April 14, 2013

Author Q & A: Very Truly Yours

Carl Little's new book showcases the stunning realism of the art of Joel Babb.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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click image to enlarge

Carl Little


6 to 8 p.m. June 14, Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress St.; 775-6148

6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 21, Northeast Harbor Library, 1 Joy Road; 276-3333


Some of the commissions are wide open. The one in the lobby of the Charles Hotel, for example, everybody sees. But there were some other ones that were kind of hidden away. And Joel takes enormous pride in these paintings, some of which took him a long, long time to paint. They're really remarkable.

That was a special treat, and I think the other real special treat for me in general when I'm writing about artists like this is having the opportunity to visit with them in their studios. He has a place over in East Sumner, Maine, which is really in the boonies, and has a beautiful studio there. To be able to spend time talking about his work surrounded by his work -- surrounded by the studies and just the milieu of the artist, and the mahl stick that he uses for some of the perspective work and now the computer monitor that's right next to the easel -- you get a wonderful sense of the artist at work, and I've always considered that a privilege. 

Q: While looking at the Boston paintings, I felt like they could be of historical importance someday, because it's a snapshot of the culture and the way the city looked at a certain point in time. He seemed to think that too, mentioning in his notes that their "topographical accuracy" could make the works of historic value. How do you think future generations will look upon his work?

A: I think you bring up a great point. It's absolutely true. The landscape's changing all the time. Green spaces shift and move and appear and disappear. Whole neighborhoods, in some cases. These places change, and he has indeed captured them at a particular moment. 

Q: I'm interested in the painting of the first kidney transplant because, as a science reporter, I interviewed both Dr. (Joseph) Murray and Ronald Herrick, the Maine man who donated his kidney to his brother in that operation. It says in the book that Babb worked from old photographs and the doctors' memories. Can you talk a little bit about how he put that together?

A: It's a great story, because it also has personal resonance. Joel himself had an operation when he was little. It was very serious, and it was heart-related. So when he was approached to do this commission of the first kidney transplant, he had a sort of personal stake in it. It was almost a way to overcome some of the early trauma.

It was a very complicated and complex commission because to recreate the scene, he not only worked from old photographs, but he also interviewed the doctors. And I think in some cases he got different stories and different perspectives because we all, in retrospect, remember things differently. And so he had to deal with that. He's very proud of that painting. It's in the medical library, and it's opposite another great medical painting from American art history. 

Q: Who are you writing about next?

A: I'm not sure. There are a couple of things in the works. But you know, living in Maine, this is like art central. There are just so many great artists. There are so many people I'd like to write about, books or whatever. There's no end, and I'm discovering people all the time -- new people; there are people from the past who reappear. It's really wonderful. It keeps me very busy.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:



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