FALMOUTH, Maine — Roman Catholic priest and painter Rev. Paul Plante, 73, knows he has a limited number of days left. The cancer growing on his pancreas will end his life before long. Doctors are unable to operate and chemotherapy is useless.
But Plante believes that his ability to create art is a sign that God is real, which is a comfort.
“I, myself, as a human being, as a person, can do something that is original and that has spirit in it,” he said with a box of his own paintings on a table in front of him. “That is a sign that I am created in the image of God.”
For many years, Plante’s artistic gaze has been firmly focused on one subject: the eyes of birds. He’s painted thousands of four by four-inch square pastel avian eye portraits. Galleries in New York and Boston have sold his work and he’s had solo shows at the Colby College Museum of Art and the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland.
He believes that his talent for painting, for recording a singular vision of the world — a capacity that makes him an individual — is a glimpse into the infinite, into God.
“My artwork is sort of on the simple side … but it is different from anything anybody ever did,” he said.
The Sanford native gives his parents credit for encouraging his artistic bent as a child. Ordained at age 27, he didn’t go to art school until he was in his 40s. A college instructor urged him to give up the priesthood and devote himself to art full time.
“Art has always filled a very important space in my life and yet I still knew that I did not want to do just that,” he said. “I said no, the rest is too inspiring and too important for me.”
He served as a priest in Old Town, Auburn, Biddeford, Lewiston, Portland and Winslow. He would paint at the end of the day or in between appointments.Two weeks ago, he finished up his final assignment, a 12-year stint in Oquossoc. He only left when he became too sick to continue.
Now, he’s taking stock and putting his affairs in order. Most of his unsold works, as well as all the art he’s collected over the years, will be sold at auction with the proceeds going to the Roman Catholic Church. He also donated two pottery pieces to the Portland Museum of Art in memory of his parents and siblings.
Facing the inevitable, Plante hopes that he will continue communicating with people, through his art, after he’s gone.
“I am leaving a body of work, simple as it is,” he said. “It represents, very much, who I am and, hopefully, even after death, people who connect with my work, will connect with me — my spirit.”