Tom Curry stands in a large room packed so tightly one can only slight maneuver through the clutter. Easels, canvases, paints, tables, filing cabinets, paintings, with an exercise bike planted squarely in the middle- all back-dropped by a wall of shelves that appear to be out of some antiquarian’s library, filled with art books, paintings and plaster busts. Northern light filters in from the Maine woods through a wall of 16 ft. windows, filling the old school house with soft ethereal light.
I was late for an event, but (as usual) wanted to drive just a little bit further to see the famous wooden boat building center of the northeast Brooklin, Maine, a small remote hamlet along the Eggemoggin Reach. As we entered the town, I spied a sign on an old school house that read, Curry Studio. I wheeled the car about and parked, hoping to catch the artist at home in his loft.
Tom Curry’s art had caught my eye a few years back. There are many landscape artists among the large art community of Maine, but Tom was unique, so much so, I had mentioned his work many times in my talks on landscape and architecture. What Tom Curry is best known for is one thing; a beautiful thing, a single spot among a wild and historic Maine coastline- an island; Chatto Island.
Tom has painted Chatto Island perhaps hundreds of times- from a single perspective. Tom has captured the island in summer, in fall, in sunlight, in snow, on peaceful evenings and in violent storms. This is what Tom refers to as the “animation of spirit “, or the capture of the invisible; the unseen sense of a place- the real knowing of a place. Through observation, Tom has captured place, time, emotion, drama, peace, and tranquility, and in Tom’s words, “longing and memory”.
These paintings had not only intrigued me because they expressed the immense power of observation; the understanding of a place so thoroughly that one knew its pulse, it’s emotion; its meaning. But that a single object; an island, could possess so much changing character. A character so strong and present, that it shaped us as human beings. Tom has expressed how a single object could effect our emotions, our moods, our memories, our personal histories; it could even shape who we were as people.
Of course, as an architect, I make an immediate connection- what is the difference between an island and a building? They both occupy space and time. They interact with their place in the world. They interact with our lives. They occupy our lives.
We may not all have the power of observation that an artist like Tom Curry has, but what Tom has done for us all, is to show how a place; a thing, can be important in our lives. And how a single object, whether an island, or a building can have meaning- perhaps even shape who we are as people. As an architect, that’s a responsibility to take to heart.
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