Oil and Pastel Painter Bonnie Paruch

Bonnie Paruch paints landscapes and still life, beach scenes and winter scenes, market places and jazz clubs, bouquets of daisies and arranged tea sets. “I have to be doing a lot of things at once,” she admits. Yet all these images, overwhelmingly diverse, hold an emotional pull for her, saying “Nothing is random.”

Even Paruch’s still-life paintings, containing such objects as guitars or porcelain figurines, have personal significance. She stows her still-life “junk” – a jade teakettle, worn books, and inherited antiques – neatly in a cabinet once owned by her mother-in-law and says, “That has even made its way into a few paintings.”

“Tranquil Suns” by Bonnie Paruch.

Paruch stands in her studio, a small structure separate from her family’s country home. “Inside is the laundry, the calendar, the cooking,” she says of the home merely yards away, continuing “This is my space.” Framed paintings are displayed against a dark blue wall, some hanging, others leaning on the floor, some completed, and others…not quite.

In fact, Paruch avoids framing her completed canvases, feeling as though, “I have to let them sit awhile.” Instead, she props the paintings in primarily gold, hand-made frames, allowing her the freedom to alter or touch-up the work as she wishes. To illustrate her hesitant nature, she recalls one famous painter, “I can’t remember his name,” who attended his exhibits with palette and paintbrush in hand. While the public meandered through the gallery, he added more paint to his canvases.

“I would never do anything like that,” she laughs. “But I am critical of my work.” Paintings in progress may sit for weeks, or months, before she approaches them with “fresh eyes.” More time may pass before the paintings “tell me they are done.”

Paruch calls her work impressionistic, painted “broadly” with “looseness.” Though she cannot pinpoint any specific artistic influence, she often turns to her vast collection of art books when she feels stuck, saying, “not necessarily to see if I need to add a tree or a flower, but for lighting and color ideas.”

Paruch’s subjects are primarily Wisconsin-based. She glances from one painting to the next. “This is Gills Rock. This is Newport Beach. This is a jazz club in Milwaukee I attended years ago,” she says.

To the casual observer, the paintings suggest a variety of places, sensations, and influences, such as a European marketplace, an oceanic landscape, or a glamorous concert. Paruch calls these images projections of what she “wants to see.” She gestures towards a painting of a white barn surrounded by overgrown grass and wildflowers, and says, “The barn was actually gray. But that didn’t work for me. This is what I want to see.”

“On the Boardwalk” by Bonnie Paruch.

Paruch discusses her paintings as though they are individuals: “wayward children” who need a home. “I feel nervous if too many are around,” she states. “It’s like having a teenager in the house.” Completion for Paruch, however, does not occur until a painting “speaks to someone else.”

Passing her artwork on to others is an act Paruch began early. In second grade, she sold her drawings for other children’s milk money. But drawing began even sooner, since she could “walk and talk.”

Four-years-old, growing up in West Bend, Wisconsin, Paruch watched the 1950s program, Learn to Draw, hosted by John Nagy. His black hair greased to a classic side-part, Nagy taught viewers to sketch simple figures and objects, such as clowns or trees, using basic geometric shapes. With charcoals and sketchpad in hand, Paruch followed along with Nagy and now credits his simple instruction as an early foundation for her artistic ability.

However, her blue-collar upbringing encouraged art as a “hobby, not a lifestyle.” Paruch became a licensed RN, a profession that according to her provided her with “good people skills, teaching skills, and observation skills,” but it “wasn’t where my heart was.”

The opportunity to focus on her artistic skills and urges came twenty-eight years ago, when her oldest child was born.

“When the kids were napping, I would paint or study art books – Monet to the French Impressionists to the Russian painters,” she says. Self-conscious about painting in public, Paruch and a neighbor plein air painted together.

“Orchard Melody” by Bonnie Paruch.

From there, Paruch enrolled in workshops taught by professional painters. Her career progressed from “street fairs to juried shows to national shows.” Over the years she has won countless awards and honors, including a signature membership in the Pastel Society of America.

However, the success has not left her uncritical of her work. Paruch calls her most honest critic her son, Austin. She demonstrates Austin examining the paintings in her studio. Placing one hand under her chin in thoughtful contemplation, she points to individual paintings, and says, “That’s good. That’s good. That’s bad.”

Living in the Door County area has also proved to be an encouraging and nurturing environment for Paruch’s artistic ambitions. To illustrate Door County’s influence, she describes her “two separate lives.” In West Bend, she is known as an RN. If she called herself a painter, “they would ask, interior or exterior?” In Door County, she calls herself a painter “and no one thinks twice.”

Door County also provides beautiful landscapes and subject matter for plein air painting, a regular practice for Paruch. Equipped with lightweight gear, she paints all over the peninsula. She says, “You remember the air, the light, a person who pulled over their car to say hello.”

All the paintings, whether painted from memory, still-life, or plein air, translate something personal or emotional to Paruch. Cumulative, the paintings work to display the vastness of human experience.

“I thought about doing a series,” Paruch admits, shaking her head. “But there is just too much out there.”

Paruch’s work is regularly on display at Edgewood Orchard Galleries, 4140 Peninsula Player Road, Fish Creek. The gallery is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. To learn more about Paruch and her artwork, visit