The Gareno House, a private home in Villanova, was painted by Donahower.

by Lou Mancinelli
Like many parents, when long-time Chestnut Hill resident Christine Drake Donahower’s children were raised and had moved out of the house, she had ample time on her hands to do what she had always wanted to do.

For Donahower, 72, that thing is painting. Born and raised in Hatboro, Donahower graduated from Lake Erie College in Ohio in 1960 with a degree in psychology and art. But her art career, that is, her daily painting life would not begin until 30 years later. First, she raised her three children, all of whom attended Chestnut Hill Academy or Springside School.

The Chestnut Hill experience must have been beneficial to Donahower and her kids. Her youngest son, Carl Drake, owns the local Drake’s Gourmet Foods and Catering at 8419 Germantown Ave. Her daughter, Kim Croney, is a landscape designer who runs Mulberry Designs in Haverford. And her oldest son, Craiger, owns Craiger Drake Designs, a high-end jewelry gallery in the historic 1616 Walnut St. building in Center City.

And Donahower herself has experienced her own successes. While her paintings have been featured in numerous exhibitions and she has won several awards, her most prestigious event took place when her work was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Dining Room Show in 2002.

Currently, Donahower’s work is on display at Campbell’s Place, a pub at 8337 Germantown Ave., until the end of July. It features contemplative landscapes, paintings of homes and nature scenes all seen during her daily excursions in the area to places like the woods and creeks of Wissahickon Park, the hills of Manayunk or the banks of the Delaware River. Donahower says that all proceeds from sales of the paintings will be donated to health-related charities.

Though she only began building her portfolio when she enrolled in Montgomery County Community College in 1991, Donahower has made art, in one way or another, part of her career.

After her undergraduate work, she studied occupational therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. Following graduation, she worked with psychiatric patients at The Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, an institution that no longer exists today. She made jewelry, paintings and ceramics with her patients, using art as a medium to heal. Donahower also helped run the Drake family jewelry store and designed some of its jewelry.

But her career as an artist really began 18 years ago, when she was 54. That’s when she enrolled in the certificate program at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), where she received formal art training and graduated in 1997. She has also taken classes at Woodmere Art Museum.

“I really wanted to learn more,” said Donahower. “I had friends who went to PAFA who told me how great it was. But I needed a portfolio, so I went to Montco to build mine up.”

As is has turned out, the talent Donahower felt within, and must have passed on to her children, came to be recognized by the public. Her work has been exhibited at USArtists American Fine Arts Shows, Woodmere Art Museum Juried Shows, the Main Line Center Line Arts Show and numerous others. She received the Fred and Naomi Gibson Hazell Prize for best composition as well as the George S. Hobensack, Jr. Memorial Award. She also painted an elephant, sponsored by Robertson’s Flowers and Kilian Hardware, for the 2006 AbZoolutely Chestnut Hill Exhibition.

Donahower paints the majority of her work “en plein air” (“in the open air”), a style made famous by Claude Monet. “You don’t (choose the locations),” she said. “They choose you … It’s a God-given talent. I don’t know. It’s just my perception of nature.”

In addition to her artwork, Donahower works with a number of charities at places like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and her church, the Church of the Messiah in Lower Gwynedd Township, where she now resides. She also plays tennis at the Philadelphia Cricket Club and sings off-key, she joked. As if that were not enough, she also works with her son, Carl, a few days a week, helping to prepare and organize his food display case, where she is “careful not to make a mistake.”

“I feel lucky at this stage in my life,” she said. (Christine’s late husband’s name was Dave {J. David Donahower}. He was an investment advisor who died at the age of 69 in 1999.)

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