Waldo Peirce


An American Original










"The Colors of Waldo"


A prolific artist and eccentric bon vivant, the late, great Waldo Peirce won a place in art history- and brought new meaning to the term "local color." Waldo Peirce, once called the "last of the bohemians," was born in 1884 in Bangor during an era when the city was known as the "lumber capital of the world"-but not as a place known for nurturing bohemians. By the time he died, nearly a century later, his passing was recorded in Time magazine with a sizzle that matched both his work and persona:

"Waldo Peirce, 85, American Impressionist painter, a bewhiskered giant of a man noted as much for his exuberant lifestyle as for his bold, spontaneous art; of pneumonia . . . Peirce lived with all the verve and gusto of his lifelong friend and traveling companion Ernest Hemingway, even to the point of taking four wives and running with the bulls in Pamplona. His splashy, sensuously colored paintings, said one critic, 'smell of sweat and sound like laughter.'" (Time, March 23, 1970)

Living in Paris off and on from 1910 to 1931, Waldo was immersed in the artistic culture of the '20s. He began his studies at the Academe Julien, where he quickly distinguished himself as a versatile, passionate painter. He studied with the Spanish Impressionist Ignacio Zuloaga, in Segovia.Waldo found early success in Paris with his Impressionist paintings as well as with commissions for portraits. Early in his career, he showed a remarkable sensitivity and eventually his palette was filled with vibrant colors. In 1915, in New York City, his works were exhibited along with those of John Sloan, George Bellows, and Edward Hopper.Waldo's career continued to flourish throughout the 1930s. He exhibited with Andrew Wyeth, George Bellows, and other artists. His Haircut by the Sea was added to the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Other works were placed in a number of museums. He was very generous in donating paintings to museums as well as to friends.

Waldo's technique and style changed, reflecting various influences. Early on, it was the Impressionists, especially Cézanne. His paintings of multipattern interiors, clothing, and carpets reveal a strong Matisse flavor. His roly-poly children suggest a taste for Renoir. Later in life, he could be placed with the Regionalists, who painted scenes of everyday life, play, and work. During his lifetime, Waldo Peirce's work was acquired by most of the country's major art museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, the Gallery of American Arts, and many, many others. Regionally, there are many places where his work can be enjoyed. Here are a few:

The University of Maine Museum of Art (UMMA) is home to a number of oils and watercolors; one finds his paintings mounted on walls throughout the campus. Pond Street School hangs in the provost's office.

About a dozen or so donated paintings hang in the library of the middle school in Searsport, where Peirce and his family lived for many years. Other places in Searsport where you can see his work are the Carriage House Inn and the Penobscot Marine Museum.

The Bangor Public Library owns a number of paintings, including the processional scene hanging in the reference room, a portrait of his uncle Luther mounted from time to time outside the director's office, and a very large painting of peasants in the stairwell leading to the children's reading room.

The Bangor Jewish Council was gifted two paintings, both done in Tunisia where Waldo and his third wife, Ivy, wintered for a couple of years: a sensitive portrait of an Arab elder, and a magnificent painting of the walled city of Hammamet.

A number of private collections of his works exist throughout the Bangor area. The Bangor Museum and Center for History is planning an exhibition of the work of Waldo Peirce in the spring of 2006.

from the article in December 2005 Bangor Metro Magazine.