John Gable before a detail from his mural “The Gathering” at Woolwich Central School. by Kitty Wheeler
Coastal Journal contributor
WOOLWICH — “The Gathering,” a large mural attached to the entry hall in the new Woolwich Central School, is the latest accomplishment of painter John Gable. He has completed 20 murals for East Coast restaurants in the past 17 years, but this school mural represents his first chance to benefit from the One Percent For Art public funding program, in which one percent of the cost of a large public project is set aside for art to adorn that project.
Gable’s mural depicts 10 Maine artists who illustrated storybooks for children in the 20th century. And Gable, a well-known national artist who lives in Woolwich, is delighted with the finished product. Local sculptor Andreas von Husen encouraged Gable to apply for the one percent public art for public buildings’ competition. Drawing a sketch, which depicted 10 Maine illustrators and their subject matter, and completing the application form, Gable had no idea how the process worked. However, he was awarded the commission last fall.
Gable attended University of Kentucky for two years before transferring to the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. His first job was at General Motors, where he designed cars for Pontiac, including the Firebird. Twelve years later, he decided to move to Maine to paint full time.
Kennebunkport was his home, and he began his career with watercolor paintings at 35.
“The business of being an artist is not easy,” said Gable. “However, I had a lot of luck and met John Payson, a well-known Mane citizen, who opened doors for me.”
Several galleries in New York City chose to show his paintings. He then had an opportunity to paint sailing races for the America’s Cup. Universities then followed suit and wanted him to paint rowing scenes of their intercollegiate teams.
As his painting career flourished, he was approached by an architect to design a mural for a restaurant in the Washington D.C. area. The theme was classic cars of the Art Deco ‘20s period. With a background in designing cars, he was the perfect fit for this commission. An acquaintance told him what kind of canvas to buy, how to stretch it, and the kind of paint, acrylic, to use. A new career was born, and Gable has since painted many murals, “The Gathering” his most recent.
The site for the school mural is the school’s main hallway that measures 12 feet by 36 feet. That size was too large for a mural, so the finished dimensions are eight feet by 24 feet in proportion with the overall wall. Acrylic paint is the medium. John Ater, a local painter, generously mounted the mural on the wall as a gift to the school.
Gable checked in with Carol McFadden, the children’s librarian at Patten Free Library, and Chris Van Dusen, a well-known Maine illustrator and author, for possible artists to paint on the mural. He selected 10 of them. And by request from the schoolteachers, he also painted Tom Soule, the principal of the school.
The following artists and their book themes are incorporated into the mural: Dahlov Ipcar and “Lobsterman”; E.B. White and “Charlotte’s Web”; Barbara Cooney and “Miss Rumphius”; Margaret Wise Brown and “The Runaway Bunny”; Chris Van Dusen and “A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee”; Robert McCloskey and “Time of Wonder”; Melissa Sweet and “Love & Kisses”; N.C. Wyeth and “Treasure Island,” “The Deer Slayer,” “Robin Hood,” and “The Boys of King Arthur”; Kevin Hawkes and “Weslandia”; and Ashley Bryan and “What a Wonderful World.”
Gable’s wife Bobbi is a professional oil painting restorer. With her skills, she is able to help her husband by painting backgrounds and other tight work on the murals. The muralist even had Bobbi sign her name on the mural as one of the two artists.
One of the thrills for Gable was to have 160 Woolwich Central School students, who have been studying in an empty Bath elementary school for two years, come visit him twice in his downtown Bath studio. They were enthusiastic about the figures and themes in the mural, yet they added their own ideas, some of which Gable included.
Since public monies have funded the mural, the public is cordially invited to see it. Happy memories will tug at adults’ hearts when they see Charlotte, the spider, runaway bunnies, and Treasure Island’s pirate.
The impact that the mural will have on Woolwich school children will be profound.
“It will delight and inspire the children to look at art, fantasy, and creativity and, above all, to appreciate a love of reading,” said Gable.
Every school wants to captivate its young. “The Gathering” does just that.