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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Meet Garrett P. Orr, Sr., Painter Extraordinaire!

Lane's Landing, Cape Ann by Garrett P. Orr, Sr.
Do you remember reading about Garrett Orr in St. Hubert's Chapel, Garrett Orr, Smoke Rise Memories, the story that Joan Semmler Oravits shared about art work related to the Chapel?

Thanks to that article, I received the following email from Pete Congleton, grandson of Garrett P. Orr, painter and artist extraordinaire!

Here is his message:

Dear Christine,

My wife, Carie, who happens to work in the Class Deans Office at your Alma Mater, is always on the lookout for Garrett Orr paintings that may be floating around out there.  She found your blog and I wanted you to know a little more about him.

"Gary" or "Grandpa Orr" was the father of my late mother, Sandy.  Born in "aught-seven" as he liked to say, he grew up in the little town of Caro, Michigan.  He had a knack for drawing as a boy, and after attending the University of Michigan, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago.

He married his hometown sweetheart, Elinor Smith, and they moved to New York where Gary made a living as a commercial artist, chiefly in the growing field of outdoor advertising.  I remember him explaining how he would design and paint the picture for the ad, and then block it off in sections to enable the outdoor painters to blow it up to billboard size.  During the war he did a number of paintings encouraging people to buy war bonds.

Can't recall the specific years, but Gary and Elinor bought a home in Mountain Lakes, NJ in the early 1930s, where they raised my mother and her little brother -- my namesake, "Uncle Pete."  Both Sandy and Pete graduated from Mountain Lakes H.S.

After Elinor died of cancer in the late 1950s, Gary may have moved back to New York City, because that's where he met and fell in love with Jan Brewster, who I knew as "Mor Mor," thanks to my sister Wendy's mispronunciation of "Grandma Orr." Gary and Jan married and lived for a while in an apartment in Tudor City, which Mor Mor fondly referred to as "the Tender Trap," after the Frank Sinatra tune by the same name.

Portrait of Carie by Garrett P. Orr, Sr.Remarkably, 
Grandpa painted this not long after
he'd had a stroke that 
initially prevented him
from being able to paint at all!
Sometime in the early 1960s, Gary and Jan moved to Montville, NJ, where they bought a house that had once belonged to a canal boat captain.  Remnants of the old canal could still be seen nearby on the other side of Valhalla Road.  Grandpa set up a beautiful artist's studio upstairs, and Mor Mor operated a small craft business from the in-law apartment downstairs ("The Witch Stitchery," and "The Naughty Needle" are two of the plaques I recall seeing).  MorMor's specialty was needlepoint and she had a book published by the title "Needlepoint Now."  There's even a stitch she invented that was named after her.

At the peak of his profession, Gary was the president of the Art Directors Institute of New York, and in retirement from commercial art, he continued to earn a living by doing portraits for people.

I'm going to send you a couple of photos of paintings we have, but in response to your commentary on his painting of the St. Hubert's Chapel, I'd like to hazard a guess.

Grandpa Orr had a good sense of humor, an eye for composition, and a love of water-- I can see him wanting to break up the monotony of the snow-covered ice in the foreground of your painting.  The painting we have over our living room mantle is a good example of his puckish humor.  The scene is a boat pulled up on a marshy shore with huge granite slabs forming a landing of sorts in the foreground (they are actually the remnants of an active quarrying enterprise that once flourished on Cape Ann on the North Shore of Massachusetts).  The focal point of the picture is a bright spot under the trees to the right of a little house. Mor Mor once told me that when Grandpa finished the painting, he asked her what she thought. She said she liked the focal point but it seemed empty somehow.  Grandpa then proceeded to paint in a tiny silhouette of himself with Mor Mor.  I know that it's him because of the way his head is cocked to the side!

Thanks for remembering my grandfather on your blog and for adding a little dash of serendipity to my day!

Cheers,
Pete Congleton

Thanks so much, Pete, for letting us get to know your grandfather, Garrett Orr!

By the way - this video titled Pete and the new Dodge, Garrett Orr Sr- outdoor artist & Jr, Jake and Sandra Congleton- 1957 [which I had come across earlier] now makes a lot more sense! Pictured here must be Pete and Sandra, your uncle and mother; Jake must be your dad. Do you know where this was filmed?


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