On pace: Film documents beloved ‘Maine Master’

Posted Sept. 10, 2008, at 7:34 p.m.

Maine, and particularly the area around Stonington, had an indelible influence on the life and work of painter Stephen Pace.

When the 89-year-old Pace and his wife, Pam, left Stonington for his native Indiana last October, it was clear they had, in turn, influenced Maine and Stonington. At a farewell party for the Paces, several townspeople gathered to talk about how much the Paces meant to Stonington.

“[Stephen Pace] lived a very simple lifestyle, very frugally, and his brushstrokes were frugal,” said Sedgwick filmmaker Richard Kane, who captured those moments and many more in his documentary “Stephen Pace: Maine Master.”

“He used just simple housepainters’ brushes and he had a kind of informal, spontaneous kind of style,” Kane added. “He was able to connect with people in that way.”

Kane’s film, which traces Pace’s life from Indiana to Mexico to New York to Maine, as well as his development as an abstract expressionist, debuted last month at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland and the Stonington Opera House.

The public will have two more opportunities to see it: A screening will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at The Grand Theatre in Ellsworth, and another is set for Monday, Oct. 20, at Waterfall Arts in Belfast.

Kane, the producer-director, worked on the film with executive producers Robert Shetterly of Brooksville, who is also a painter, and Carl Little, a well-known art critic and arts writer.

“I just love making films about artists, especially people like the Paces who are so down-to-earth and know so much about the history of art, and lived it,” Kane said.

Indeed, the Paces mingled with some of the giants of 20th century art, including Milton Avery, Franz Kline and Hans Hoffman. While Stephen Pace exhibited in the prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art Annual and Biennial seven times between 1953 and 1961, Pam Pace ran the business side of her husband’s work.

The Paces were based in New York for most of Stephen Pace’s career but summered in Stonington for years. The couple eventually purchased a turn-of-the-century sea captain’s home in Stonington.

Kane met Stephen Pace at the New Harmony Gallery in New Harmony, Ind., in 1977. Kane was working in nearby Evansville, Ind., at the time, while New Harmony was Pace’s boyhood home. Kane was intrigued by Pace and his work, thinking someday he’d like to make a film about the artist.

More than 30 years later, after Kane moved to Maine, he learned Pace was summering in Stonington. Kane and Pace met again one summer in nearby Blue Hill. Pace agreed to allow Kane to make the film.

And in a first for the nine-film “Maine Masters” series, the subjects of the documentary — the Paces — also agreed to provide $20,000 in funding. The Indiana Arts Commission and the University of Southern Indiana, which Sunday showed Kane’s film at the opening of its new Kenneth P. McCutchan Art Center/Palmina F. and Stephen S. Pace Galleries, also contributed money for the film.

The extra funding allowed Kane to film in New York City and also to develop a curriculum guide that will be free for Maine and Indiana teachers to download. Kane is aiming to get funding to distribute free copies of the film in both states.

The money will also help support the “Maine Masters” series, which is sponsored by the Union of Maine Visual Artists, a not-for-profit educational organization.

Kane funded his own family trip to Mexico, where he was able to visit San Miguel de Allende. Pace studied at a government art school there while on the GI Bill in 1946. While there, Kane met 95-year-old Leonard Brooks, who had studied with Pace. Brooks appears in the film.

“That was like a bonus,” Kane said. “I thought it was amazing that we found a 95-year-old man who was a student with Stephen. Leonard Brooks was there, very strong of voice and mind. So we included that part of the story, which was very important to [Pace’s] life.”

Curator Bruce Brown and historian Martina Sawin, the author of a book about Pace, were also interviewed for the documentary. Kane also arranged with the producer of a previous film about Pace to use some of the interviews from that film in the more recent one.

In addition to telling the story of Pace’s development as a painter, Kane captured many of the small but telling moments of the Paces’ life. In one scene, Kane filmed Stephen Pace slowly climbing the stairs to his New York City studio. Pace is clearly having some trouble ascending the staircase, but seems driven to get to work.

In another clip, Kane showed Pam Kane reaching for an inexpensive tube of bright pink lipstick, illustrating a woman who mingled with famous artists but isn’t beyond using drugstore makeup.

It was that quality of common touch — that likely drew people to both Stephen Pace’s work and to the couple themselves. The people of Stonington were important enough to the Paces that they recently donated their home to the Portland-based Maine College of Art. Jim Baker, the college’s president, said the school plans to use the house as a retreat for students, faculty and alumni, and will eventually open it to the public to view the 20 or so Pace paintings there.

“I can tell, people [in Stonington] felt very close to the Paces and hope the college will respect the legacy,” Baker said. “I think they take some consolation that the place will have hopefully the same spirit that it had and similar purpose as when the Paces lived there.”

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