News Feature

Castine
Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 10, 2017
Clark Fitz-Gerald remembered as sculptor, artist, neighbor

Clark Fitz-Gerald

Clark Fitz-Gerald’s sketchbooks feature many irreverent drawings of Castine summer visitors.

Photo courtesy of Castine Historical Society

by Anne Berleant

Clark Fitz-Gerald, a renowned sculptor who made Castine his home from 1956 until his death in 2004, had his life and work drawn in words that described the man along with the artist in “Treasures from Clark Fitz-Gerald’s Sketchbooks,” on August 6 at Emerson Hall.

Fitz-Gerald’s son, Stephen Fitz-Gerald, used memories from his childhood and adulthood to accompany a slide show of his father’s works, mostly from sketchbooks donated to the Castine Historical Society, which hosted the lecture. Stephen and his sister Lea gave a substantial archive of Fitz-Gerald’s papers to the Society earlier this year.

A sculptor in his own right, Stephen also illuminated the artistic process behind Fitz-Gerald’s work, including early “Picasso-esque” sketches of female nudes done in the 1940s.

Fitz-Gerald was a man who coughed up blood from welding steel in an unventilated room; whose sculptures were part of his children’s daily lives at home until, one day, they disappeared; and who Stephen estranged himself from for over a decade before reconnecting over welding a commissioned sculpture in Amarillo, Texas.

“At the end of his life, he was my best friend,” Stephen said.

His father’s sketchbooks, filled with irreverent illustrations and text of summer tourists and other folk, where blue-footed boobies share pages with caricatures of tennis players from the Castine courts, was also his “personal way of digesting his emotion experiences,” Stephen said.

One drawing, of Stephen as an older boy holding a dead bird, stricken after unthinkingly killing it with a well-aimed rock, perfectly illustrated this.

“He knew without words what had happened,” Stephen said.

Dozens of sketches were character studies from nature: frogs, birds, fish, bones, insects, shells, dogs, more dogs, and cats.

“Everywhere he went, he collected natural objects,” Stephen said.

A 1940 graduate of the Philadelphia College of Art, Fitz-Gerald taught in Massachusetts, St. Louis, Mo., and Wisconsin before moving to Castine as a full-time sculptor and artist.

The slides illustrate his decades in Castine, alternating from a life-size metal figure picking stones from Back Shore to a caricature of the “Venus of Back Shore,” from a summer library patron carrying a swaying tower of books to a wooden seal sculpted from a felled spruce tree from his back yard.

“He wouldn’t turn his nose up at any inspiration,” Stephen said. “Inspiration was where you found it.”

Clark Fitz-Gerald

Clark Fitz-Gerald’s sketchbooks feature many irreverent drawings of Castine summer visitors.

Photo courtesy of Castine Historical Society