FALMOUTH — Until very recently, the only thing John Knight knew about the country of Timor-Leste was that it had a violent and tumultuous past.

But now that U.S. Ambassador to Timor-Leste Judith Ryan Fergin, a Falmouth native, is installing several of Knight’s paintings in the U.S. embassy in Timor-Leste, he’s doing more research.

Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, is an island that was once a Portuguese colony, and then part of Indonesia. In 1999, the people voted overwhelmingly to become a sovereign nation and in 2002 the country declared its independence with the support of the United Nations, United States and Australia.

While it is a small, poor country, for years it made headlines for bloody battles between the anti-independence militias and the nationalists, until Australian peacekeepers stepped in.

Now, the country is enjoying relative peace and Fergin is working with the Timorese government, and the U.S. Departments of State, Defense and Justice to maintain peace on the small, island nation.

“Judith and I just happened to be walking into the gallery at the same time,” Knight, a Portland resident, said of the fortuitous meeting recently at the Elizabeth Moss Gallery that lead to Fergin’s request for his works.

Fergin grew up in Falmouth and graduated from Falmouth High School before earning her bachelor’s degree in international relations and master’s in national resource management, which led her all over the world as a foreign service officer. President Barack Obama nominated her as ambassador to Timor-Leste in June and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment in August.

“I was thrilled to discover Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Falmouth during one of my home leaves, and would wander through the exhibitions to see what Maine artists were up to,” Fergin said. “This year I went there with a mission.”

Fergin said she was excited to see that the gallery was displaying many Maine artists, because she was in search of art for the Art in Embassies program, which was established by the State Department in 1964 to exhibit American artists in the public rooms of nearly 180 embassies around the world.

“I had decided to exhibit art by Maine artists or of the Maine coast because, over the years of talking to foreign audiences, I have found it easy to take a discussion of New England art to the spirit of our hardy early colonists, and from there to the beliefs that underpin our Constitution and system of government,” Fergin said.

Knight’s paintings, which will remain on display in the Elizabeth Moss Gallery until Oct. 3, are brightly colored scenes from the Maine coast, from orange sunrises to pink sea urchins.

Knight said he was inspired by his 2-year-old daughter Chloe, who helped him rediscover the beauty of coastal Maine through the eyes of a child.

“It’s fun, just playing around with these forms,” Knight said. “I was able to try out a lot of different colors.”

Fergin said Knight’s paintings were a perfect fit for the Art in Embassies program.

“John’s works’ overall effect of brightness and energy will encourage discovery,” she said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]

Sidebar Elements

Portland artist John Knight and his 2-year-old daughter, Chloe, at an exhibit of his work at Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Falmouth. Knight’s art will soon be shipped to the island nation of Timor-Leste as part of the Art for Embassies program.

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