Wright’s works on display at DCA in June

“The Slave Family” comes from a transparency found in the National Archives in Washington.

There are several ways to capture the history and color of the Eastern Shore. James Michener accomplished the task skillfully with best-seller words. In their book The Great Marsh, David Harp and Tom Horton share their journeys through winding creeks also using words, but enhanced by gorgeous photographs that range from Tundra Swan flying in formation across an expanse of marsh and sky, to little birds foraging in mudflats.

And then, there’s George Wright. He picks up a pencil, a crayon and a paintbrush loaded with color to tell his story. He’s been doing it since he was 5 years old.

“I would accompany my father to the docks where watermen unloaded a day’s catch. Sitting on barrels of oyster shells, I watched them, and drew them. My pencils came from the store where all of us kids got our school supplies.” Those childhood drawings still exist.

He was still a little kid, George says, when he was drawn to the cover art of the Saturday Evening Post. His mother would accompany him to the local store where he turned over a precious quarter to get the magazine and study the Norman Rockwell covers. That 25 cents was an investment in the Art education of a gifted child.

The slice of life approach to some of George’s work is Rockwellian. Nothing is mythical or romanticized, it is reality, familiar. We get an easy long look at lanky Jim Richardson, a famous Dorchester boatbuilder whose name is now on a local museum. Captain Jim is sharing his skill with a young boy. and the child’s clasped hands, the tilt of his head tell us the captain has the boy’s attention.

What I like so much about George Wright’s painting is that he has left us, the viewers, to imagine the smile or wonder of the attentive boy and in fact, take his place at cap’n Richardson’s seminar in sailboats. The painter has also captured a piece of history, the boatbuilding industry in Dorchester.

Mr. Wright considers himself “An American painter,” and has turned to historic sources for subjects. The portrait of “The Slave Family” comes from a transparency found in the National Archives in Washington. Eight enslaved people, possibly four generations, stand before a photographer. We don’t know why.

The family stands before a weatherbeaten cabin in sharp contrast to the mansion in the background. Each expressive face has its own story and the painter, with his artistic insistence that faces must be painted as they are, captures individual expressions and differences. Viewers get a chance to thoughtfully decipher them.

George explains, “Portrait painting requires a study of color. At Art School, I took the course on color for three years to make sure I had learned all I could about color; pigments, how they change when they dry, what colors do shadows have.” He got an A in the course and he uses every bit of those three years on his canvases.

Some of Mr. Wright’s portraits are well known and exhibited all over the country. His Babe Ruth and Ted Williams are in Baseball Museums. His Harriet Tubman portrait is all over Cambridge and in the Harriet Tubman Museum. A Frederick Douglas portrait is headed for the Ford’s Theater in Washington. Abraham Lincoln and Douglas were friends.

Another well-known work is a painting of Cambridge, and its lighthouse. George was instrumental in getting the bright idea of a lighthouse for the city. That painting of the Cambridge lighthouse was part of raising funds as well as support. He is also committed to other civic and community pursuits, namely AA and his church.

The gallery at the Dorchester Center for the Arts will be hanging these and many other paintings by George Wright in the entire month of June. You should plan on seeing the great work of a neighbor, Eastern Shore gem. This is a special show for our community and a precursor to the show Wright will be having in New York City. But George says, “A show at home with my friends and neighbors present is very exciting.”

“What’s your favorite painting ?” I asked George.

“The next one,” replied the American painter who paints every single day.

“Why?”

“Because I have to. It’s a passion.”

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