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Former Maine Artist Wins MacArthur Genius Grant

Former Maine Artist Wins MacArthur Genius Grant

Rackstraw Downes, Hagen, Costanza for News

Bob Keyes / Portland Press Herlad via Yellowbrix

January 26, 2010

Portland, ME – Rackstraw Downes, a New York painter with deep Maine roots, is among the recipients of this year’s prestigious MacArthur Fellowships.

The awards, announced Monday, come with $500,000 prizes over the next five years and carry no obligations, said the John D. and Catherine T.MacArthur Foundation, which administers the fellowships. They are designed to give recipients freedom to reflect, create and explore.

“I will use the award to continue my work without thinking about money anymore,” Downes, 69, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

He is the second person associated with Maine to win the award recently. In 2005, Ted Ames, a lobsterman from Stonington, won a MacArthur fellowship, known colloquially as a genius grant.

British born, Downes, came to Maine in the early 1960s, soon after receiving a master’s degree in fine arts from Yale University. He bought a farm near Belfast and began painting minutely detailed plein-air landscapes.

He stayed in Maine for 20 years, then moved to New York. He now works in Texas and rarely paints in Maine anymore, though he shows up to teach now and again.

“I was standing out there painting one day and my arm said to me, ‘You can’t do this anymore. You know that line of mountains so well, you know those hills.’ So I sold my farm and left. I was already going to Texas in the wintertime, and I was excited by a completely different landscape. That’s one of that things that landscape painters do – they move on.”