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Faces on canvas: a show of local faces

Area artist shows off 27 paintings of local people

(click for larger version)

Miranda Belyea recaptures the serious expression she wore while posing for this painting of herself in a 19th century dress. Art McGrath. (click for larger version)
June 25, 2009
BATH—There are many interesting faces in the Bath area to paint, and while Craig Pursley has not painted them all, he's managed to do portraits of 27 people in the area.

Pursley held a reception recently at his studio in the center of town, right next door to the Brick Store, attended by about 30 people. Included in the audience were quite a few of his subjects, who posed next to their portraits.

The artist, who moved to town in 2002 after a long career out west, where he is from, began painting portraits of locals whose faces he found interesting. Sometimes there is just something about a face that he knows right away he wants to paint it.

On occasion he said it has been kind of awkward approaching someone to paint them, especially complete strangers, but usually people have allowed him to, though there have been a few refusals, he said.

"Sometimes it's tough to ask complete strangers, it sounds kind of odd to them," Pursley said.

Pursley is no stranger to painting strangers. In the late 1970s he worked for law enforcement agencies in Colorado as a sketch artist, trying to come up with composite sketches of people who had committed crimes. It started as a part-time job to get him through college and continued on through his years teaching art in middle school.

The people have varied, from old men to children, and have included a girl graduating from high school, a man who always was painted as a Civil War general because of his interest in that war.

The owner of the Brick Store, Nancy Lusby, was one of Pursley's subjects. He was next door getting some food and saw her behind the counter with a red apron, which reminded him of Rosie the Riveter, the World War II propaganda figure encouraging women to work during the war.

Today the painting of Lusby in her store hangs in her living room, though it was in the studio for the show several weeks ago.

Pursley saw something in the face of Miranda Belyea, of Bath, that he wanted to paint. He had a 19th Century dress he put her in and didn't let her smile—as people didn't for portraits at one time—and the painting looks like the past come to life.

Standing next to her portrait, Belyea was able to recapture her serious expression, though with a little difficulty.

Carl Nystrom was painted as a Union Civil War general. He has bought several paintings of actual Civil War generals, both Union and Confederate, including Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant. At home he hangs his next the real heroes of the era.

Not all paintings were of someone he has seen, Pursley even recreated a bit of town history, including a painting of a 19th Century town father, David Sullivan, who wrote a history of the town. A painting of Sullivan used to hang in a church in town but was stolen during a Christmas service during the 1970s. Pursley painted another to replace it.

Pursley created a painting of who believes to be the father of the person who built his house on River Road. When he could not buy the original on EBay, he painted a copy from a picture of it.

One painting is a self-portrait, the only one Pursley has done. Dressed as a cowboy, it was the last picture he did for the Orange County Register, in Orange County, Calif., where he worked for 23 years.

Far from done, Pursley said he continues to paint interesting people whenever he can. He finds New Hampshire an inspiring place to work, he said.

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