Nora Harrington Bio

Painting in a style that has been referred to as “expressionistic realism,” Nora

Harrington’s landscape scenes are at once serene and lively. At first glance, the only

movements to be detected are those of plants, water, and clouds; there are seldom

figures or animals to be seen. But as you look further, another trace of motion is visible

—a joyous record of the physical act of creating art.

 

Born in London, England, in 1974, Harrington grew up in the Washington suburb of

Riverdale, Maryland. As a child, her father—an astronomer with a passion for classical

art—took Nora to see shows at the nearby National Gallery of Art. Those experiences

shaped her view of the value of art: “I loved going to the National Gallery, as much for

the magnificent building and reverent hush as for the paintings we saw. It was an early

gift, to be shown that painting was not just something that children did for fun. Even

then, the grandeur of the museum context emphasized how important painting could

be.”

 

Harrington’s mother also played an early formative role, finding classes and workshops

to nurture her daughter’s natural inclinations. She encouraged her at the early age of

fourteen to present a portfolio to the Smithsonian Institute so they would make an

exception and allow her to enroll in adult figure-drawing classes. Both parents again

proved supportive when, at age sixteen, Harrington made the decision to transfer from

the college preparatory school she attended to Suitland Center for the Arts, an intensive

arts high school. This decision was an acknowledgement that Harrington’s life focus

would be in the arts.

 

After completing Suitland’s four-year program in two years, Nora went on to accept a full

scholarship to the Cooper Union School of Art in New York City, the most selective art

college in the nation. There she found that her interest in representational drawing was

neither required nor encouraged. But the years she spent in modern art critiques,

analyzing everything from the artistic process to the critique itself, were not wasted. “I

have always made artwork to honor what is beautiful to me and what I admire,” she

says. “I learned to love and respect the process of painting while I was in New York—

and I learned I didn’t want to live in the city!”

 

During her time in New York Harrington also taught painting and drawing to artistically

gifted inner-city youths and interned at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1995

she was granted a semester of independent study in London under acclaimed art

historian Dore Ashton, where she researched nineteenth-century watercolorist John Sell

Cotman in the archives of the British Museum. In Harrington’s last year at Cooper

Union she explored several other directions in painting but she always returned to

painting outdoors, most often from the city’s rooftops. “There was always the sky,” says

Harrington “even in Manhattan.” In 1997 she was awarded the Vena T. Carol Award for

Excellence in Art.

 

Leaving New York, Harrington rented studio space in Washington, DC. “I would go down to Georgetown and set my easel up to paint one of the gorgeous old homes or

gardens,” she recalls, “and come home with a new commission or, on a really lucky day,

someone would buy the painting right off my easel.” But the idea of living in the

countryside had never left her mind and, in 1998, Harrington moved to an area she had

passed through on hiking trips to the Shenandoah National Park; she had been struck

by its natural beauty and by the creative and thoughtful people she met there. She

spent many hours on hiking trails and back roads, developing a new visual vocabulary

that could combine her love of modern painting with her love for these new

surroundings.

 

In 2001 she began showing and selling her plein air landscapes through professional

galleries both locally and in Richmond, VA, and DC. Her paintings are now in private

and corporate collections throughout the United States and in Germany, England,

Spain, and Italy. She has received awards from the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation,

the US House of Representatives, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and the New

York Foundation for the Arts.

 

Today Nora Harrington lives on The Farm At Sunnyside outside of Washington, Virginia

with her husband and their son. The farm borders the Shenandoah National Park and is

owned and run by a family who are committed to organic farming and conservation

efforts. Harrington has recently been involved in the creation of The Conservation Card

Series, a joint project between the artist and the farm that highlights their conservation

accomplishments. “More than ever themes of balance and transition seem important to

me,” Harrington says “There is an intersection where both the beauty of the observable

world and the beauty of the medium in which it is rendered meet. That is the true north

of my artistic compass.”