BELFAST, Maine — Gary Hinte, an 87-year-old artist and writer who loved to say he was born in a vaudeville theater, was larger than life.
Even into his ninth decade, he was painting sets, writing screenplays and dreaming up ways to help his community. After his death this January in Mexico of COVID-19, members of the Belfast Maskers, the community theater group to which he had been instrumental, decided to do something big to honor him.
An art show this Friday will showcase his diverse and creative work.
“He had such an amazing, full life and so many fascinating stories,” Sasha Kutsy, the president of the Belfast Maskers’ board of directors, said Thursday. “That energy, that zest for life never left him. Every day he’d come over with a new plan. He was bubbling over all the time.”
Hinte, who jokingly called himself “The Greatest Artist in the World,” was prolific. When he and his wife, Carol Samuels, moved out of their Belfast home in 2018, his studio overflowed with oil paintings and charcoal drawings that he didn’t know what to do with. Kutsy took a bunch, and used those paintings as a jumping-off point for an art show of Hinte’s works.
She also borrowed paintings that Hinte had given to his neighbors for the show, which has turned the walls of the Basil Burwell Community Theater in Belfast into a vibrant, colorful glimpse into the artist’s mind. Portraits of people and animals, art that served as social or political commentary, scenery from plays and musicals — it’s all there.
“My hope is to share with people the amazing artist that Gary Hinte was, and to celebrate him,” Kutsy said. “It’s everything he contributed to this community through his 10 years of living here and creating art.”
In addition to his artwork, Hinte was a man of stories. He told many versions of his vaudeville theater origin tale. His mother was a vaudeville dancer at the Liberty Theatre in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where his father was a stagehand. Whether he was born on stage — or possibly conceived backstage, according to some of the stories — it was clear that his heart was in theater and the arts from the beginning.
When Kutsy and her family moved to Belfast in 2013, Hinte and Samuels were their neighbors and they got to know them right away.
“He was the kind of neighbor who would just come knocking on your door and hang out and talk for a really long time,” she said. “He loved to interact with neighbors and everybody.”
Even though he was in his 80s, he was a tireless volunteer for the Belfast Maskers, sharing his artistic skills with the theater group. In the summer of 2016, Hinte was the set designer for the musical “The Addams Family.” He helped build the outdoor stage, painted sets, taught interns how to use tools and worked with the volunteers from the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center in Belfast.
“He was out there doing the work, and it was amazing,” Kutsy said.
But after that experience, Hinte decided to simplify. Rather than building elaborate sets, he decided to make background paintings and then project them as scenery on the back of the theater. This rear projection model allowed him to create compelling ambiances without as much physical effort for shows including “Blithe Spirit,” “On Golden Pond,” “Annie” and “The Music Man.”
He and Samuels also helped the theater group find its new home in a former church several years ago, Kutsy said.
“They were pretty instrumental in helping us get our new home,” she said. “We went around and looked at land together. He always thought large. The theater we have now was just a stepping stone for him. He wanted it to be huge.”
Hinte and Samuels spent about a decade in Maine moving to Cuernavaca, Mexico, in late 2018.
That was a loss for the community, Kutsy said — although the pair made sure to buy a big enough house for people to come visit them.
Samuels, who is in Mexico, plans to virtually be at the art show. Kutsy said she and Samuels have been working together to make the show the best it can be.
“Gary was such a dreamer,” Kutsy said. “He had dreams and we made them come true, as much as we can.”
The Gary Hinte Art Show will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday at the Basil Burwell Community Theater in Belfast. Later this summer there will also be an auction of some of his paintings that will benefit the Maskers.