The spirit of a loved one who has passed from our living world, lives on in stories and remembrances. Storytelling is a creative medium for expressing deep grief and feeling the kinship of love. Creativity is a life-giving medium. When we tell the stories of the people we love, that love lives again. This post is in memory of Norman E. West – artist, teacher, mentor to Art HOPE, and loved friend.
In May 1995 I moved to Ogunquit, Maine from New York City. Coming here was transformative, to this beautiful place by the sea where I had spent happy summer days since my teens. Embraced by this unique arts community I had an instant family of artist friends and familiars. My luck was to rent Oswaldo Coolidge’s classic cottage, just near Perkins Cove on the old Dan Sing Fan property. Upon arriving, I set up my studio space and was unpacking art when a friend visited with a wonderfully animated soul. Norman was a petite, robust guy with a twinkle in his eyes and an unforgettable giggle. Within minutes I fell in love with this wise and curious artist who recognized the artist in me. He started looking at everything and giving me much needed support to keep on my creative path. When I teared up, bubbling in the enthusiasm of meeting a kindred spirit, he said, “Oh, honey child. Keep doing your art”. I always loved hearing him say that. Norman was like a guardian angel, a friend who’d appear just when the kind embrace of unconditional friendship and encouragement was needed most.
During the late 1990’s into the new millennium, the Ogunquit arts were inspired by emerging artists and seasoned artists and master teachers, like Norman West and the late artists, Dewitt Hardy and George Burk. It was a colorful culture where the arts had a platform and a place to party. Norman was the heart and soul of that era. Those who danced within our circle of friends were part of a special time. With his best girl and artist muse by his side, the late Isabel Lewando, Norman was a star at the salon-style soirees in Perkins Cove and at candlelit cottages on Shore Road. He loved to get dolled up and go to a costume party, like the once lively Artist’s Ball at the Barn Gallery in Ogunquit. This community event will be revived and renamed the “Artist’s Jewelie Ball”, in Norman’s honor. A true master of the scene, he built and painted sets for various theatre companies in the seacoast area. Norman was a community artist who enriched the performing and visual arts.
An artist’s artist, Norman was a brilliant painter and colorist. His swift, agile hands were like extensions of his paint brush or one of the soft graphite pencils he used for drawing in the sketchbooks he carried everywhere, everyday. Norman worked tirelessly at his craft, and he never lost his passion for looking at art and making it. “Nature is the model”, he would say, a theme that resonated in his art and the way he taught. The ultimate mentor, his style was to inform and nurture students of all ages to do their best work. He taught the hard work of being an artist and making a work of art, how to “see” color, light, and life. Norman was a generous teacher who often spoke of the early mentors who recognized his artistic gifts and advanced his education. It was a great privilege for me to teach art by his side. We first collaborated in 1998 for an expressive arts program at York Hospital with youth groups in a drug prevention program. We made community wellness murals and painted teen centers. He was energized by working with young people. When Art HOPE first began offering programs in 2006 he helped support our 4-H volunteers and youth outreach in local schools. Until last year, he was a regular artist mentor at our Art HOPE Studios with cancer survivors and at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art origami gatherings. The sweet beach scene in this memorial post was painted by Norman at the Art HOPE Seawater Studio on Ogunquit Beach in August 2012.
I am grateful for our last visit, just last summer, when Norman came to my studio in Perkins Cove. He looked at my watercolor sketches and said, “try adding a little pastelie”. I promised him I would try silver point, but got really grossed out when he explained how to make egg tempura with raw eggs like a Renaissance master. I watched the gentle eloquence of his refined hands page through my sketchbooks and say, “oooh, that’s a jewelie”. Norman recognized what is beautiful and precious in life, like a jewel.
After a period of declining health, Norman passed away in November 2016. His remarkable body of work is in private collections around the world and locally at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, the Barn Gallery and Van Ward Gallery. He was a member of the Union of Maine Visual Artists, the Ogunquit Art Association, N.H. Art Association and was on the board of the Ogunquit Heritage Museum. A community benefits when one gifted individual gives us the gift of his intellectual and artistic brilliance. Thank you Norman West. Your legacy has enlivened our Ogunquit arts community.
In the spirit of community art-making, art-taking and art-giving, join me for a morning of creative wellness at the Art HOPE Studio at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art on Friday, August 4, 10 to noon. Enjoy observational drawing, watercolors, writing, and viewing one of Maine’s finest art collections. For my dear friend Norman, this program will be “a jewelie by the sea”.