Friday, June 20, 2008

Paper City Public Art: Gerald C. Fluett Portrait

Thomas Nadeau's portrait of Walker Memorial Library benefactor Gerald C. Fluett has always caught my eye.

To be sure, its placement at the head of the library's stairs makes the portrait difficult to overlook. But what always attracts my attention are the portrait's rich and ominuous colors.

Could Mr. Fluett's suit, for example, be a more dignified shade of navy blue? Or his shirt more blanched and starched? And could his tie be more Presidential-red? I don't think so. Nor do I think Nadeau could've provided a better background to embolden Fluett, as it features the sterile browns and tans of the wintry riverbanks of the Presumpscot River, as well as the pale blues of the water and the sky.

Despite Mr. Fluett's crisp and richly-colored attire, though, the most eye-catching feature of Nadeau's portrait is not the subject of the portrait; it is the dark plume of apparent storm clouds (or is it discharge from the mill over Fluett's right shoulder?) crowning his head. Indeed, the apparent storm clouds effectively attract the viewer's eyes to Fluett's face, but the artistic method of attention-directing--when combined with Fluett's impish smirk that can fairly be described as Cheneyesque--gives the portrait a foreboding quality. Which is too bad, because Fluett's biography does not seem to contain any sense of ill will.

A lifelong resident of Westbrook (he lived in the same Saco Street home his entire life), Fluett is described in Walker Memorial Library: A History as an eternal bachelor who was active in the business and civic affairs of Westbrook. A graduate of St. Mary's school and Westbrook High School's Class of 1939, and a member of St. Hyacinth's, the Holy Name Society, and the American Legion. Fluett also served in the South Pacific during WWII, owned numerous businesses (besides taking over his parents' eponymous store, Fluett owned Beacon Bowling Lanes in North Windham, Oxford Bowling Lanes, and the Busy-Bee Bakery on Westbrook's Main Street.), and was an energetic traveler. In fact, the donor of Nadeau's portrait of Gerald Fluett to Walker Memorial Library was Fluett's frequent travel companion, Roland Roy, who joined Fluett on trips to Mexico, Aruba, Canada, and Atlantic City.

Fluett's frugality was also noted, as well as his $800,000 gift to the library after his death in 1988. In fact, the gift was the seed money for the library's ongoing Fluett Trust.

- John C.L. Morgan

P.S. Much thanks to the staff at the Walker Memorial Library.


Karen said...

While I don't know Mr. Fluett, I do remember the bowling alleys and bakery. As a young girl living in Gorham, my sister and I spent many hours watching Mr. Nadeau paint and listening to his radio. He even attempted to teach me about drawing but I wasn't a very good student. Always loved his paintings!

Scott Leonard said...

Tom Nadeau is my cousin, and we've discussed his painting of Mr. Fluett, with whom he attended high school. This portrait was done with only a high school yearbook photo as a guide for Mr. Nadeau, who used his imagination to figure out what the man would have looked like at the end of his life, by examining his own aging face. According to Mr. Fluett's survivors, the resemblance was uncanny, down to every wrinkle, despite the fact that Mr. Nadeau had not seen Mr. Fluett since high school. The dark cloud is one of Mr. Nadeau's classic 'thumbprints', as a commentary on the darker side of becoming a business tycoon, as a contrast to the celebration of the man as being worthy of commissioned portraiture for the annals of history. Side note: Mr. Fluett never wore a suit in his life. :-)