STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — In a yellow ranch house perched high above the wide blue stretch of the lower Penobscot River in the village of Sandy Point, there is a secret.
The secret is on the walls — huge murals of a lighthouse, a sponge-painted forest of autumn trees and tidy colonial houses, a sailboat scudding on the bay and more.
They are the creations of Tina Pesce, who lived in the house and died recently after a long period of declining health.
Perhaps because of those health problems, she wasn’t known by many in the community. The discovery after her death of the murals and her other artwork surprised neighbors.
“It’s very cool,” Peter Walls, an artist and muralist from Stockton Springs, said last week. “It looks like she did it as she felt like it, just room by room…the interesting part of what she did is you can tell it must be what she loved.”
Pesce moved to Maine from Massachusetts with her son, Robert, sometime after the year 2000, according to Veronica Garvey Magnan, a neighbor who also lived in the Stockton Springs village of Sandy Point. Magnan didn’t know Pesce’s age, but estimated she was in her late 60s when she died in August.
She had been divorced and was starting over, with perhaps a goal of making her art more of a focus of her life. Pesce purchased her house in part because it was located on U.S. Route 1, where many vehicles pass by each day. She set up a little studio to sell her paintings, which is how Magnan, an art lover, met her.
“She had very simple, clean lines. Her sense of composition and her sense of color was really nice,” Magnan said. “I think she considered herself a talented amateur … she had skills and talent.”
But it wasn’t long before her health issues caused her to close the studio. Among a series of illnesses that Pesce struggled with were cancer and arthritis so crippling it eventually took away her ability to paint. She gave her supplies to the Sunday school at the nearby Sandy Point Congregational Church, where Robert, who is on the autistic spectrum and lived with his mother as an adult, had become a member.
“We adored him in the church community,” Magnan said. “We loved him, and she knew that. She knew that we were there as a support for him.”
Although Pesce wasn’t well-known, she attended as many community events as she could and donated paintings whenever there was an auction or fundraiser.
But she was very private, Magnan said. In her last years she poured much of her remaining energy into caring for Robert. Another son lives in California.
“She stayed alive for Robert as long as she could,” Magnan said. “Two years ago, she was so ill we couldn’t imagine her surviving. But a week later she was driving Robert again. She was a determined Yankee … her primary focus was Robert.”
After her death, Robert went to live with family in another state. On Friday, a family member contacted by the Bangor Daily News said that a crew of cleaners had been asked to empty out the house and prepare it for eventual sale. That’s how neighbors were able to come inside to see the murals, taking photographs that were shared on a local Facebook page. Stockton Springs residents were surprised and impressed by what they saw in the photos.
“Holy cow, these are amazing,” one person wrote.
“What a talent,” another commented.
The social media post is how Walls came to see Pesce’s art, which has reminded him of the work of Rufus Porter, a Maine artist and inventor who traveled around New England in the 19th century painting landscape murals on people’s houses.
Back then, there was a more robust tradition of painting on the walls of homes, Walls said.
“Walls weren’t as sacred as home decor as they are now,” he said. “It was a different attitude.”
Because Pesce painted on sheetrock, it seems likely to him that sooner or later, her murals will vanish.
“They’ll probably just disappear,” he said.
Magnan thinks so, too.
“All art is ephemeral. That’s the way it is with art,” she said. “But it would be a shame for someone to come in and destroy that.”
Many who have learned of the murals would love for them to be saved somehow, including Meg Haskell, who also lives in Sandy Point.
“I don’t know what will happen to those paintings,” she said. “I feel that everyone that has seen them wishes there was a way to preserve them for the future.”
Seeing the murals was, for many neighbors, a first glimpse of the hidden talent and passion of a woman who lived close to them but who was not known well, or at all.
“I’m sorry I never knew anything about her at all. Now I know she was a very accomplished artist,” Haskell said. “I wish I’d known her.”
The flurry of appreciation for the murals and paintings is a nice thing, Magnan said, adding that she thinks Pesce would have appreciated it.
“Deep in her heart, every artist wants to be recognized,” she said. “It’s a tribute to a quiet person.”
More articles from the BDN
In the wake of a Stockton Springs woman’s death, a secret was discovered in her home