Donnamaria Bruton: From Sense to Soul

Curated by Francine Weiss, Ph.D.

July 16, 2022 - October 16, 2022

During her twenty-year career as an artist and educator, Donnamaria Bruton (1954-2012) created many evocative works of art from her memories and experiences. Combining and collaging canvas, board, paper, and paint, Bruton created colorful and textured dreamscapes where recognizable objects and abstract forms coalesce and intermingle. Focusing on a selection of Bruton’s work from the 1990s-2000s, which includes objects from the Museum’s permanent collection and loans, this exhibition celebrates Bruton’s career and her contributions to American art.

 Bruton began her artistic career by making compelling works of art that were dark and emotional until she began making frequent visits to The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia with her uncle and mentor, artist Edward L. Loper, Sr. Inspired by the artists she saw there, such as Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, Bruton brightened her palette and began depicting dreamy interiors sometimes referencing domesticity. Bruton focused on interiors during the 1990s shifting to exteriors in the 2000s. Embarking on a series of landscapes, Bruton created otherworldly scenes imbued with the same feelings and sensations as her earlier works. In an artist statement submitted to RISD in 1991 the Bruton wrote, “Rising above the human condition has truly been a journey from sense to soul. A pilgrimage to a holy or secret place of refuge. My body of work is a reflection of my ongoing search for truth and poetry of that experience.” Featuring key works from the artist’s career, this exhibition reveals the artist’s passage from “sense to soul.”

Artist Biography

Donnamaria Bruton was born in 1954 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was raised in Detroit, where her father played for the Detroit Tigers in the early 1960s. She earned a BFA in graphic design from Michigan State, went on to earn a certificate in painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and worked as a color and fabric stylist for interiors at the Chrysler Corporation from 1983-1987. After earning an M.F.A. in painting from Yale University in 1991, she taught at the University of Texas, Austin. Her artwork is in the collection there at The Art Galleries at Black Studies. Bruton joined the Rhode Island School of Design as a painting professor in 1992. During her nearly twenty years at RISD, she served as the Department Head of Painting (2001–2003) and as the  Interim Dean of Graduate Studies (2003–2005). Donnamaria Bruton’s work has been included in one-person and group exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Japan, France, and in the Korean Biennial. In addition to the Newport Art Museum and The Art Galleries at Black Studies, Bruton’s work is included in the permanent collections of the RISD Museum; Yale University Art Gallery; and the Gwanju Museum in Korea. Bruton’s  legacy is felt not only through the many powerful works of art she left behind, but also through the rare distinction of being the first African American woman professor at RISD.