Don Stone

As my high school years came to a close it wasn’t obvious what I would do for the rest of my life. I was able to draw and really enjoyed it. I graduated a half year early from York High School and moved from my parents home to an apartment in Ogunquit, Maine. I worked part time at the Old Village Inn for Fred and Alf and spent the winter painting and getting a feel for what it was like to live without the influence of my parents.

Sometime in the spring I ventured down Shore Road in Ogunquit with my mother to numerous galleries. She suggested I go to art school. This trip was meant to present me with what the life of an artist would be like.

The most significant stop was at the gallery of Don Stone. Don was a painter of landscape and still lives. He was very proficient and I was taken by his skills and personality. After a short discussion he found I was in consideration of attending Portland School of Art (MECA) and that I was a local who was connected to the community.

Monhegan Island oil painting White Head

This was painted before I attended Maine College of Art in 1980. I was the guest of Don Stone at his home on Monhegan Island, off the Maine coast.

He asked if it would be possible for me to take him to places that he could paint and could I get permission to go into some old barns or persons properties of who I might know. I jumped at the chance. Throughout the summer of 1978 Don set up his watercolors next to me in barns, under apple trees and on the Marginal Way. I had never tried to paint outside and could barely stumble along. However, as I watched over Don’s shoulder I was mesmerized.

After I left Don’s studio, that day, with my mother, I visited another studio. I remember walking into a kitchen/gallery and there was an older gentleman sitting at a table, his wife at the stove. He was eating spaghetti with only a scant amount of sauce. He scolded me when I told him I might like to become a painter. He asked how would I like to be like him when I was old? Never enough to eat, always cold. I kept my thoughts to myself. Although I truly felt sorry for him I knew I would never be like him.

Don was so supportive of my work. Always offering suggestions in a gentle and kind way but mostly leading by example. His depictions of waves and surf were daunting. He liked to take me up into his studio and show me setups he was working on. One was of a mannequin in a yellow oil slicker. He said he was painting a cover for a magazine and the subject was fisherman.

His egg tempera paintings were finely detailed and composed by a method he called “big shapes.” He gave me some audio tapes on his methods of painting and I listened intently. As our connection deepened he invited me to a workshop he hosted annually on Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine. The dates conflicted with my first days of art school. I would miss the first week. I remember awkwardly calling the registrar Eudolia Gross and asking if it would be ok if I did not attend the first week of school, I was so excited!

Eudolia agreed that I could go and I was Don’s guest for two weeks on Mohegan Island. We left Ogunquit and drove together up route one in his Subaru. It was packed with all sorts of painting supplies. We stopped in Thomaston for coffee…he seemed to know everyone. It was a bright September post summer day. I recall getting on the mail boat from Tenents Harbor in short sleeves, bearing against the wind on the front deck as we headed into the broad ocean and cold Atlantic sea spray.

Mailboat to Monhegan Island

Mailboat to Monhegan Island (2007)

Upon landing there was an old truck and a happy Islander waiting for Don. We threw our stuff onto a makeshift platform on the back of the truck and watched it rumble up the gravel hill to someplace unknown to me. Don was greeted by many people and I was enthralled to be in such a mystical place.

Don told me of his friends, the fisherman and how he painted them and how we were invited to a party where it was likely we would see Jamie Wyeth. We walked up the hill and if my memory serves me his home was about in the center of the island. Gray shingles, large. He told me a painter named Shoemaker had lived there previously. We got settled in and soon went down to the general store. Don ordered a cup of coffee and practically poured a cup of sugar into it. We sat at a table with many others. He joked about not liking his coffee sweet, that’s why he would never stir it.

Kevin Freeman watercolor, Monhegan Island, Maine

This is a watercolor painted in 1979 near the Stanley family bait shack. Over the years a mouse brazenly nibbled into the left side.

Don picked up some other food items and a case of Budweiser beer. He carried the beer up the hill and back to his home on his shoulder, I carried the smaller bags. At the house we sat back, relaxed and talked while sipping on cold beer. I was 18. We would be joined by Don’s wife Linda in a few days and then the workshop would begin. The next morning Don took me out to explore the south side of the island. We set up our easels and painted. And then we went back to the fishing village and painted more.

Monhegan was amazing. I loved everything about it. That afternoon Don told me we needed more beer. More beer? I had drank only one or two, how could this be, I couldn’t imagine! Don explained to me he really enjoyed beer and that his indulgence was at the expense of no one. This explanation seemed practical to someone with little experience in this regard.

Kevin Freeman at Monhegan Island

Standing with Don’s wife, Linda, while checking out the painting prospects.

Kevin Freeman on Monhegan Island, drawing

Making sure the world is plumb 🙂

The workshop guests began arriving and Don greeted many of them down at the dock as they got off the mailboat. They all stayed at the Monhegan Inn. Daily, as a group, we all headed off, following Don to his favorite locations. The group of men and women were mostly retired or soon to be. They were very friendly and everyone shared the awe of being on Mohegan. We would paint until one or two in the afternoon and then re- assemble on the porch of the Mohegan Inn for a critique around five-ish. There were cocktails and lots of suggestions but mostly people were bidding on the watercolor paintings Don had done during the day.

The island adventure was epic for me. Don was so kind and generous and so full of knowledge about the island and he was such an able painter. So many people admired him including me.

Don sold all his watercolors during the workshop. Mine were in a portfolio which I gathered up and sailed back to the main land with Linda’s mom. She drove me to Ogunquit and took me out to lunch at Barnacle Billy’s. Within a day or two I began art school.

At Portland School of Art we started by painting the contents of an open box turned facing us. We arranged objects within the box and were allowed to make our impressions with a pallet knife only. It was so different than the glamour that Don had offered. He would suggest always mixing a little sienna under the eves, people like it better, he would say with a smile. I was so grateful to Don for taking me to Monhegan.

Don Stone

Me standing beside Don Stone in his Monhegan Island, Maine studio, August 6, 2007

Throughout art school I would drop in on Don. He had an old Martin guitar that he would pull from the attic for me to play. He was a banjo player. I would strum a few chords with him in his living room as Linda busied herself making us snacks. My path was diverging from his. When he asked what I was doing it was hard for me to explain. One day as we sat there discussing the philosophy of art and life he suggested I never do what he did. He told me he sold out and that his paintings would never go beyond a certain place.

At the time I was reading Van Gogh’s letters to Theo and was learning the difficulties some had pursuing a creative life. But Don had 3 homes, beautiful paintings, and a large group of admirers. Still, his words resonated with me. And they have stuck with me.

Don brought me into his world and opened the door for me. He shared with me the superficial and the real. I left Don’s world as my other influences coaxed me to larger aspirations. His kind mentoring was an inspiration and left an indelible impression on me.

Don passed away on March 12, 2015. He was 85 years old. Rest in Peace, Don and thank you.