The Day – Mystery painting seeks home

Judge Joe Q. Koletsky loved to sail. He loved his wife Ann too, so every spring and summer afternoon they put their Herreshoff day sailor out to sea right after work and spent the evening on the gently bouncing main road off the coast of Noank.

Joe loved the law too. He studied it at Yale, then practiced it in New London, and then became a judge. His behavior and decisions were highly respected.

One day, 30 or 40 years ago, Joe came home with a painting. Ann remembers being “pretty tickled”, excited to have bought it “on the street, from the artist”. She doesn’t remember which street, but she’s pretty sure it was in New London.

She doesn’t remember the artist’s name either.

It was a relatively simple watercolor of a small sailboat that was very similar to hers. His burgundy-colored spinnaker was swollen with the wind, the coast beyond was flush with summer, the sky the kind sailors like to see.

The painting ended up on the wall of the judge’s chambers in Hartford. There it hung sunny and windy through decades of trials and judgments.

The judge withdrew and soon began to show signs of dementia. He fought it and sailed and drove on as long as he could.

In March of this year he got a contract with Covid in a nursing home. It hit his brain and made dementia worse. In August he continued sailing. He was 82 years old.

His widow went through the personal effects in his office. Among them was the beloved painting, which, despite its artistic simplicity, had spoken to him in a deeply secret way.

At this point she began to wonder who had painted the scene that so realistically portrayed the life she and Joe had led on the water.

She was of an age when her Waterford home was full of beloved clutter, the clusters of her life, everything so full of memories and meaning. But it was time to downsize. Things had to go.

Nobody throws art away. But what to do with the one who meant so much to her? And who was the artist? Maybe he or she would like to have it again, or at least know his story.

The logical place to find out was the New London Hygienic Gallery. Mrs. Koletsky showed the painting to the director Bess Gaby.

Gaby was fascinated. She too wanted to discover the artist. She showed the painting to the hygienic crowd, but no one recognized the style.

The painting was not signed. The back was sealed so that if it were cut open it would ruin the frame. But there was a clue: a sticker with the name of the New London Framing Shop Studio 33 across the street.

Gaby took the painting there and handed it to the owner, Sara Munro. Ms. Munro immediately said, “Mack Lucas.”

Munro describes Lucas as a “real character” who got around to burning scraps of material to paint on in the late 1970s and 1980s. He also rescued paintable surfaces from garbage containers: cardboard, shutters, wood, everything more or less flat. He had the look of a classic starving artist but owned a house on Blinman Street. He hung around the Hygienic when the gallery was still in its infancy.

Mr Lucas died in 1988, but he lives on in a painting that was loved.

And Ms. Koletsky wants to bring the painting to the community she and Joe loved, and it looks like the Hygienic could be his new home.

Glenn Cheney lives in Sprague.

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