The Bowdoinham Joiner and Luthier will be featured at the local art gallery


Mark C. Donovan, holding a cello he built. Photo courtesy of Mark C. Donovan

After 22 years as a full-time carpenter and luthier, Bowdoinham’s Mark C. Donovan will be featured in his first art gallery exhibition this Memorial Day weekend at the Cathance River Gallery in Bowdoinham.

The show will feature instruments, including violins, violas, basses, cellos and guitars, handcrafted by Donovan. Some of the pieces in the exhibition were loaned to him by former clients who commissioned his work.

He uses many varieties of wood in his work but prefers to hunt it himself in the forests of Maine.

“I’ll drive up and notice a big tree that’s been cut down, if it’s still there in a few days I’ll find out about it, and sometimes it’s a desirable piece of wood,” he said. . “I’ve found some great pieces locally doing this.”

A violin and a viola will be featured in the Mark C. Donovan exhibit. Photo courtesy of Mark C. Donovan

Over the years, Donovan made cabinets, furniture, sculptures, and instruments from his findings. He said he uses hardwood, mostly maple and anything that has character, bent or has a crooked grain.

“Generally, I can’t find what I’m looking for in a lumberyard. There are no two-by-fours that speak to me,” Donovan said.

Donovan’s passion for woodworking began at a young age.

“As a child, I was interested because my grandfather was a professional ship sculptor and model maker in Rockport,” he said. “I would visit her shop and loved everything.”

Mermaid electric guitar, made by Mark C. Donovan. Photo courtesy of Mark C. Donovan

With a deep appreciation for guitars and rock n’ roll, Donovan made his very first guitar in 1983 for a high school project.

“Since then, I have been making them. I’ve always been fascinated by the instrument itself,” Donovan said.

A former computer analyst, Donovan changed careers in 2000. He said his job in computers was unsatisfying because his work was never fully appreciated.

“I’ve made an eighty and done things that have the potential to outlive me and be enjoyed by others. It’s nowhere near the same money, but I’ve decided that this wasn’t the most important thing,” Donovan said.

In 1995, he found his very first piece of curly maple, deeming it the right size to make a violin. He then picked up a copy of “Fine Woodworking Magazine” and decided to make the instrument himself, he said. He admitted the project was taking so long that he had to ask Windham carpenter John Cooper for help.

“I would bring him parts that were in the process of being made and he would say, ‘it’s good’ or ‘it’s not’. He would point me in the right direction,” Donovan said.

All of the lessons Donovan learned from Cooper in violin making were applicable to other forms of woodworking, he said. Cooper taught him methods for creating a smooth finish, a curved shape, or how to prevent scratches from appearing on a part, he said.

“I never do the same thing twice. The closest is a violin, but I never mass-produce anything. Everything is done by hand one at a time. Guitars, I can make them look more like a work of art than an instrument. Each is unique.

A guitar that Mark C. Donovan worked on in his studio in Bowdoinham. Photo provided by Mark C. Donovan.

All of his instruments take hours to build, but the violin is the most time-consuming, sometimes taking up to 200 hours, he said.

“The pieces are so fine. They have to be exactly correct, or you throw it away,” he said.

To give the exhibit an interactive feel, Donovan invited several of his fellow musicians. He said they will be encouraged to play the instruments he made, creating a fun atmosphere.

The exhibition will take place on Memorial Day weekend, at the Cathance River Gallery, located at 18 Main St. in Bowdoinham. The hours are Friday May 27 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday May 28 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday May 29 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information about the show, visit

Or visit the Cathance River Gallery website,

For an overview of Mark C. Donovan’s work, follow him on Instagram @Donovansbench or @Mcdguitars.

Mark C. Donovan and a bear sculpture he made. Photo by Mark C. Donovan

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