Carlisle adds Artist's Touch to Library

SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — It takes a brave and creative person to climb up 25 feet of scaffolding to paint on a surface over one's head.

But local artist Gordon Carlisle did just that for two weeks earlier this month as he scaled the metal frames to match up the artwork on two panels of the ceiling of the town's new library.

Well, the library isn't exactly new, and that is how Carlisle's talents came into play. The facility moved from the historic Jewett-Eastman House on Portland Street in March to its new space at 27 Young St.

With a $1 million capital campaign and many fund-raisers through the Friends of the South Berwick Library, the new space, formerly St. Michael's Church, has slowly been transformed.

After knocking down a dividing wall and adding carpet and new bookshelves, the Great Hall is starting to take shape. The 25-foot high ceilings in the Great Hall of the former church have had water damage over the years, according to library director Karen Eger.

"I know they were repaired once about 10 years ago," she said. "When we did our lead abatement early on in the process of converting the church to the library two years ago, they found damage to four of the ceiling panels."

Ricci Lumber of Portsmouth, N.H., was contracted to repair the panels, but two of the panels in the front needed to be repainted and stenciled to match the rest of the ceiling. This also included decorative painting on the new wooden beams.

The library called in Carlisle, a former South Berwick resident who now lives in Eliot.

  "We knew he had a good reputation for both his talent and also for working 'up in the air,'" Eger said.

Carlisle spent two weeks aloft, first tracing the stencils on the undamaged panels.

"I matched the paint colors up as best I could," he said.

He also painted the two 11-by-11-foot panels and added beige dots around the edges, as well as stenciling the wooden beams.

Carlisle grew up in suburban New Jersey and began studying pastel portraiture at Montclair Art Museum's Yard School of Art.

"I was encouraged as a kid to explore art," he said.

He went on to study at Carnegie-Mellon, the Art Student's League of New York and the Boston Museum School of Fine Art before graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1973.

  He earned his degree in printmaking and, with a partner in Oakland, Calif., started a silkscreen printing company.

Carlisle moved to Portsmouth in 1982 and set up a studio in the city's Button Factory. He became fascinated with theatre, designing sets and silkscreening publicity materials for a local troupe, Generic Theater.

In 1984, Carlisle was asked by a small group of budding muralists in Portsmouth to join them for the complete redecoration of Christ the King Church in Ludlow, Mass.

He was awarded a New Hampshire State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship in 1999 for his activity as a muralist.

Carlisle, who lived in South Berwick for 11 years, said the new library is a "great retrofit of an old space."

By Suzanne Laurent, Seacost Online

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