Oil Painter Mary Jo Van Dell of Stillwater Finds Inspiration in the Outdoors

Contemporary landscape oil painter Mary Jo Van Dell’s inspiration.
This Stillwater artist seeks the mystery in nature as inspiration for her subtle, somber oil paintings.

As a kid, Mary Jo Van Dell enjoyed drawing. The Stillwater resident had dreams of becoming a Hollywood makeup artist. “But always in the back of my mind, I wanted to paint,” she says. She took her first and only lesson at age 21 (she had been painting before that) and has been painting professionally ever since.

Today, the oil painter of more than 30 years finds inspiration in the outdoors, and her work is featured in both the Minnesota Historical Society and National Park Systems’ collections.

Van Dell travels up north often to immerse herself in the wilderness, where she finds an intriguing sense of mystery that translates in her work. She jokes that her favorite time of year to paint is “anything but a bright, sunny day,” as she loves to capture the deeper hues of November or early spring. “It’s not that I’m a depressed person—it’s just that I love that palette and the sense of quietness in it,” she says.

As a studio artist, she likes to focus on sketching and absorbing her experience when she’s in the outdoors. Working from her notes and imagination in her Stillwater studio, she says she’s always “trying to paint an experience and a feeling, an atmospheric quality.”

Van Dell loves the freedom her job allows her to enjoy one of her favorite hobbies. “Being able to call going up north and taking a hike part of my job—that’s up there,” she says.

For more information on Mary Jo Van Dell’s art, check out her website, or find her work at Sivertson Gallery in Grand Marais.