Georgette Kanach creates art influenced by her love of the outdoors and teaches others how to love it, too
Making art, spending time in the woods and sharing what she’s learned are pursuits that have fed Georgette Kanach’s soul for as long as she can remember.
She’s worked as a nature artist since childhood, a Master Maine Guide for 35 years, and at L.L. Bean for 13 years, now in its gun department and Outdoor Discovery School, teaching shotgun shooting, archery and hunter safety.
Growing up in the lumbering town of Jackman, Kanach and her seven siblings were encouraged to play in the woods. Their father, a logging contractor, taught them to appreciate the surrounding wilderness.
When she was very young, her five older brothers were in the habit of bringing home wild creatures for their littlest sister to nurse back to health, including a moose calf, a bear cub, a red fox, a raccoon and a groundhog. Her brothers knew nothing would faze Georgie, who they warmly considered an “animal freak.”
“If an animal got stranded or needed some other help, they’d bring it home to me, saying ‘Oh, Georgie would really like this,’” Kanach, who turns 65 this month, recalls with a laugh.
“It was great, except for the bear cub, which was pretty nasty,” she says. “It never got real gentle. I’d have all these animals for a short time, and then my father would give or sell them to someone or release them.”
Kanach learned to hunt, at first mostly partridge and other birds, and eventually began “hunting to eat” deer, moose and bear. After marrying, she got a Brittany spaniel, like her sister’s, and frequently took friends into the woods on hunting and exploration trips.
“My sister said why don’t you get your Guide’s license and you could make enough money to buy your dog’s food?”
And so she did. Kanach originally planned to study art in college, but, like many things in life, that didn’t pan out. Just after arriving in Boston for her first semester of art school, Kanach looked at her father and told him she couldn’t go through with her plan.
“I couldn’t do the city. It was an overwhelming feeling. He was very angry, but we went home, and I started working (waiting tables and bartending), and continued learning art. There was no online learning, of course, it was all reading books, and I talked with artists as much as I could.
“As a child, I was always drawing, always had a pencil and paper in hand. I had an uncle who was a talented artist, and I stayed with him for a week one summer and learned a lot. I was constantly drawing horses, and my dad eventually wound up getting horses. My parents bought me a wood-burning kit, and I’d do painting. It was all self-taught, and I was determined.”
She realized at about age 16 that she could make a little money by selling her artwork.
“Jackman is such a small town that everyone knew I drew and painted, and people would say, ‘Hey, I’d like a painting of that,’ and I’d make it and sell it to them,” Kanach recalls, noting that her workload depended on her finances at any given time.
That held true as she married and had two daughters. Kanach remembers often painting all night after putting her kids to bed when there were bills to pay.
All the while, she continued learning new techniques and ways to make art. She recalls buying an airbrush via Uncle Henry’s “because I knew I needed it,” though she had no idea how to use it for two years.
“Then we went to Cape Hatteras (North Carolina) on a vacation, and I saw someone airbrushing shirts and rugs. I told my husband and kids, you guys go on, and I spent the whole day watching this guy! He wasn’t very social or all that interested in talking to me about it, which I didn’t understand. I mean, I lived in Maine—there was no threat! To me, if you don’t pass on your knowledge, if it dies with you, what’s the point? What good is it? I want to share everything that I know and love.”
Kanach says she’s always had that philosophy—it led her to Maine Guide work and to teach hunter safety and other courses over the years—but those feelings of wanting to share her knowledge were heightened when she was confronted with breast cancer in 2009.
“When the doctor comes back with the results, it’s a shock, like someone knocking the wind out of you,” says Kanach, who opted for a double mastectomy for peace of mind. “Going through that, you realize life is more precious and unpredictable and short. It gives you a greater appreciation for life. And it made me take all the negative out of my life, and I didn’t let it back in.”
Long divorced at that time, she got through her recovery largely on her own, with the help and company of her daughters and two Brittany spaniels—she has four now—and by continuing with her artwork and woods walks as often as possible.
“My art kept me alive, and I went to the woods as a refuge. I get rejuvenated in the woods, smelling the air, away from electronics and the fast pace of life,” says the grandmother of five. “It’s my happy place. Even if I could only go for five or 10 minutes when I was sick, it made me feel better.” When she didn’t feel well enough to venture out, lying still and just thinking about being in the woods soothed her.
Kristina Lee, one of Kanach’s daughters who now lives in Ohio, says she and her sister appreciate their mother passing on a love of nature, hunting and the woods.
“There’s such a serenity in the woods. I love the smells, the sounds, the sights. It’s just a good friend,” Lee says, sounding much like her mom.
Lee says she never doubted that her strong mother would survive cancer.
“I didn’t worry about her success with it,” she says. “She’s beaten the odds on so many other things, and to her, something like cancer was never going to win.”
Dan Rodrigue of Dresden, who works with Kanach at L.L. Bean, says he appreciates her positive attitude, too, as well as her expertise and way of dealing with customers.
“She’s very knowledgeable, and has an easygoing way of explaining things that’s not intimidating.”
Rodrigue says he admires the way Kanach handles herself, especially when male customers buying firearms bristle at being helped by a woman. “That’s the personality of the customer, not her. She deals with it. She takes it in stride.”
Rodrigue, a photographer, also appreciates his co-worker’s art talent and interest.
“We talk on an artsy level,” he says. “I enjoy having her around. It’s a lot of fun.”
Kanach says she’s grateful to make a living combining her passion for art and her love of the outdoors. And she’s determined to share everything she knows.
See more of Georgette Kanach’s art on her website: mainenatureart.com
Patricia McCarthy is a long-time writer and editor. She has three daughters, lives in Cape Elizabeth, and also has a photography business (patriciamccarthy.com).