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Holmes’ sweet home: Artist settles in Bristol

Deborah Holmes is no stranger to Addison County. If you weren’t her neighbor in Weybridge or Shoreham, you might still know her from her watercolor paintings. Holmes has been painting the Vermont scene for the past 25 years.
Last Thursday, she turned the key in her new home on Garfield Street in Bristol. Now, most of us would probably take the next week or so to settle in, unpack a few boxes, put the kitchen together, see what’s volunteering out in the gardens. But that’s not what Holmes did.
She set up an exhibit at Art on Main.
Her work will be on view for the month of August at the Bristol gallery. To be fair, Holmes had an in. She first met Annie Perkins, the relatively new gallery manager at Art on Main, at Frog Hollow in Burlington (where Perkins used to work and Holmes sells paintings). They became friends; so when Holmes moved to Bristol it was only natural to arrange an art opening at the gallery.
An artist’s reception will be held at the gallery this Friday, Aug. 11, from 5-7 p.m.
“Art on Main is thrilled to invite artist Deborah Holmes back to the gallery with a feature exhibit for the month of August,” read a recent Art on Main newsletter (composed by Perkins). “Deborah is a prolific painter who has been documenting the beauty and richness of Vermont for decades.”
“Bristol seemed like a good place to be,” said Holmes, who is thankful to be closer to Burlington, her sons and her 29-foot camper-getaway in Craftsbury. “Bristol’s an awesome place to live. Everyone is really down to Earth and friendly.”
She picked a home right in the village, and plans to re-establish an at-home gallery that the public will be welcome to for open studios and open houses during the holiday season.
“After Labor Day I’ll be set up,” Holmes guessed. “The house must be about 150 years old; it has a big new kitchen in the back with windows that look out to Deer Leap Mountain and a long strip of lawn — it’s like an oasis. There’s a good sense of space here.”
And that’s important for Holmes and her art. Sure, she has a certain technique — watercolors or acryla-gouache on dry hot press paper with layer upon layer — but what she’s really going for is capturing a sense of place.
“I think that’s why I like going places,” she said, “because every place is unique.”
Like for example the morning of this interview, Holmes went for a walk with her dog at the Bristol watershed and saw an inspiring oak tree.
“I threw the outline of the tree on paper with an underpainting (kind of a sketch),” explained the 1981 Vassar College grad. “I added in where the leaves would be, then took a picture. Now I’m home and can finish the painting.”
Other times inspiration can take a bit more work. That’s when Holmes heads up to her camper in the northeast part of Vermont.
“I love the Northeast Kingdom,” Holmes said. “There’s an energy there or something … it’s hard to describe. It’s so pristine and beautiful; and I love the outdoor activities.”
A year ago, she bought the “cheapest piece of property” she could find and “put a camper on it.” Plain and simple.
“There’s no electricity, no plumbing, no cell-service — you can’t be in touch,” said the mother of four sons, and owner of four cats and two dogs. “It’s detox time.”
But she’s not without all luxury in the camper. The place just wouldn’t be home without her pink, cacti-covered flannel sheets.
Recharged from the Kingdom, Holmes gets back to work.
“What I’m really doing is running a business,” she explained. That’s what initially prompted her to start painting her well-known miniatures. “They’re small paintings that people could afford to buy.”
But these days, Holmes is making everything larger. “Doing miniatures is really hard work,” she explained. “You have to hold your head really still. Plus I want to do bigger paintings.”
And as her own boss for the past 25 years, she can do just that.
“It’s really fun doing what you want to do,” Holmes said. “I just love painting; it’s a passion. I like meeting new people, being occupied and working at my own pace.”
It works. Since Day One, her paintings have sold well-enough to “pay the bills.”
“People like the paintings that offer a sense of calm,” Holmes said. “My paintings come from my heart and soul; it’s what I do. And if the color, composition or just the sense of peace makes people feel better and be happy, that’s great. But it’s not what I’m aiming for; for me painting is like walking or eating or breathing.”

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