Wednesday, April 16, 2014
MONHEGAN ISLAND — Even from a distance, Fred Wiley was easily identified by his slight build and his loose manner of walking as he toted his easel and paint around the island, looking for the perfect place to settle in.
''On Monhegan, he's just an institution,'' said his wife, Faryl Wiley.
As a plein-air painter, Mr. Wiley never worked in a studio. When he was young, his wife said, he would often complete a painting in the morning and a second in the afternoon, then possibly set up a third to finish the next day.
''You could spot him miles away with the pack on his back, going along and looking at things, sizing things up for another picture,'' she said.
Painting on Monhegan Island was something that made Mr. Wiley happy in the later part of his life.
He died Sunday at the age of 93.
He was raised in West Hartford, Conn., and his passion for art began when he was in the fourth grade. While his classmates perfected penmanship, Mr. Wiley struggled. His teacher had sympathy for him and set a peace pipe on her desk for him to draw.
''He claims that was the beginning of his art career,'' his wife said.
Despite his interest in art, his mother encouraged him to pursue an education that could support a family. He graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1938 and went on to become a key figure in the plastics industry.
His wife admitted to not fully understanding the technicalities of what he did for work, but said ''he encompassed the entire history of the plastics industry.''
Mr. Wiley worked in research and later the development side of the industry. The notable projects he was involved with included developing the plastic bottle, light reflective markers, sonar applications and the cooling system for the Manhattan Project.
Yet art was all that interested Mr. Wiley, his wife said. The suggestion of a fellow artist and works by the likes of Winslow Homer stirred Mr. Wiley's interest in visiting Monhegan Island.
During one of his visits, he met Don Stone.
When Stone bought a second house on the island, he offered to sell his first to Mr. Wiley, who couldn't pass up the offer.
Stone and Mr. Wiley enjoyed each other's company as they painted around the island year-round. ''He's probably the most intelligent man that I ever met,'' Stone said.
A constant shake, caused by exposure to chemicals in the plastics he worked with, made it a challenge for Mr. Wiley to keep a steady hand and made it interesting to watch him paint, Stone said.
Nonetheless, he captured the essence of the island with a keen eye.
Easily switching from oils to watercolors, Mr. Wiley could create colors that represented not only what he saw, but injected feeling into his art, his wife said. Many people enjoyed his work because it was like taking pieces of the island into their homes.
To capture the scenes he desired, he often put himself in precarious positions. Once, his wife said, she didn't know where he was during a hurricane. Later, she found that he had closed himself up in a fishing shack to paint the interior.
Sometimes, she said, he would end up knee-deep in water after setting up when the tide was low and continuing to paint even as the tide came in around him.
''He managed to come home with a good one every time,'' she said. ''He'd go off with a blank canvas and come back with something.''
Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:
Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways.