by Eddie Flotte
— Part Two
Ed. Note: Eddie Flotte, who has been called the “Andrew Wyeth of Chestnut Hill,” continues to describe his journey from childhood in the Chestnut Hill area to a career as an artist whose paintings hang in private collections all around the world. Although he lives most of the year in Maui, Hawaii, he returns every year to Chestnut Hill for several weeks or months to paint area locations.
This was the perfect time to arrive. On Maui I found a well-developed art community. Most painters saw the harbor, palm trees, beaches, whales and dolphins, flowers and fish. Few artists focused on the old plantation style Maui. I did. That is exactly what I had hoped to find, and I found it everywhere. Friendly people approached me immediately. I worked my way around town seven days a week, visible on the sidewalks, painting it all. People’s interest grew. We opened a gallery in town and called it the Eddie Flotte Store. Paintings sold quickly. Every sale brought a better price.
The Maui News put my painting of “Mr. Brown’s Paia Town” on the front page of the Sunday paper and my story written by Kauie Goring in the center fold of the “Light Life” section. I was literally afraid to take a day-off, afraid to lose my momentum. In 1987 I took a trip to Europe and another in ’88. In all, I spent six months. I lived in Paris and ventured out from there. I worked in Montmartre painting store fronts and street characters. I became friendly with many of the street artists who worked on Place du Tertre. I studied French at Alliance Francais and often stopped in Luxemburg Gardens on my way to class. In the garden, I drew old Frenchmen playing checkers.
I drew wooden fishing boats in Corsica and Greece. In Cannes I drew sun bathers. In Saint Tropez I drew the harbor. I sketched people everywhere. I rode trains, ferry boats, sailboats and motor scooters. I spent nights on park benches, in youth hostels and on deserted beaches. I have always been inspired by the paintings of Andrew Wyeth. One day the Maui sculptor, Reems Mitchel, gave me a picture book called “Wyeth at Kuerners.”
I looked at the book and was instantly obsessed. It illustrated a mesmerizing skill that had little to do with technique or finesse. It was pure passion. I’d studied his work before but never had been able to see it. I could see a man slamming paint down, in a blind fury. It seemed as though he couldn’t possibly be a conscious part of the process. Still, every splinter of detail seemed perfectly in place. Naturally, I tried to mimic what I saw.
In the winter of 1989, I took myself to Chadds Ford, PA, “Wyeth Country,” in search of Kuerner’s farm. I had to see for myself the source of his inspiration. I began working in Chadds Ford, meeting the folks at the local diner “Hank’s Place.” All seemed very proud to tell me stories of how they were acquainted with the famous artist. They called him Andy. One morning, while eating at Hank’s, I heard the bell hanging above the front door ring, the way it always did. I turned around this time to see Andrew Wyeth himself coming through the door and up the step. He was wearing a big green parka and looked like he had just finished raking leaves. I recognized the same twinkling eyes I had seen in an early photograph. The only empty seat was next to me at the counter. He was headed my way.
I think the smile on my face was so genuine that it heightened his friendliness. He greeted me with a smile, and we began to talk about painting. I noticed his fingers covered in dark green paint, and I followed that lead. I pointed out my portfolio, and he was graciously eager to have a look. He stopped at each piece with a comment. There! That! yes! Keep this going! He told me what he felt I was doing right, and he told me what I was doing wrong and then how to proceed.
“You are ready,” he said. “Don’t let anybody box you in; make quick decisions and put them on paper as fast as you can.” He grabbed his two fried egg sandwiches “to-go” and was off, saying, “I’ve done three paintings already this morning.” “How do you keep warm?” I asked. “I keep the engine running and sit on the hood. It keeps my buns warm,” he said with a smile. I sat at the counter beaming. I felt as if everyone had seen what had just taken place, but I never turned around to check. I just tried to make it look like routine activity.
At Kuerner’s, I had the divine pleasure and honor of meeting Anna Kuerner, the subject of some of Andrew’s most magical work, and her son Carl. I wandered the grounds all day to see firsthand every corner of what had inspired Andrew. I sat and painted “Out Behind Kuerner’s.” From the roadside I painted “Winter at Kuerner’s.” Later that week, “Othaniel’s Porch” and “Othaniel’s Life.” My fascination with Kuerner’s and Chadds Ford has brought me back to paint many times over the years.
I visit The Brandywine Museum regularly to study Andrew’s originals with my nose right to the glass. In 1992 and ’94, I traveled to Florida to find the old fishing villages I had always imagined there. I found Blackburn Point near Sarasota. Buried along the water, hidden by swampy overgrowth, was a cluster of fishing and crabbing boats, old sheds hanging over rickety docks, piles of gill nets and more.
When I found it, I felt as if I had struck gold. I am always looking for my Kuerner’s Farm, a concentration of inspiration, the kind of place where I can just wake up and go, knowing I’ll find something new to spark my interest. Here I found such a concentration. I returned again and again until I had touched on it all. I have visited California three different times on painting expeditions. Trips in ’89 and ’94 led to paintings in Moss Landing, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Bolinas, Sausalito and Sonoma County. In ’93 I traveled to Los Angeles to see the famous Venice Beach. In a very short time I finished several paintings of the colorful area, including some very recognizable characters.
Ed. Note: Last week we stated that this would be a two-part series, but Flotte is such a fascinating figure that there will be a third and final part next week.