Tom Brennan to Present Art Show of Local Caricatures

Carefully detailing a lobster accompanying the caricature of Tim Sample is accomplished local artist Tom Brennan. Brennan will be featuring Sample's caricature along with several other portraits of local notables for his August 10th art show, Humor in the St. Croix Valley. (Submitted photo)

By Lura Jackson


“Humor is the good-natured side of a truth,” shared Mark Twain, inspiring his readers to find the lighter side of life. While we are no longer blessed with the presence of Mark Twain, those of us in the St. Croix Valley are fortunate to be in the company of Tom Brennan and Tim Sample, two fellows capable of wielding and invoking humor in the best of ways. The duo has joined their efforts together for Brennan’s annual art show, titled Humor in the St. Croix Valley. The show will feature caricatures of well-known local notables, including Sample himself – considered to be the premier humorist of New England. 

This is the 17th consecutive art show Brennan has coordinated, a process that began after he retired from his career in education. “I was going to go into politics,” Brennan said. “But my wife said, ‘Give the art a chance!’ Now, here we are, seventeen shows later.” The series of shows have all been oriented around the common theme of “life in the St. Croix Valley.” 

For this year’s show, Brennan explained that he wanted to do something “fun” that would give everyone a reprieve from the occasionally overwhelming negativity in the news cycle. “It’s still Maine, it’s still life in the St. Croix Valley, but it’s the funny side of things,” Brennan said.

Caricatures are a form of art that Brennan has employed for decades. He recalls painting the blue devil on the floor of the high school back in 1968 – and later doing a blue devil using the face of a popular coach. Around the late 60s to the mid-70s, Brennan did political cartoons for the Calais Advertiser, and he’s been dabbling in caricatures off and on ever since. 

In selecting who he would portray in his series of caricatures, Brennan considered people who are often in the public eye, either due to their business or through volunteering. Among those who will be featured are Lorraine Mitchell, Joyce Maker, John Mitchell, Ralph Moffitt, Tony and Louis Bernardini, John Marchese, Emily and Ricky Bailey, and Lynne Jones Quinn. One choice made itself obvious immediately, as Brennan explained. “When I thought about the show, which I wanted to be light and fun, I thought, ‘How the heck do you do a show about humor in the St. Croix Valley and not have Tim Sample?’ It would be like a mother-in-law with an eye in her forehead. If you put her in the front room, you’d have to explain her,” he said with a laugh.

For each of the selected portraits, Brennan began with a simple sketch, though he says it’s impossible to estimate how much time he spends on finalizing each piece. “It’s always different. It might start with ten minutes of doodling, then a half hour rough design, go back over it with pen and ink for a few hours, then it could be a day, then another day, then a few more hours,” Brennan said. “My wife says they’re never finished, it’s just when I put the brush down.”

While most of Brennan’s subjects haven’t yet seen their completed portraits, Brennan presented Sample with his during the interview. “Awesome!” Sample enthused as he saw it. “That’s wonderful.” Sample, who attended art school and is an accomplished illustrator himself, said that caricatures can be a tricky feat to do correctly. “It is very easy, if you have the facility, to make a good-looking drawing, but the question is, can you capture the likeness? The likeness is a very fleeting thing. It could be a subtle glimpse in the eye or something. You do a terrific job at that,” Sample said to Brennan. 

“I spent more time on the lobster than I did you,” Brennan replied, only half-teasing. “I don’t know how many times I repainted that thing.”

If you would like to see Brennan’s caricatures firsthand – and be entertained by opening remarks from Sample and Brennan – you are warmly invited to attend the art show, which will be held this year at Camden National Bank. The reception will be on August 10th at 6:00 p.m., just before country music artist Dave Mallett performs in Triangle Park at 7:00. There is no cost to attend and refreshments will be provided.