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Artist Judith Larmay works on a piece in her Haverhill home studio. Larmay is part of an artists cooperative that runs the Bridge Gallery in Newburyport.

Artist Judith Larmay invites anyone with a love of the arts and the fantastic to view her creative world at the Bridge Art Gallery in Newburyport this April.

Larmay's art, oil paintings that merge realistic images, fantastical juxtapositions and spiritual underpinnings, has been entrancing visitors of the Bridge Gallery since she began showing her pieces with the gallery two years ago.

Living in Haverhill with her husband, John "Jake" Menikane, Larmay has been illustrating and writing about her imaginative world, which she calls Wondershire, for more than 50 years. Originally from Lawrence, the couple moved two years ago after making what she described as a "heart wrenching" choice to leave her hometown. She said, however, that Haverhill offers a "new vista" to experience life from.

Her home at the Steeplechase Court townhouses doubles as her studio, where she spends her afternoons working on new pieces and teaching painting skills to a small group of adult students. Unlike many independent trade tutors, Larmay doesn't publicly advertise her lessons. Instead, she relies on word-of-mouth references.

"I don't need to advertise, they just find me," she said.

Her ability as instructor is backed by a variety of qualifications. She graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston in the early 1960s and has been teaching art since.

In 1993, she went back to school and graduated from Bradford College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Visual Art and Creative Writing five years later.

She has received national recognition through the PaintAmerica program and Artist's Magazine among many others. Her art has a heavy circulation throughout New England and is displayed at the Ninth Life Fine Art Gallery in the Virgin Islands.

Larmay, who uses her maiden name in her professional life, said her passion to paint began when she was 9 and has stayed with her ever since. Despite her knack for painting, her parents continued to fret over how she'd make ends meet. She too frequently questioned how she'd support herself while drifting between part-time jobs.

"You have to get a job, artists don't make a living," she recalled her mother warning.

Larmay did take a leave of absence from her career from 1963 until 1978 to raise her two daughters, Lynn and Susanne. She said that her creative drive never died, but her family had to come first.

"If I were to pick up my art I would have killed my kids," she said jokingly.

As her children grew older, Larmay would typically cloister herself within her studio at night, long after everyone in her home was asleep, to reignite her creative spark.

Describing her art style as representational and herself as a student of the 19th Century French Academy of Artists, she said some of the major influences in her art include Norman Rockwell and Salvador Dali. Despite emerging professionally during one of the most abstract periods of art in the late '50s and early '60s, Larmay said she was never a fan of the modern art movements pushed by her peers.

When not painting, Larmay is likely to be writing. After finishing her degree at Bradford College, and inspired by the encouragement of her instructors, she began a prolific period of writing and has since self-published seven books.

"My creator was doing the writing for me," she said.

As with her teaching and artwork, she relies on word of mouth for sales of her books.

Larmay said that creating each of her paintings is an intensely personal undertaking, even if it's a commissioned piece.

"I do it because it means so much to the client," she said.

She recalls that one portrait commission ended in a brush with the afterlife.

Larmay had been asked by a grieving client to paint of portrait of their dead son for a final keepsake. While working on the painting, Larmay received a message from the son in her dreams to give his mother.

"Knock it off ma, I'm fine," he said.

Such a personal connection to her artwork is fairly common among artists, Larmay says.

"I don't know if the public is aware of the effort artists put into their work; it's a labor of love," she said.

She also said that such a disconnect shouldn't discourage visitors from checking out galleries such as the Bridge Art Gallery.

"Don't be intimidated by art, just go out and enjoy the works," she said.

The Bridge Gallery is an artist-owned cooperative gallery showcasing more than 15 artists. Most pieces displayed are for sale and gallery artists cycle the bills and fees among themselves to continue paying for the space. Larmay said she'd encourage anyone who enjoys the art on display to consider supporting local artists financially.

"Get out the checkbook and buy the piece," she said. "Every piece we sell leaves us on Cloud Nine."

To see more of Larmay's artwork and writing, visit her Web site at /www.larmayartstudio.com/.

IF YOU GO

What: Bridge Gallery

Where: 1R Water St, Newburyport

When: Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Thursday to Monday

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