Downcity Living: Our Neighbor Mara Koppel

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“We chose this space because of the light.”

And what a magnificent space that light fills! Mara Koppel and her husband Bob moved to Downtown Providence towards the end of 2012. But Mara is no stranger to Rhode Island.

After fleeing Europe during World War II as a young child, Mara and her parents settled in our beloved state. She was followed by her creative passions, which helped her weather the punishing journey.

“. . . the way I got myself through that was by focusing on little bits of color. It made me happy. I wanted to make the world a more beautiful place, a place that I liked.”

Mara as a small child with her parents in Riga, Latvia

A drawing Mara made when she was 5

As a young adult, she attended Brown University for English Literature, “meeting thousands of people through their writing.”

Since then, Mara has been able to establish a solid artistic practice. These days, she works after lunch for a couple of hours. If she has a commission, Mara doesn’t do much else. Preferring oil paints, she listens to music while working from a reference folder of images she habitually collects.

She likes to practice her breathing, take a walk, and clear her mind of unpleasant things. Some days, that takes a little more effort than others – but painting ultimately wipes out any negativity. She sees it as a tremendous life-giving force.

“Art is able to supply what the rest of life sometimes can’t. I just don’t understand . . . the news . . . ” Mara was reflecting on recent events at this point. “I would never reach for a gun, I’d reach for a paint brush.”

Mara prioritizes the quality of her materials. She is a regular at the RISD store, and is known for squeezing just a tiny amount of paint out of the tube to see how much pigment is suspended in the oil. The rigorously inspected paint finds its way to more than just flat canvases, however. Mara also paints furniture and clothing to brighten up all of her surroundings.

hand painted jacket by Mara Koppel

hand painted table by Mara Koppel

Mara finds plenty of inspiration in downtown Providence – even after living in famous metropolitan centers like New York and Chicago.

“What’s wonderful about this area is that we are surrounded by creative people. I’ve met a lot of really talented young people and have gotten to see their shows . . . There’s just something about this block [Westminster street] – it’s just a magic block. . . I love these quirky little places that have been eradicated in places like New York, but not here!”

Painting of Westminster Street by Mara Koppel

Mara is a narrative painter, telling humanistic stories on a variety of surfaces. If the human quality is maintained and comes through in the work, then she feels as if she has done her job. Over time, Mara has learned to take more risks.

“Now that I’ve been practicing for so long, I feel very confident – which took me a long time! I end up making huge canvases for commissions which people always end up enjoying – though, when I start, I’m never quite certain I’ll get to finish!”

Judging from the prolific adornment of Mara’s home, we were made certain that this turn of phrase was mostly Mara’s modesty. She has at least 50 personal works hanging in her space, many of which are quite large and ambitious.

To see more of her work up close, please visit Mara’s website. You can also see Mara walking on Westminster Street in a hand-painted jacket, either with her sweet elderly corgy-mix, Mimi, or husband Bob who often wears very stylish sneakers.


Interested in downcity living? See what’s available at Westminster Lofts.

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