By Gail McCarthy
---- — The son of a Gloucester fisherman, the late Paul Francis Frontiero Sr., began fishing with his father at the age of 12.
He did not know then that this would become his way of life for many years. He never finished Gloucester High School because his father was injured while fishing and he had to leave his studies. As a result, he spent many years laboring in jobs at sea.
Frontiero, born in 1925, even worked as a doryman, an avocation that became extinct; with the innovation of the motorized trawler, the dory fishing industry began to wither in the late 1930s. However, he remained in demand on the port’s fishing vessels because of his skills as an engineer and cook.
But when his sons were born, he left a life at sea for shoreside work at a leather tanning company in Peabody. When the company closed down, he turned to his lifelong love of drawing to focus on making a living as an artist. He created hundreds of paintings of life along the coast, from Gloucester’s Lanes Cove to Rockport’s Twin Lighthouses.
Paul F. Frontiero Jr. said his father started to sell his paintings out of his home, earning enough money to pay the bills.
The public can savor some of those paintings the exhibition “From Ships to Shores” at the State of the Art Gallery in the Rocky Neck art colony. The show opens with a public reception on Saturday, Aug. 31.
Frontiero died last year at the age of 86, just three months after the murder of his grandson, Paul Frontiero III.
In the wake of their father’s death, his sons needed to address estate issues, and they called upon art dealers Sharon Pablo and Roger Armstrong to inventory the boxes of tightly packed paintings stashed in his attic. They had no idea as to the quantity and quality of the work they would discover.
In fact, they found the artist himself had graded his work and stored them accordingly. The found boxes marked “A to A-” and “B to B-” and “C to C-,” along with one box that was ungraded.
“We had no idea what we were walking into, except we knew that there were hundreds of paintings in an attic and they were labeled in boxes,” said Pablo, who did not always agree with the artist’s rankings. “I thought some of the paintings in the C box were beautiful.”
Pablo and Armstrong were impressed by the work.
“His paintings really document the fishing industry from the 1960s to the 1990s — and his beach and surf paintings are excellent as well,” Armstrong said.
Pablo said, thankfully, the artist wrote the name of the boats on the backs of the paintings.
For many years, motorists driving south on the Route 128 extension may have seen the late Frontiero’s hand-made sign advertising his gallery, which the drivers could find by taking three right turns to get to his home on Bertoni Street.
“He loved to have people come to the gallery and he liked to talk about the days of fishing. He fished on a lot of boats,” his son Paul Jr. said. “Compared to other artists, he kept his prices low because he didn’t have overhead of the gallery and he wanted people to be able to enjoy the work.”
This show features about 30 framed paintings, starting at $200, keeping in that vein.
Frontiero said his father influenced him a lot growing up.
“I wished that I had paid more attention when he went to the dock to paint, and instead I would go fishing,” said Frontiero, who years later would take art lessons from his father. “He used to talk to me about color all the time. He would note the color of the sky and note that objects are made up of so many hints of other colors.”
His father was born with color — his nickname was Red Melon or “Red” for short because he was a red-haired Sicilian.
One of his favorite paintings by his father is an unusual scene, a 9-by-12-inch oil painting of a scene at Good Harbor Beach with a dune in the background and a trash can full of trash in the foreground with the sea gulls flocking after the refuse.
He has many other fond memories of his father, who always attended his baseball games and took time out to play ball. His father never lost his love of cooking, which remained a pastime for him even off the boats. He often made macaroni and cheese from scratch.
His father was often seen strolling Main Street and was a daily visitor at the Senior Center. Memorial Day was a particularly meaningful day for his father, who was a World War II veteran, who served in the Pacific Theater from 1943 to 1946 as a Navy seaman 1st class and coxswain.
“My father was proud of his service and had fought in numerous campaigns, including landing Marines in the first wave of the invasion of Japan where prisoners from six nations were waiting for rescue. He received several medals of honor,” said Frontiero.
He said he is thrilled that the gallery is hosting the exhibit.
“We thought it was a shame to not have the artwork seen,” he said.
The timing of the show was planned around the trial of his son’s killer because Frontiero wanted to have the work organized before the trial or sentencing began. Having the public reception take place this weekend during the Gloucester Schooner Festival is purely coincidental.
In addition to fishing vessels, such as the Judith Lee Rose and the Racketeer, the artist had a variety of other scenes like a Vermont snow and a Rockport church. Pablo will have an iPod slide show of many more images of Frontiero’s artwork.
After the gallery opened the show, one woman entered to view the work, commenting that she saw the painter’s inspiration and saying the paintings had a spirituality about them. His sons can attest to those talents and hope others can be inspired by their father’s artistic legacy.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3445, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go What and who: "From Ships to Shores" an exhibition of works by artist Paul Frontiero. When: A free public reception takes place on Saturday, Aug. 31 from 2 to 5 p.m. Meet the late artists' sons Paul Jr. and Joe. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The show runs through Sept. 15. Where: State of the Art Gallery at 4 Wonson St. on Gloucester's Rocky Neck.