Anyone with a passion for art or a serious case of wanderlust can see the couple’s work at “From Italy, with Love,” an exhibit of about 40 pieces at the Dover Art League. The show opens with a reception Friday, Feb. 3, where watercolorist Rosemary Connelly and photographer Bob Connelly will present a talk and slide show about their time in Italy.


Rosemary and Bob Connelly of Milford lived in Arizona for 30 years, raising a family and working as a graphic designer and firefighter, respectively. When it came time to retire, they traded the desert for the hills of Italy, where Bob, a photographer, shot the country while Rosemary, a watercolorist, painted it. They immersed themselves in the culture and art for two years before settling down in Milford.

Anyone with a passion for art or a serious case of wanderlust can see the couple’s work at “From Italy, with Love,” an exhibit of about 40 pieces at the Dover Art League. The show opens with a reception Friday, Feb. 3, where the Connellys will present a talk and slide show about their time in Italy.

Rosemary talked to us about her work, watercolor journaling, the big move and more in anticipation of the exhibit’s opening.

Q Have you shown this work before?
A We did show them at Decatur, Ill., at the Ann Lloyd Gallery, Madden Center. But this is the first time we’ve shown a collection this large in this region.

Q You paint both plein aire and in your studio. Do you ever paint from your husband’s photographs?
A Oh yes, awesome. I have a great library to choose from. In fact that’s one of the things that you’ll see in this exhibit ­— three or four paintings that I did from his photographs.
One is really amusing to us. He has a photo of Verona that he is up looking down on a scene that I’m painting. If you look closely, I’m in it. He didn’t intend to photograph me at all. It just happened that I was at that location while he was photographing it. We didn’t even notice it until we were putting this together.

Q You teach workshops on watercolor journaling. What exactly is that?
A This has been the most rewarding thing for me. I discovered this about 15 years ago. I was a graphic designer for 20 years, so I did a lot of drawing and painting and studied fine arts. As the years wore on and I was working I felt the need to have my own outlet that was not just pleasing a client. I took a workshop in journaling and thought this was perfect.
I keep a written journal tucked away in books on the shelf, documenting my life, and so it was kind of a natural thing to go from that to doodling in these journals and it sort of evolved into my version of watercolor journaling. The purpose of it and the way I teach it is really to give people enough instruction into a bit of drawing, a bit of painting — I get a lot of beginners. They don’t have to aspire to make a painting they’re going to hang on the wall. It sort of takes that pressure away.
In a journal, it’s many pages. One you might not like as much as another one, but you’re really slowing down and observing the world around you. It’s all about slowing down and looking at the shapes, looking at the colors, and putting it down. It’s your impression of it. The writing isn’t really your personal, private thoughts and emotions, it’s more about observations. What’s the time of day, are you hearing sounds of birds, are you hearing children laughing, the sound of trucks rolling by? Then when you go back and look at that journal later, you can re-experience that moment. You can use this as a special keepsake when you go on a trip to Italy or you can go around your house on a rainy day and write about he special things in your home.
Nothing is too mundane, and by putting it down it just sort of makes it special, and it’s special to you.
So many people have said to me, “You’ve changed my life,” which is quite profound, I think. But if they had a desire to do something like this and they enjoy it and keep doing it, that’s a joy, that’s a gift for me. So I’m very excited.

Q How did you two come to the decision to live in Italy?
A For years we had dreamed of living in another country and experiencing another culture, to kind of see the world from another perspective. Once we started traveling we ended up in Italy. My grandparents are from there so there was a connection for me, and we just loved it.
We had a conversation several years before that about what we were going to do when we retired. I said all I want to do is to live cheap, and to make art. We didn’t need a big fancy house and do all that. Really, what do two people need? Then there was a time when we really planned in earnest to do this when people we knew and loved were coming down with cancer, and heart attacks, and we were really struck with the realization that life is short and you don’t know what life is going to bring. You can wait until you save x amount of money and then travel and then you have a heart attack. So we really said we’ve gotta do this now while we’re relatively young and healthy and can still do this.
We were living in Phoenix, and he said he was going to retire, and I said “If you’re going to do this, I quit.” We just said, “OK, we have to go. When are we going to do it?” He said, “April of next year.” It took a full year to get the visas and put all of that in place. So we had to sell our house and arrange for an apartment in Perugia.
We gave stuff away, threw stuff away, and really purged. Some of it was painful and some of it was really freeing. After it was all over and we didn’t even have a car, it was wonderful. We just felt so free. By April 1 we were in Italy.
I went back and forth between thinking I was crazy and incredibly brave.

Q If you could re-create your Italy experience elsewhere, where would you go next?
A Spain or France, Greece is someplace I’d like to go to. Maybe Ireland. If we ever won the lottery we’d go straight to the airport.

Q Do you work in other media?
A I’ve dabbled in oil and pastel, but I seem to keep coming back to the watercolor. I just love the translucence, transparency of it, and just the way the paint acts on the paper, the luminosity of it, and the richness of color that you can get by layering.
One of the things I love to do is watercolor journaling. That is another thing about watercolors — the materials needed are so simple. Your little set of pan colors and a little journal and a pen and you’re good.