Duane Paluska at the June Fitzpatrick Gallery among his wood sculptures in 2003. Staff file photo by Doug Jones

Duane A. Paluska, an accomplished artist and the founder and owner of the Icon Contemporary Art gallery in Brunswick, died Tuesday after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke. He was 83.

It’s the end of an era for Paluska’s gallery, which has been showcasing the work of Maine’s contemporary artists for the past three decades. The gallery will not reopen this spring for the first time since 1989.

“I’m sad to say it’s going to close,” said his wife, Ellen Golden of Woolwich. “Duane had this amazing ability to hang shows in a way that was just incredible. I think it was one of the key elements of the gallery. It was so identified with him. I don’t think it can be Icon without him.”

A former English professor at Bowdoin College, Paluska left teaching in 1972 to make furniture and design houses. He went on to establish himself as one of Maine’s finest custom furniture makers.

Paluska’s early influences included Japanese, classic Scandinavian, 18th-century English furniture and African stools – all made by hand. His obituary, which was published in Friday’s newspaper, said Paluska channeled his early influences and the simple, honest utility of Shaker furniture into a distinctly personal style. In recent years, Paluska was known for his “minimal-ish” miter-jointed wooden sculptures made with furniture, and his newest work, window and picture frames.

“He had a very highly developed sense of aesthetics,” his wife said. “I think it carried over into the kinds of things he chose to show at Icon. He preferred non-representational painting and sculpture. He liked to show things he liked.”

Paluska’s gallery is as unique and quirky as he was. It’s located in an old, two-story Colonial on Mason Street, which also houses his art studio.

Paluska showed his work in galleries throughout Maine, including Corey Daniels Gallery in Wells and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport.

He occasionally showed his own work at Icon, but it mostly existed for other artists’ work. Icon featured more than 200 shows over the past three decades.

Paluska was known for holding two-man shows for artists with contrasting styles.

“When you have work in that kind of contrast it frequently reveals things you might have not otherwise seen,” Golden said. “He liked the process of discovering how best to present the work. He loved the result when the work would look different and interesting and fresh.”

In the days since his death, artists throughout Maine have expressed an outpouring of sympathy and appreciation for Paluska’s contributions and support for Maine’s arts community.

John Bisbee, a friend and fellow artist from Harpswell, said Friday he did a show with Paluska in the late 1990s.

“He was the most particular person I ever met. I never met anyone with such tight parameters both in their life and work, but within that was such exquisite care and craft and meaning and respect,” Bisbee said. “He was such a quirky bird, … sort of a gentleman from another age, but he loved mischievous fun. His work was sort of loosely based on furniture. There was a utilitarian aspect to Duane that he also enjoyed denying.”

Bruce Brown, an art curator from Portland, said Friday that Paluska’s passing leaves an enormous void in Maine’s art scene.
“It’s an immense loss,” Brown said. “His presence both as a person and gallery director were so essential to Maine over the last three decades. The Icon gallery was absolutely a mecca for art and artists. He was such a treasure. We have so much to be thankful for, … for all that he contributed to Maine art.”

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his two children. Golden reminisced about their life together, recalling his love for riding motorcycles and traveling. She said they shared a love for reading, art, music and the theater.

“We were incredibly lucky that we shared so many interests and took so much pleasure in so many of the same things,” Golden said. “He was the person I talked to about everything. I lost my best friend.”

A memorial service will be held in late June.

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