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Behind the Scenes

Rockland marine painter to demonstrate his craft at local school

Rockland native Michael Keane is donating the work he will create.

Rockland Education Foundation

Rockland native Michael Keane is donating the work he will create.

In a rare opportunity to learn about marine painting from a specialist — and see a new work of art take shape in real time — an audience will look on as renowned painter Michael Keane executes an oil painting on stage while explaining his process and artistry.

Keane, a graduate of Rockland High School who studied with master painters such as Marshall Joyce of Kingston, achieved national status in the 1980s when his own mastery of the traditional genre of the marine oil painting was discovered by art collectors. Since then, his original paintings have been snapped up by buyers, and his solo shows on Nantucket are considered events in the art world.

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Billed as a painting demonstration and lecture, Keane’s return to his alma mater on Nov. 4 will raise money for the Rockland Education Foundation. Last year, the foundation donated $27,000 in grants to supplement the public school district’s offerings, with its benefit events including a golf tournament that generated $18,000.

The Rockland Education Foundation “is a group of alumni, friends, and residents of the town formed 24 years ago to raise funds to give enrichment grants to teachers and schools,” said member Janet Cann. 

“It has heartened me as an educator to see what $1,000 can do for a classroom teacher,” said the foundation’s president, Scott MacKinlay, a former Rockland High principal.

He said the foundation has raised roughly $500,000 “in a blue-collar town” over the past 16 years, and built up a perpetuity account of $150,000. In addition to grants for classroom instruction based on applications from teachers chosen by a committee, the fund has bought 75 computers for the town’s three elementary schools.

MacKinlay was the high school’s principal in the 1960s when Keane was a student.

Keane has donated the painting he will produce during the demonstration to the foundation, which plans to sell it at auction. The foundation placed a reserve price of $1,500 on the piece, establishing a bottom price. MacKinlay said Keane’s original oil paintings have fetched $100,000. 

Keane said he hopes his painting will help raise money for scholarships because of the high costs of college education. “The kids need a lot of help these days,” he said. “I want to put a dent in it. Give something back. . . It’s just a nice thing to do.”

He said he had wanted to be an artist who painted seascapes from about “‘age 5. It just attracted me.”

He studied both landscape painting and portraiture, then took visual design in college, but found studying less interesting than painting. “I was hands on,” he said.

Studying with top marine painters proved the most valuable learning experience for him, Keane said. He described Joyce as “a top-gun illustrator during the golden age of illustration in the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties.’’ Joyce was also a marine painter and “a great colorist,” Keane said.

The painter, who works in a studio on his “old horse farm” by Indian Head River in Hanover, said one doesn’t have to go far to find subjects to paint on the South Shore.

“I use Duxbury a lot, all the coastal areas around here,” he said. “There’s a lot to see if you open your eyes.”

He sketches on site: “That’s a good way to get the color and the light,” he said. While photography is fine for detail, the painter’s eye is more accurate for “color and notes in light and atmosphere,” Keane said.

For his demonstration, he is planning an oil painting of a coastal scene with a catboat, a favorite subject for Keane.

A close student of ship design, he worked as a marine quality-assurance inspector at Quincy’s Fore River Shipyard in earlier days, and has restored blueprints by C.C. Hanley, a famed wooden-boat designer, for the Quincy Historical Society. 

Keane’s demonstration and lecture will take place in Rockland High’s recently restored auditorium.

“It’s state of the art,” MacKinlay said of the auditorium, and an ideal venue for projecting the emerging painting on a big screen. “I’m very enthusiastic about this,” he said.

So is the town. Rockland’s Board of Selectmen recently proclaimed Nov. 4 as Michael Keane Day.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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