In a home movie of Bill Maynard’s 91st birthday party, more than a dozen friends are gathered inside a neighbor’s house in Provincetown. Maynard is sitting in the center of the room in a brown, leather chair. Cake is brought out. He blows out the candles. And Maynard starts talking about his life -- about how he got the chance to become a painter.
“I remember when I was a kid, around 12-years-old, [at] our house in Brookline, there was always a painting on an easel,” Maynard said. “My father was a plumber by trade, and was a self-taught artist. So anytime you’d go in there, there was always a painting on an easel. Either half-finished or beginning or whatever. And I, as a kid growing up, became very very interested in watching my father paint. He was nice enough to explain to me how … important it was to mix the colors properly, etcetera.”
But his father couldn’t afford to send him to art school. So instead, Maynard joined the US Army. During World War II, he patrolled for German U-boats at Fort Ruckman in Nahant. When the war ended, the GI Bill allowed Maynard to study anything he wanted. So, he went to art school. And it’s there he developed his love for painting -- and for a woman. A woman named Gladys, who he was married to for the next 56 years.
“We were living in Roxbury at that time. They were beginning to tear down these tenement houses,” Maynard said in the home movie.
As recent graduates, Maynard and his wife paid $15 a month to live on the 4th floor of a tenement building. It was a rough place to live, he said, and it was an even harder place to paint. But the couple soon discovered Provincetown – which has been a community for artists for many years. They couldn’t afford a place there at the time, so they continued to teach in the city and spend summers on Cape Cod. Years later, they were able to settle into a small house at 72A Commercial Street, where Maynard kept a studio upstairs.
Chip Brock, a neighbor, friend and fellow painter in Provincetown, talked about Maynard fondly. Brock said Maynard had certain subjects -- he always did Captain Jacks, and he did a man on the beach with his dog.
“I always thought that was him and his dog,” Brock said, “but it could have been anybody.”
Brock showed me photos of Maynard’s studio: a cramped attic with a low ceiling, covered in pens, pencils, brushes, and paint. Like many artists, Maynard would stay there for hours every day. Friends said he often seemed unsatisfied with his work. He was known to change things, again and again. Sometimes, even after he’d sold a painting. Like the time he sold a painting to a member of Brock’s family.
“He came down here, loved Bill’s paintings, bought the painting, was almost out the door with it,” Brock remembered with a laugh. “And Bill said, ‘Before you take it let me just fix this one thing…' And we never saw the painting again. He’d paid for it and everything.”
But it wasn’t for nothing. Maynard’s obsession with his own painting brought him critical acclaim. His work was exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Harvard University, Tufts University, and many other places.
Despite his accolades, his friends say he never became impatient with others. The same kindness his father had shown him when he was learning to paint he showed to hundreds of other students in the 60 years he taught.
“He loved what he was doing. He loved to be able to share his knowledge with other people,” said Rachel White, a former student and neighbor of Maynard’s in Provincetown.
White became a friend to Maynard and his wife over the years. Maynard never had children, and after his wife passed away in 2004, White took care of him with the help of other friends.
Late last year, White said Maynard became seriously ill, but he still wanted to paint. She took him to the hardware store on Conwell Street, and bought him more supplies. But after he stopped answering her calls, she became worried. She went into the house, and couldn’t find him. So she went upstairs to his studio.
“And there he was painting away,” she said.
That was the last painting he ever worked on – a lone, blue boat floating out on the water into the distant fog. Bill Maynard died on January 21st. He was 94.