Bob Perrin was born in Medford, Massachusetts. He studied art at the School of Practical Art in Boston (now called Art Institute of Boston). During World War II, Bob painted in France while serving in the armed forces. He painted an extensive mural of the U.S.O. Club in Chateau Thierry. In 1945, just out of the army, he found the unspoiled, very paintable Nantucket Island, which he believed was the ideal place to enhance his career.
He had made a name for himself among top American artists before coming to spend summers to Nantucket in 1946. At that point he was splitting his time between Nantucket and Rockport, MA, where he first began to paint commercially. In 1956 he opened the first art gallery on Old South Wharf. Four years later he was joined by The Lobster Pot Gallery. In 1966 he built his gallery on Washington Street and moved to Nantucket permanently. He has continued there every since and is open to the public from 1pm-4pm. A visit to his eclectic gallery will unfold many wonders of his unique style. Most are held in spellbound conversation with this fascinating, kind and extremely talented gentleman. He has painted five decades as a Nantucket artist.
Some highlights of his career :
- Elected to the American Watercolor Society in 1956, a most distinguished honor. This exclusive society has approximately 500 members worldwide.
- Mentioned in “One Hundred Watercolor Techniques” for his watercolor technique along with other renowned artists such as Andrew Wyeth and Ogden Plysmer.
- Mentioned in many other prominent art publications such as “Who’s Who In Amer ican Art,” “Who’s Who In the East,” and “Who’s Who in the Arts & Antiques.”Won many top awards from the Artists’ Association of Nantucket for his paintings.
- Has become known for his paintings that show foggy days on the waterfront, “Perrin puddles” in street scenes and his current theme of showing people of the past as ghosts.
- Bob has been on Channel 4, (Evening Magazine), featured in a chronicle on Channel 5, and on Channel 7, in a segment on New England.
By Sara Rosner
I&M Staff Writer
Several days before he died in his sleep in 1999 at age 84, Nantucket painter C. Robert Perrin and his close friend and caregiver Kathleen Knight made a promise to each other,“I said I want you to be my guardian angel, and he said he would, in exchange for a show at Christmastime every year,” said Knight, owner of The Gallery at Four India. “He loved holidays.”
Knight is carrying out that promise by showing a retrospective of Perrin’s work through Christmas, focusing largely on the watercolors he created while serving in Europe during World War II, as well as some of the iconic images he later painted on Nantucket that made him famous.
After Perrin suffered a stroke that left him handicapped in 1993, Knight became his legal guardian and cared for him at his Washington Street Extension home, and later at Our Island Home, until his death.
The show, which went up Nov. 13 at The Gallery at Four India, is titled “France & Germany 1940-46, through the eyes of C. Robert Perrin.” It consists of about 15 watercolors painted during the artist’s service in World War II and the ghostly depictions of Nantucket that became his artistic calling card.
Several of the works on display show shadowy human figures super-imposed over familiar island scenes such as the moors and Upper Main Street, or reflected in puddles or the harbor.
Artist Tom Mielko, former owner of the Mielko Gallery on Old South Wharf, met Perrin while living on the island in the 1970s and said that his other-worldly images made Perrin’s work unique.
“I loved his techniques of the shadows in the water and his ghost images . . . I think that’s what made him unique on Nantucket is those wonderful watercolor images of ghosts,” Mielko said. “I think it was the way he captured the translucency of the paint. It’s a technique that’s very difficult to capture with watercolor.”
Perrin captured an otherworldly essence in a work titled “Main Street Vendor,” which depicts a dark translucent woman among a wagon and bucket of bright flowers on Upper Main Street on a gray and rainy day.
“He was fascinated by ghosts,” Knight recalled. “People are fascinated by things they don’t understand and he tried to make them visual.”
Perrin was stationed in Paris when he was a young artist graduate of The School of Practical Art in Boston (now the Art Institute of Boston of Lesley University) and worked for the Christian Science Monitor as an illustrator. For six years he painted watercolor depictions of his war years and illustrated a G.I. Jane comic strip in Army newspapers.
Perrin moved to the island after serving in the U.S. Army as an illustrator from 1939 to 1946, capturing scenes from domestic encampments as well as European landscapes like Chateau Thierry in France. His work titled “The Fertile Rhineland,” shows a yellow dirt road under the shadow of dark mountain with a scrawling caption in the margin that reads “Note the castle on the hill is where Hitler met Chamberlain in 1939 to continue peace at all costs.”
Knight said that Perrin, who was originally from western Massachusetts, felt like he had found his rightful place when he arrived on Nantucket at the invitation of a Boston patron in the late 1940s and that he expressed his love for the island through his work and his presence in the community. Perrin opened the first art gallery on Old South Wharf in 1956 and, in addition to creating paintings, produced tourism materials for the Town of Nantucket including postcards, posters and pamphlets as well as children’s books and comic strips for the Christian Science Monitor. Some of these articles will be on display at the retrospective, including a poster that depicts a whimsical study of cartoon whales.
“He thought it was the greatest place he had ever discovered and he wanted to share it,” Knight said. “He loved Nantucket. I never met anybody who loved Nantucket as much as he did.”
The Gallery at Four India Street is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and will be open on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and on Sunday during Christmas Stroll from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.