Thomas R. Crotty, 80: Prominent painter, gallery owner helped build other art careers

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PORTLAND — Prominent Maine artist and gallery owner Thomas Robert Crotty, 80, died peacefully of cancer on Aug. 22 in Portland, surrounded by his children.

Crotty was born Nov. 30, 1934, in Boston, the son of Donald E. Crotty and Wanda Scovil Crotty. Thomas spent many of his early years in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, Canada. He attended English High School and Boston Technical High School and then Massachusetts College of Art, and later served in the U.S. National Guard.

In 1966, Crotty and his wife, Carolyn, opened the Frost Gully Gallery in a barn at their home in Freeport. He later moved the gallery to various locations in Portland but returned to Freeport in 2000, where he built a new studio and space to accommodate the gallery’s expanding collection.

Frost Gully Gallery is now the oldest art gallery in Maine. Over the years, Crotty promoted and gave exposure to many of the state’s most promising and most well-known artists. They include Jamie Wyeth, Dahlov Ipcar, Bernard Langlais, John Muench, Laurence Sisson, Janet C. Manyan, John Laurent, David Driskell, Stephen Etnier and William Thon.

Crotty himself is known as one of Maine’s most ambitious realist landscape painters, whose work was inspired by his deep love of the Maine coast and respect for nature. As former Portland Museum of Art Director Dan O’Leary wrote, he was an artist who “entrusted his career to the fundamental principle of the miracle of Maine light.” In 2003, the Portland Museum of Art featured a one-man show of Crotty’s paintings, “A Solitude of Space.” A book was published in conjunction with the museum show.

Crotty’s paintings have also been included in prestigious collections at The Farnsworth Museum, the University of Maine and the University of New England, as well as many private and corporate collections.

Since early childhood, Crotty loved to sail. His competitive passion for the sport began when he won the annual Boston Park Yacht Club championship in 1952, and continued until his 2010 win in Maine’s famed Mohegan Island Race. Crotty helped organize the first Etchells-class fleet in Maine, and in 1978 designed his own racing/cruising sloop, Cailin a Mara (Gaelic for “Sea Nymph”), with the help of friend and crew member Bob Watterson. Crotty went on to win many races in his boat, sailing out of Portland Yacht Club in Falmouth. He also served as the founding president of the Gulf of Maine Ocean Racing Association.

Crotty’s family is grateful to fellow sailors Dr. Robert Aranson and his wife, Jean, who were with him until his death. In addition, Dr. Aranson served as a trusted advisor to Crotty on medical and health issues.

Crotty was predeceased by a younger brother, Donald Crotty Jr., and two sisters, Ingrid Peterson and Wanda Touchie, both of New Brunswick, Canada.

He is survived by a sister, Margaret “Marnie” Taragowski, of Arlington, Texas, and by his children: Donald E. Crotty and his partner, Theresa Tecson, of San Francisco; David Wallace Crotty, of Palm Springs, California; Johanna Crotty Maaghul, her husband, Richard, of San Francisco, and their children, David, Olivia and Phillip; and Melissa Crotty Chaput, her husband, Joe, and their son, Jack. He is also survived by his children’s mother, Carolyn Wallace, of Portland; and a daughter, Erin A. Crotty, of Freeport, and her mother, Pauline Halle Crotty, of Daytona, Florida.

A celebration of Crotty’s life will be held Saturday, Sept. 12, at 11 a.m., at First Parish Unitarian Church, 425 Congress St., Portland.

In lieu of flowers or other donations, contributions may be made in Crotty’s name to the SailMaine Scholarship Fund, 58 Fore St., Portland, ME 04101.