December 30, 2012

In memoriam

The bright light cast by Maine's vibrant cultural scene grew a bit dimmer in 2012 with the passing of some of the state's leading artists, musicians, writers, teachers and activists.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Will Barnet at the age of 101 in July at the Rock Garden Inn in Phippsburg.

2012 Telegram file

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Wil Barnet’s “The Blue Robe,” 1971, etching and aquatint on Arches cover paper.

Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art

Additional Photos Below

B.K. 

HILTON KRAMER, 84

HILTON KRAMER looked like an art critic is supposed to look -- professorial with a perfect bow tie, bushy eyebrows and a head of wavy hair. His voice was weathered with authority, and when he used it, either in print or in person, the former chief art critic at The New York Times commanded attention.

He died in late March at age 84 in Harpswell.

Kramer became an art critic in the 1950s, and joined the Times in 1965. In addition to his tenure there, he was founding editor of The New Criterion magazine, a monthly journal that critiques the arts. He and his wife, Esta, began coming to Maine in the early 1960s, and bought a home on the midcoast in 1987.

Kramer had an international reputation, and did not suffer fools. In its obituary about Kramer, the Times cited the critic's "imperious judgments" and uncompromising standards:

"He was a passionate defender of high art against the claims of popular culture and saw himself not simply as a critic offering informed opinion on this or that artist but also as a warrior upholding the values that made civilized life worthwhile."

Dozier Bell, a midcoast Maine artist, knew Kramer personally and considered him a friend. She admired him on many levels, personally and professionally, and always learned something when she read his column.

"His impressive erudition came across with remarkable clarity, style and often humor, making his summaries of the art historical precedents and contemporary art world context for a given show a welcome educational opportunity," she told the Portland Press Herald after Kramer's death.

"That alone might have been enough to make me keep reading him. But it was his insistence on art as a worthy and serious spiritual endeavor, a way of connecting to who and what we are, that sold me on his criteria and got me enthusiastic about being an artist again."

B.K.

NICK CURRAN, 35

WHEN HE was just a teenager, Nick Curran was already turning heads among Maine musicians with his dynamic guitar playing and singing.

By the time he was 19, Curran had left his home in Sanford for Austin, Texas, where he began touring with rockabilly veteran Ronnie Dawson. He spent much of his career in Austin, a hot-bed of the Americana and roots-based music that Curran so deeply loved.

Curran was just 35 when he died in October after a three-year battle with oral cancer.

Curran played in a band headed by his father, Mike Curran & The Tremors, as a teen before heading to Texas. After his stint with Dawson, he toured and recorded with rockabilly singer Kim Lenz.

He was a member of several bands, including the well-known blues-rock group The Fabulous Thunderbirds, from 2004 to 2007, and performed four songs for the HBO TV series "True Blood" in 2008.

Longtime Portland musician Matthew Robbins of King Memphis remembered Curran as someone whose talent and ability to learn were evident right away.

"Nick was like a sponge. He could see someone play something and play it right back," Robbins told the Press Herald at the time of Curran's death. "He was pretty amazing."

R.R.

RUSSELL LIBBY, 56

MOST PEOPLE knew Russell Libby for his work as executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, or MOFGA. And well they should: Libby and MOFGA became such institutions in Maine that Gov. Paul LePage ordered flags flown at half-staff following Libby's death from cancer at age 56 in December.

Libby was much more than a farmer, activist and farm advocate, though. He also was a writer -- a poet, to be precise.

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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Howard Hopkins

2000 Telegram file

Hilton Kramer
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Hilton Kramer

The New York Times

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Nick Curran

2010 photo by Matthew Robbins

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Russell Libby

2012 Telegram file

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Michael Macklin

2012 Telegram file

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Thomas Cornell

2010 Telegram file

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Thomas Cornell’s “Girl with a Green Shirt,” pastel, 1992.

Courtesy photo

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Mac McHale performs with fiddler Erica Brown in 2000.

2000 Telegram file

Richard Lawlor

Courtesy photo



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