Deborah LaVine, left, and Betsy Berenson, both of Los Angeles, California, visit Richard and Beverly Atkinson at the Brewster Mansion in Buxton. The visitors are planning a film about folk artist John Brewster Jr. Robert Lowell/American Journal

BUXTON — Captivated by the historical story of a deaf folk artist, two California filmmakers on a mission traveled here recently to gain flavor for a project.

Film director Deborah LaVine and costume designer-actress Betsy Berenson were in town this month from Los Angeles to learn more about the life of itinerant portrait artist John Brewster Jr., who died here 165 years ago on Aug. 13, 1854.

A John Brewster Jr. painting of Marcia Ingraham of Paris Hill sold for $400,000 in 2014. File photo

He lived much of his life at Tory Hill with his brother, Dr. Royal Brewster. He was born deaf and was unable to speak.

Earlier this month, LaVine and Berenson toured the Brewster Mansion, owned by Richard and Beverly Atkinson. The Atkinsons related stories about the Brewsters, the artist and their home, which was built in 1805.

“This house is living and breathing,” LaVine said.

Brewster, born in Connecticut, in adult life journeyed throughout Maine and New England to paint portraits. He often stayed with the families of his subjects, Beverly Atkinson said.

“He’s famous in the art world,” she said.

At 51, Brewster enrolled in a school to learn American Sign Language.

“Quite an accomplishment for someone 51,” said Brent Hill of the Buxton-Hollis Historical Society.

Both Los Angeles women are attracted to Brewster’s story. When Berenson saw one of Brewster’s paintings on a antiques program on TV, “I went crazy,” she said.

LaVine, in an email to the American Journal, said she was similarly inspired. “One reason is the simple fact Mr. Brewster’s work is rich and haunting,” LaVine said.

An 1843 Brewster painting of a young girl, Marcia Ingraham of Paris Hill, sold at a Maine auction for more than $400,000 in 2014, according to the Portland Press Herald.

The Atkinsons have an original Brewster painting of the Rev. Paul Coffin, first settled minister in Buxton. Royal Brewster married Coffin’s daughter, Dorcas.

The Rev. Paul Coffin painted by John Brewster Jr. Courtesy photo

Many of Brewster’s works are in museums and Beverly Atkinson said some Brewster paintings are valued more at more than $1 million.

“Besides his beautiful portraits, Brewster’s deafness is a huge part of why we’re attracted to the story,” LaVine said.

“So, a project that can include some of my favorite actors (who simply happen to be deaf) and tell a story about an individual who made a large contribution to art in the 1800s (who happens to be deaf) is great synchronicity,” LaVine said.

LaVine directed a film, “Wild Prairie Rose,” with a deaf character role and Berenson was a cast member. LaVine has directed eight films and more than 300 professional plays.

They also want to focus on the women and children in Brewster’s portraits as they were less heralded than the men he painted, she said.

“The story will pivot around Brewster, but through his lens we hope to learn more about the amazing ladies and children less known,” LaVine said.

The mission now is to land funding for a film.

A film could be shot locally. “Buxton is amazing,” LaVine said. “Buxton is point and shoot beautiful.”

Local talent would likely be included. “We want the making of the film to be a community event that embraces our new friends and Brewster’s real world,” she said.

In their research, LaVine credits Hill with providing information that will help shape their story. She praised the Atkinsons as gracious and generous.

“We didn’t want to leave,” LaVine said. “If all goes well, and we can get some funding, we hope to be back soon.”


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