Hunt Slonem, “Amazons,” 2019. Courtesy of Moss Galleries

Hunt Slonem’s interesting life might not have turned out so interesting had he not come to Maine between his junior and senior years at Tulane University in the summer of 1972. He came north to attend the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, because two women in his class attended the year before and talked it up on campus back in Louisiana.

“I was enthralled with everything I heard about it, so I applied and got in. It was very life-changing. It’s what brought me to New York,” Slonem said by phone from his Brooklyn studio.

“Skowhegan was very much about painting in those days. Alex Katz visited, Richard Estes, Alice Neel, Jack Levine. For someone who had gone to school in out-of-the-way places, it was really exciting for me to see how the New York art world and its luminaries saw and commented on what I was doing,” he said. “We painted from models, landscapes, the usual stuff, but it was all very exciting. I met kids from all over. It was a transformative period. I was encouraged to just move to New York, and that is what I did.”

From there, Slonem became a painter of exotic birds, magnificent butterflies and the rusty pink swamps of Louisiana. Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Falmouth is showing his paintings through Feb. 6. Titled “Hunt Slonem: Returns to Maine,” the exhibition does indeed herald the return home of Slonem, who was born in Kittery in 1951. But he spent only half a summer here as an infant until coming back to Skowhegan 19 years later, and it is Skowhegan that remains his Maine touchstone.

Slonem became interested in birds and butterflies because of his travels to exotic places like Nicaragua, Hawaii and the Louisiana Bayou. He lives with birds at his studio in New York, and also collects and curates mid- to-late 19th century furniture that he uses in the restoration of historically important homes, mansions and estates across the country. He has restored three plantations in Louisiana, where he has family roots, a mansion and estate in New York, and recently the Woolworth Mansion in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

He has other projects pending, including one in New England that he can’t talk publicly about quite yet. He loves the totality of his work – his travels inspire his paintings, the paintings feed his interest in interior design, which fuels his desire to identify, save and restore historically significant properties.

“I am reliving history, recreating history, time-traveling and talking through spirits,” he said. “And I am saving a lot of American history that would have hit the dust.”

Hunt Slonem, “Cabbage Butterflies,” 2020. Courtesy of Moss Galleries

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