The beloved Ogunquit, Maine artist Norman E. West passed away on Friday, November 11, 2016.
His obituary reads:
‘Norman was passionate about art and became a renowned artist and teacher. He attributes his next door neighbor in Newton, Clifford R. Bryer (Uncle Cliff), for not only giving him art lessons but taking him to museums and cultivating his passion for art. Norman taught many classes at many schools – Heartwood College of Art, Traip Academy and St. Thomas Aquinas to name a few. His work is around the world in many private collections but locally it can be found 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.‘
On May 6, 2017, the Barn Gallery hosted West’s estate sale. For the day, the entire main gallery space – including all of the walls PLUS a series of tables – were covered with the left behind evidence of a single life lived in the arts.
Many rough and tumble unfinished and unsigned pieces were hung alongside a few better examples of fleshed-out and completed compositions. The areas where the floor meets the gallery walls was lined with framed drawings of multiple sizes. The tables were piled high with a mishmash of grab-bag offerings. Fully realized work. Prints. Drawings. Sketches. Abandoned ideas. Simple scraps of paper covered with paint and pencil concepts. Some of it was West’s work. Some of it was the work of other artists West had mentored throughout the years. Others were pieces from other artists which West had collected along the way. A few were random printed items he had seen interest in and held onto for one reason or another.
Each piece, every item, a tiny facet of the personality and personal history of artist Norman West.
Everyone who lives through the moments and shifting periods of creativity probably has a similar collection of completed work, false starts, back burner notions, keepsake memories, and pieces from fellow artists. They’re on our walls. In our closets. Stuffed into boxes and drawers. Stored away in heavy chests. Piled up on the floors of our working spaces. These are the raw materials which help give shape to (and also emerge as the result of) our artistic imaginations, aesthetic principles, and creative endeavors.
At the estate sale, West’s artwork treasures AND the odds and ends debris were available for purchase – and most of it at surprisingly low prices, seemingly meant to move the inventory into the lives of others. Crowds of people who knew West made their way through the gallery, digging through the piles of paintings, prints, and drawings; searching for something that spoke to them or held some memory of the talented and generous artist they once had the pleasure of meeting or knowing.
As participants in the estate sale perused the varied items, many traded stories and memories about West with each other. They discussed his work. His processes. The way he touched their lives. Happiness at having known him. Sadness that he’s no longer with us.
Before I left, I bought a simple and small pencil sketch of an Ogunquit beach scene with a few roughly depicted figures in the foreground and the hint of a sailboat shape gliding on the water towards the back. It’s just the type of subject matter that I’ve seen West create successfully in some of his larger and celebrated pieces. This one is tiny. It’s on the desk across the room as I type this. When I see it, it makes me smile.
Maybe one day in the distant future, when I’m recently gone, someone else will find it on a table, alongside my professional photo prints, scribbles in notebooks, half-finished writing projects, and the various pieces of art I’ve collected from talented friends throughout the years. We may depart, but the pieces of work we’ve created often endure, even the small stuff, making journeys we may have never imagined they had in them…
A couple of years back, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting West at his home studio in Ogunquit to interview him for a piece that was published in the July/August 2015 issue of Artscope Magazine.
In the video below, I’ve included some select audio (of VERY middling quality) from that interview against the backdrop of images from Norman giving an artist talk (with Don Gorvett) at the Barn Gallery on Shore Road in Ogunquit (2015), images of Norman’s home studio (2015), and images of Norman’s estate sale the other day.
The audio recording is rough. Much like many of the pieces offered at West’s estate sale – it wasn’t originally intended for wide release. But it is West in his own words, and I thought some people might appreciate the opportunity to hear his voice again.
Click ‘Play’ below to listen to the interview…