We all know the tale of the prodigal son. But the prodigal grandfather?

Winslow Wilson (1892-1974) was a prodigal grandfather. But the erstwhile Harvard aesthete who lived as a transient bohemian artist before settling into a quarter-century of teaching portraiture at Rockport Art Association later in life was hailed there last Saturday not as prodigal, but as a prodigy.

It was the opening of a retrospective show mounted by his granddaughter who never met the man. But for Claudia Wilson Howard, the show that fills the walls of two rooms in the Rockport Art Association & Museum was the culmination of years working to win her grandfather the recognition he never achieved during his life.

Wilson’s life was, by any measure, as full as it was complicated. So was his work, all three highly distinctive bodies of it, including his pieces painted under the name Pico Moran.

His portfolio included early marine canvases painted in the Greenwich Village studio in New York that he shared with poet e.e. cummings, surreal postmodern works painted as a shell-shocked war veteran of a world imperiled by the military-industrial complex, and later portraits of the fishermen and folks he called neighbors during his reclusive years living on Gloucester’s working waterfront that were perhaps truest to his self and talents.

Howard, a former Wall Street investment banker, knew next to nothing of her grandfather until 10 years ago, when she discovered his paintings carefully stored in her late father’s basement. Her father, Horace Peter Wilson, had been abandoned in infancy by her grandfather. 

The paintings were a revelation.

“I’d had no idea of the size or the scope or the disparity of his work,” she said.

The exhibit runs through July 8. Several gallery walks and talks are planned.

Cape Ann art historian and author Judith A. Curtis, who wrote the show catalog and calls Wilson “the quintessential riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” leads a walk and talk on Tuesday, June 18, at 11 a.m.

Art historian Peter Anastas, who as a young Gloucester Daily Times reporter reviewed Wilson’s paintings and decades later struck up a friendship with the then-aging artist, will join with fellow art historian John Pettibone, former executive director of Hammond Castle Museum, to lead a walk on Tuesday, June 25, at 11 a.m. Both were instrumental in helping bring the show to fruition.

 

IF YOU GO

What: “Mysterious Lives: The Art of Winslow Wilson & Pico Moran”

When: Through July 8. Gallery walks and talks on Tuesdays, June 8 and 25, 11 a.m.

Where: Marguerite Pearson Room and Martha Moore Room, Rockport Art Association & Museum, 12 Main St., Rockport

How much: Free admission

More information: www.rockportartassn.org or 978-546-6604