Forest fantasies redirected

Nature is the essential medium for Sunapee-area artist Mauli McDonald

Special to the Union Leader
July 14. 2014 8:10PM
Artist Mauli McDonald with an armful of raw materials for her designs. (COURTESY)

Mauli McDonald spent a lot of time in the woods as a kid tromping through the trillium with unicorns, running her fingers through the mossy cool of a fairy house. It was there, deep in the woods, that she found not only her creative spirit, but home.

Years later, McDonald has translated the life and imagination the natural world inspired in her to a career as a botanical artist. From floral arrangements for weddings to antler lamps, from hats made of feathers and moss to garden arbors, McDonald’s aim is to bring the outside world in through her creations.

“It is what I have always done,” McDonald said. “I live it. Some people say, ‘You are a conduit for mother earth, it just comes through you.’ I have a passion. I have a passion. When did I translate that into art? I don’t know. I think it just came naturally.

“Sometimes you don’t control it. It finds you. I certainly have been very blessed. And I think choosing to remain connected to the natural resources of this beautiful fertile earth has served me well.

“People that know me and know my work say, ‘It’s not what you do, it’s who you are.’”

McDonald grew up in Andover. Her mother was in the insurance business, her father a foreman for a lumber company. But at home, McDonald said, her parents were creative and connected to the earth. They raised their own food and her father, an avid hunter, taught her at a young age to shoot a musket and skin a deer.

“Raising our own food and being kind of forced to participate in the growing cycles, I don’t want to say it was as raw as survival but you know about the natural cycles and rhythms of nature,” she said. “So being raised very close to it, I grew very connected to it as a spiritual source as well as anything else.”

McDonald said she’d spend hours just running through the forest, memorizing and gathering the various flora and creating worlds of her own there.

“Maybe I believed that it was a magical land because of the fairies that I saw and unicorns in the woods. Maybe it was a childhood mind that gave me that connection,” she said.

At that young age, she said, she came into her own sense of spirit in the woodlands and connected with it.“There was discovery that would surprise you,” she said. “There was a comfort, a sense of relating to it that was so familiar when I was young. I knew what trillium was, I knew things. I was always picking flowers, I was always creating things. My room was filled with rocks and twigs and not dolls, not Barbies and stuff like that.”

In her early 20s, McDonald turned her flights of fancy into a profession. She started out by working for a florist in Concord, but quickly learned she needed to strike out on her own to fulfill what she knew she had inside. So at 23, she started her own studio and has been working for herself ever since.

McDonald said she works hard to make sure her pieces, the contents of which are largely derived from items she finds in nature, stay true to their roots, so to speak.

“(My work) really has been sort of untouched; it is from nature, maybe (with) a little preservative,” she said. “But I try to mimic the natural landscape, one might find it walking through the woods. …I try to keep it as raw and organic and natural as it is.”

She said though these things can all be found in nature, it’s her “artist’s eye” that can turn them into something else entirely.

“It’s the ability to be able to put a rose petal next to an antler,” she said. “Most people would not be able to pull that off or be able to visualize it but it’s so natural. And to add textures and colors and dimensions with different size things. That’s what fascinates me, that’s what challenges me.”

She said, she also likes to expand her work. It’s not unusual for McDonald to write a poem and then create a piece of art to reflect the poem and vice versa.

“It’s about digging deeper into my brain,” she said. “I live with a bunch of maniacs upstairs.”

To that end, each piece is unique and, McDonald warns on her website, isn’t likely to be recreated.

She said she hopes that her work gives people a reason to slow down and enjoy the natural world, even if it’s inside their homes.

“In this fast paced world, where we are all pushing and pushing and pushing and technology and we’ve got to have this and we’ve got to have that and we’ve got to do that and we’re all in this perpetual buzz,” she said, “I’d like to think my work has the possibility of making one take a deep breath — I don’t know, like swinging in a hammock under a shady tree kind of thing.”

Mauli McDonald’s studio, Art of Nature, will have a new showroom in Sunapee this fall. For more information call 477-9975, e-mail or visit

House and home

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