Person of the Week
Eileen O’Donnell: Putting Art Front and Center
Stained glass artist Eileen O’Donnell has branched out into sculpture, both as an artist and a supporter of the Hollycroft Foundation’s efforts to bring large-scale sculptures to the shoreline. (Photo courtesy of Eileen O’Donnell )
One day Eileen O’Donnell was cleaning and she found her report cards from when she was growing up as a young girl on Long Island. No matter the subject, and no matter the grade she received, Eileen saw that every teacher in every grade had the same comment.
“Every comment from every teacher was ‘she loves art!’” Eileen recalls with a laugh.
For Eileen, that love of art has lasted a lifetime.
Travel down Route One in Clinton and you may notice some new sculpture installations outside Nataz restaurant, or in the garden of the Clinton Historical Society. Eileen is responsible for helping spearhead the movement to get the art placed there by working with the Hollycroft Foundation, a nonprofit that works to bring museum-quality sculptures to public places along the shoreline where they can be viewed free of charge. The foundation has sculptures in Guilford, Madison, Clinton, New London, and Stonington, which comprise what is called the Sculpture Shore.
“I just always loved outdoor sculptures and all the artists,” Eileen says.
Eileen says the art in Clinton is done by experienced artists, some of whom are well-known in the art world.
“The whole thing is to benefit the town and artists as well,” she adds.
Eileen says she and the Clinton Arts Council, on which she serves and which supports Clinton’s Sculpture Mile, approached the town two years ago about participating in the program and received approval. This spring, Eileen hopes more sculptures will be placed in Clinton.
In fact, Eileen has done more than just bring the installation to Clinton: She’s contributed to it, too. Eileen has been making art all her life, but sculpting is a relatively new adventure for her.
“I started doing it while I was at the Guilford Art Center...I took the class, started carving stone, and I loved it,” Eileen says.
Eileen says she quickly fell in love with the art form and the displays of it.
“I just love public art where people can go and look at it for free,” Eileen states.
That’s not to say that creating the art is easy, however.
“The thing about carving stone sculptures is that to do something big, it weighs a ton,” Eileen notes.
Besides the joy that some people get from looking at the art, Eileen hopes that there could be a longer-term economic benefit, too.
“That’s a big goal of it to get people to come walk around in Clinton,” Eileen says, pointing out that the Sculpture Shore, stretching from Guilford to Stonington, may draw people from other towns.
“Give them something fun to do and maybe they stay and shop, or go into a store and business,” Eileen explains.
Eileen further works to expand Clinton’s art life by being a member of the Clinton Arts Council, a group founded to help spread awareness and organize events aimed at supporting the many artistic endeavors found in Clinton. “We’re just trying to promote all the art in town and any art in town,” Eileen says.
Since its formation, the arts council has organized the popular First Thursday events that showed off different businesses and artists, provided free concerts, and organized events where professional storytellers would come spin captivating stories for audiences. As with every other facet of life, COVID-19 has hurt the council’s ability to keep holding the events, but Eileen says that virtual events have been held and more are planned. One particular virtual event that stands out to Eileen is the one held in honor of the women’s suffrage movement for which professional storytellers and actors told stories of famous suffrage fighters who led the struggle to get women the right to vote.
An arts council website is also in the works and will contain more information about upcoming events.
Art isn’t just a hobby for Eileen, it’s something she actively practiced to this day by teaching classes at the Guilford Art Center.
“I’ve been there for 25 years and it’s been a lot of fun,” Eileen says.
Eileen’s particular niche is working with stained glass.
“I’ve done refurbishing work in churches and houses and I’ve taught a stained-glass class for years,” Eileen says. “One thing I find interesting is I go from working with glass, which breaks easily, to working with stone, which doesn’t,” Eileen observes.
Eileen grew up on Long Island but has called Clinton home for close to 30 years.
“I had lived in Guilford for a little while, but I knew Clinton had good schools and it was a nice town plus you could buy a house,” Eileen says. “I grew up on Long Island and the water and I didn’t think I could live without the water.”
In her spare time Eileen can be found doing art, of course, but she also is a fan of hiking and swimming.
“I also married a musician, so there’s a lot of music going on,” Eileen says.