Arthur Small, a longtime Massachusetts lighthouse keeper, was praised for his outstanding loyalty and devotion in the face of hardship by Commissioner Harold D. King of the Bureau of Lighthouses in 1938. During a powerful hurricane that year, Small managed to keep the light burning through the night at Palmer's Island in New Bedford despite being seriously injured. Small's wife, Mabel, was tragically lost during the storm when she tried to come to her husband's aid.
Small is rightfully remembered for his heroism but he's also celebrated, as historian Edward Rowe Snow wrote, as “probably the greatest painter who was ever in the lighthouse service.” (See the August 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest for more.) His specialties were harbor scenes and sailing ships, and he was renowned for the accuracy of his work.
An Artist's Tribute
A young local woman named Helen Cyr was tutored in painting by Keeper Small, who presented her with a small pastel painting of a sailboat. Today the painting is in the possession of Cyr's niece, Helen Paradis, who says, “I believe Arthur Small's painting was as great a passion to him as his love of the ocean and his job as a lightkeeper.”
Helen Paradis, with the assistance of a grant from the New Bedford Cultural Council, has now paid tribute to Keeper Small with the creation of a portrait that hangs at the New Bedford Office of Tourism's Waterfront Visitor Center. The basis for the painting was a photograph of Small that was uncovered by Jeremy Burnham of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The photo showed Small in civilian clothes, but Paradis chose to depict him in a Lighthouse Service uniform.
Paradis is a full-time employee at the trial court in New Bedford, so she worked on the portrait evenings and weekends beginning in October 2003. The keeper had a pipe in his mouth in the photo, but Paradis wanted to show him without the pipe. “I gave my husband a pipe,” she says, “and had him hold it just as the Captain did, then remove it to see what a difference it would make in the mouth.” Paradis says that Small “had a good face, one I liked working with.” She adds, “I would talk to him sometimes as I painted. An artist friend told me to do this, as it is good painting therapy. I thought that was ridiculous at first, but it's fun and it works!”
An unveiling ceremony was held at the visitor center in early July, with New Bedford Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz, Jr. and Tourism and Marketing Director Arthur P. Motta, Jr. present. “I was so used to having 'The Captain' in my house that I was overjoyed that it pleased the Mayor and Arthur so well,” says Helen Paradis. Arthur Motta says that the portrait has generated lots of interest, admiration and questions from people passing through the visitor center. Motta played a large role in the restoration of Palmer's Island Lighthouse a few years ago, and he's always more than happy to fill people in on this part of his illustrious city's history.
This story appeared in the
October 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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