October 28, 2012

Portland illustrator Scott Nash has been busy around town

Nash has led the effort to reface the clock tower at Monument Square with MECA student artwork, published a new book and organized a show at the library.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Scott Nash in his Portland office and, below, Captain Blue Jay, the star of his new book

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Nash and his students have made clever use of the non-functioning clock tower in Portland’s Monument Square.

Images courtesy of the artist

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At 53, he remains a kid at heart.

Nash lives on an island, takes a boat to work and drives a bright blue Volkswagon Beetle. The only reason he chose the Beetle is because he is too tall to fold his 6-foot-5 frame into his preferred ride, the Nash Metropolitan.

His car doubles as his office. For "Blue Jay," Nash spent many writing hours in the Beetle, pecking away on his laptop with headphones tucked in his ears. His music of choice for this book: Mendelssohn's orchestral work.

"It became a way for me to set an atmosphere. I swear it affects not the style of the writing, but the storytelling," he said.

For a book in progress, Nash has switched tempos and mood, and is listening to a lot of John Coltrane.

He also writes in coffee shops. For "Blue Jay," his preferred java hut was the now-closed North Star on Munjoy Hill. The Crooked Mile on Milk Street is a current favorite.

"Blue Jay" comes at an unusually busy time for Nash. This fall, he coordinated an exhibition of work by renowned illustrator Edward Gorey at the Portland Public Library. That exhibition, which is on view into December, was a personal quest for Nash.

Personally and professionally, Gorey is an important and influential figure in Nash's life. Gorey lived on Cape Cod, and was active in the Cape's cultural happenings.

As a youngster, Nash recognized him on the streets, saw him in the cafes and attended the puppet shows that he sometimes hosted. When Nash was in college and developing his style as an illustrator, he went through a phase when he mimicked Gorey.

It was pure circumstance that the Gorey show came to be in Portland.

Without a plan in mind, this summer Nash reached out to the Gorey Charitable Trust in hopes of organizing a small exhibition of the late illustrator's work somewhere in Portland. Because Maine is home to a large number of well-established illustrators, Nash thought it would be a good idea to begin an annual exhibition featuring the work of pioneers and mentors.

Turns out that the trust had a Gorey show on tour, and had an opening in October. But Nash had no place to put the show, and hardly enough time to pull it together.

After meeting with representatives of the trust on the Cape, Nash and his wife, Nancy Gibson, lamented their bad timing over a stout cup of black coffee. That very moment, an e-mail arrived from the Portland Public Library asking if Nash might be interested in organizing an exhibition.

The library happened to have some time this fall. Could Nash pull something together on short notice?


"This is all about Portland," said Nash. "This would never have happened in a place like Boston. This creative community, I can literally walk down the street and get so much done. An idea I throw out on the street in the morning becomes real by afternoon. We can make things happen here, and we do. "


Another example of Nash's influence on the local art scene can be seen on the non-functioning clock tower at Monument Square. A few months ago, Nash and the students in the illustration department at MECA began something of a guerilla art project to bring the clock tower back to life.

In the cover of darkness, Nash and a co-conspirator from Portland's business community stealthily affixed the students' witty circular designs to the clock face on each side.

At first, City Hall balked. Someone over there decided the clock tower was no place for art, and sent out an anti-graffiti quad to remove the pieces a few hours after they went up.

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