with him for ten years, and for ten years I was allowed only to draw in order to show my ability. Later I would get to actually painting. The hours weren’t like Ms. Simi though, who had me working six hours a day 5 and a half days a week.

If you notice this one drawing on the wall among all the paintings. . . That’s the drawing that, after so long studying with Sydney and then with Ms. Simi, she looked at me and said, “You’re ready to paint, aren’t you.” Can you imagine being in painting school and having to draw for ten years before you ever get to touch any paint? In Ms. Simi’s school we used soft Italian bread as erasers to begin to learn how to dab away the excess marks that didn’t belong. No smudging is allowed in the macchiaioli technique. This was applied to the drawing process first and then eventually the painting process.

11: Where did you grow up?

MGR: Here! I was born and raised in Portland. My parents were Italian but they met here. One was from the North of Italy and one was from the South, and it was always funny because the North and the South are always competing with each other. My Father spoke so well of Italy, and he just loved it. My mother on the other hand never liked Italy and never wanted to go back there.

11: Will you tell us about the Macchiaioli process?

MGR: It’s a style where you lay down values next to each other. No blending happens with the process. you use a gradient of value to create the blending look. The colors are laid down one right next to the other. It’s similar to impressionism, except it looks great close up or far away.

"A Great Loss" oil on canvas, 1969
“A Great Loss” oil on canvas, 1969

11: What are five things you could never live without?

MGR: [laughs] Um well, do I have to come up with five? Okay. . . I suppose painting, painting, painting, painting, and interpretive ballroom dancing.

11: What is your most memorable moment as an artist?

MGR: I think when I had a painting sent to be displayed in a veteran recovery center on the East Coast. I was really concerned for the soldiers who were coming back from Vietnam and into a culture of young people who blamed the soldiers for being injured because they went to fight. Do young people still feel this way about soldiers? Anyway, I made a painting that was inspirational to veterans and it went to a wounded veteran recovery center. Everybody keeps telling me the Smithsonian needs to have this painting. I finally tried contacting the First Lady Michelle Obama but haven’t heard back from her yet.

11: You have taught the Macchiaioli style of painting also, yes?

MGR: Yes, that’s right. For several years I taught at Mt. Hood Community College. Even after I was finished teaching there, I still had a student who used to call me up and say, “I’m stuck on this painting, do you think you could take a look at it for me and help me?” She lived right up the street and would come down with her painting and we would talk about it and I would help her.

11: Maria, do you have any advice for artists?

MGR: Keep at it. You have to be persistent and never give up! »

– Veronica Greene