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ARTIST PROFILE: Potthast to display paintings at Upper Jay library

November 2, 2018
By STEVE LESTER - Correspondent ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Some people just can't ignore the call of the wild.

O. Grace Potthast grew up in the East New York section of Brooklyn, attended High School of Art and Design in Manhattan, got her bachelor's degree in fine arts at SUNY Albany, and enrolled at Johns Hopkins Graduate School in Baltimore because she thought she was going to become a medical illustrator.

"I love to work realistically," she said while sitting at a table at Johnny's Pizza in Lake Placid. "It's always a great challenge."

Article Photos

O. Grace Potthast
(Photo provided — Steve Lester)

But there was one problem.

"I didn't want to live in a city," she said.

It all started when she was a young girl spending her summers in the Catskills at a former resort that her grandmother had bought and converted into a summer camp. Both her grandparents had emigrated from Belarus. Her grandmother's close friends also spent the summers at the camp with their own grandchildren as they kept watch on all the children together.

"It was like a taste of small town life for me," Potthast said. "It was like a small Russian village. It was safe there. You couldn't get away with anything, but there was complete freedom, too."

During her college years, she took jobs at places that kept her in touch with nature such as the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, and Taconic State Park in Copake Falls. Of the latter, she said, "That was a blast because there I had the best of both worlds. I got to teach city kids mostly environmental sciences, and I was also the artist in residence. So I did a big mural there."

Potthast lasted about two months at Johns Hopkins before eventually making her way to SUNY Potsdam where she earned a master's degree in science and provisional state certifications to teach both art and biology. At age 25, she took a long-term substitute's position in Saranac Lake teaching science before taking on a full-time position at St. John's Academy in Plattsburgh now known as Seton Catholic Central School.

Her three years at St. John's were just long enough for those provisional certifications to convert to permanent ones. After that, she dropped out of teaching for about eight years.

"I had a son," she said.

Three years later, Potthast had a daughter, who is now 15. But she resumed her teaching career in 2013 when she joined the faculty at Chazy Union Free School District to which she commutes from her home in Jay.

"It's a great place to be an art teacher," she said.

Her own artworks are usually watercolors that she describes matter-of-factly as "very realistic" as a result of all her training in illustrating beginning in high school. Her other specialty, oil paintings, she said, are "a little surrealistic."

During conversation, she may wax poetic about the natural beauty of the North Country and explain her fondness for plein air paintings, which are done on location rather than from a photo.

"I don't like to work from photos too much," Potthast said. "They kind of flatten things out."

Samples of her watercolors and oil works will be on display at a public showing throughout November and December at the Wells Memorial Library, Route 9N, in Upper Jay.



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