Louise Stauffen Donohue, 71, Baltimore portraitist for nearly 50 years

April 23, 2001|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Louise Stauffen Donohue, a Baltimore portrait painter whose career spanned nearly 50 years and included such subjects as Spiro T. Agnew and Tricia Nixon, died Tuesday of a respiratory ailment at her home in Roland Park. She was 71.

A gifted, third-generation artist, she chose a different course from her grandmother, who had traveled the world painting landscapes, and her mother, whose subjects tended toward still-life images and farm scenes. Mrs. Donohue was more interested in people.

"She seemed to have a general love and generosity for everyone," said her daughter, Christine Herman Smith, a Homeland resident who is also a painter. It was not unusual for her mother to start a conversation with a garage attendant and leave an hour later, she said.

"She had time for everybody, anybody. She would not just advise or counsel but be there for them, talking common sense," she said.

Others in her family exhibited artistic talents, but Mrs. Donohue was the first to make a career of painting. After graduating from art school, she took a job as a fashion illustrator but quit after a year and turned her attention to portraits.

Her father, Frederick Stauffen, designed and built the home on Somerset Road where she lived most of her life. In 1966, as she became more successful, she built a light-filled studio to do her work. Over the years, her subjects ranged from small children to members of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Virginia Nichols, a friend of 30 years, said she arrived at her home for tea one day to find the painter at work.

"She said, `Do you mind if I finish?' and I said no indeedy," Mrs. Nichols recalled, grateful for an opportunity to watch the artist in action. "Her paintings were exquisite. She got top dollar, and she was worth it."

Recently, Mrs. Donohue had begun taking old, ancestral portraits and reproducing them. She worked in her studio until the day before she died.

Despite her professional success, she put her two daughters first. But she tried to inspire them in art nevertheless.

"She got ahold of me early on, put the pencil in my hand, and set up a still life," said Mrs. Smith, who has built a career painting animal portraits.

"She never really overdid things, she never overbooked herself," Mrs. Smith said.

In addition to her painting, she made time for bridge, swam often and moved a piano into her studio so she could indulge her love of music. During breaks from painting, she was fond of playing "As Time Goes By."

Born in Baltimore, she graduated from Girls' Latin School and Maryland Institute, College of Art, and attended the Schuler School of Fine Art. Mrs. Donohue was a longtime member of First Church of Christ Scientist on West University Parkway.

Services were held Saturday.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by another daughter, Eleanor S. Herman of Alexandria, Va.; a sister, Leonora Koch of Towson; and a niece and two nephews.

Her marriages to Walter F. Herman, Ernest B. Brown and Daniel Donohue ended in divorce.

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