The upside down career of Anne Hanna

Artist featured at Rehoboth Art League’s Fine Arts Exhibition
Artist Anne Hanna is the featured artist at the Rehoboth Art League's 75th Fine Arts Exhibition. Because she has astigmatism, Hanna paints her work looking at a picture or photograph flipped upside down. BY STEVEN BILLUPS
June 21, 2013

Rehoboth Art League’s 75th annual Fine Arts Exhibition featured artist Anne Hanna is a watercolorist with an unusual technique.

Hanna has astigmatism, which can cause her paintings to skew to the left. She said the problem is particularly noticeable in landscape paintings, where houses, barns and animals would appear to slope to the left to other people, although she painted the way she was seeing the world around her. Hanna said she wears glasses and often reads books, but her astigmatism affects her when she paints.

Hanna has adopted the technique of taking a photograph or sketch of what she wants to paint, flipping it upside down and then starting to paint. She said she doesn’t know how, but working in this manner makes her paintings come out right. Hanna said the first picture she did this way sold the first day.

As for how Hanna got so good at painting upside-down? Well, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?

“Many, many years of taking lots of workshops and classes,” she said.

Painting upside down is not a new technique. “Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo both painted upside down due to astigmatism,” Hanna said.

By her own estimation, Hanna has painted nearly 1,000 watercolors during the 40-plus years she has been doing it.

“I could stop doing it easily. I have three children that are all five years apart. I had a lot of diapers then. I could stop whatever I was doing. I would paint quite often while they were taking a nap. I found watercolor was just great,” she said.

It is a career in painting that started by accident.

Born in Bloomington, Ind., Hanna was a biology major at University of Indiana. Her father was the head of the sociology department at Yale University when he received a senior Fulbright scholarship at the University of London in England. Hanna decided to go with her family, but instead of flying, her father decided to sail overseas aboard the SS United States.

By the time they arrived in London, however, classes had already started, and Hanna was unable to enroll as a biology major. Having taken art classes in high school, Hanna’s parents sent for her portfolio and she was able to enroll in London's Central School of Art. There, she learned sculpture, drawing, graphic design and oil painting.

After a year abroad, she came back to Indiana and became an art major, where she delved deeply into sculpture, developing a career as a teacher and sculptor.

With her husband, Gary, Hanna later relocated to Laurel, Md., where she had a sculpture studio, until fate once again intervened. In 1972, Hurricane Agnes destroyed the sculpture studio, and Hanna took up a new passion: watercolor painting.

“I paint almost everyday,” she said.

After Gary retired, the Hannas found a home in Dagsboro, where they have lived for the past 15 years. Hanna is a docent for the art league and has previously worked as a volunteer. She’s previously had two personal shows of her work at the art league.

Just as her career has been a surprise to her, Hanna said being the featured artist for the 75th Fine Arts Exhibition was also a surprise.

“I made a comment to (art league executive director) Sheila Bravo that you should have a show for people 75 years old, because I’m 75 this year. She said, ‘We already planned the shows.’ Then out of the blue, I all the sudden became the featured artist,” she said.

As for what she enjoys about painting, Hanna said, “The relaxation. It’s just a very pleasing feeling to paint.”