A photo of Lesieur's painting of The Canton Public Library's addition/expansion. This work hangs in the Reference Room at the library. (Taken October 2020)
Sixty years of Bob Lesieur’s prolific artistic life of nine decades were spent in Canton and many of the hundreds of paintings that he left as a legacy memorialize both the surroundings and the individuals that make up this community as well as the neighboring natural refuges that he so enjoyed. From Chapman Street to Pequitside Farm, from Sharon’s Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary to the north and south shores of Massachusetts, Bob embraced and appreciated them all.
As much as a portraitist, Bob Lesieur was also a plein air artist and was masterful with light and shadow compositions. He held himself to high standards, keeping books nearby for continued inspiration on artists he most admired--portrait painter John Singer Sargent, realist Andrew Wyeth and land- and seascape painter Winslow Homer. Where Wyeth had often encapsulated his own career as a painter in the remark, “I paint my life”, when Lesieur was asked what he liked to draw the fondly-remembered reply was, “Whatever gets in my way.”
As a young scholarship student graduating from the Vesper George School of Art in Boston, Lesieur worked as a newspaper artist before serving in World War II. Stationed in England during the war he was a military graphic artist with the Eighth Air Force (8 AF) before returning to the U.S. and to a career as a free-lance commercial artist, later teaching at Boston University in Commercial Design. Eventually he also began taking on landscape and portrait assignments nights and weekends and “running on coffee and 15-minute naps”, as his artist daughter Bettina remembered.
Robert and Maria Lesieur (also a Vesper George graduate, a major in fashion design/illustration and a watercolor and oil impressionist) raised their family of four children on Chapman St. in Canton. Surrounded by natural beauty and without TV as a distraction, the children were encouraged to develop their creative selves. Proving to be a natural visual artist, daughter Bettina today paints in a traditional style in oils and owns and operates a gallery and studio in Duxbury, MA. Though Bettina’s variety of land- and seascapes have won awards at juried exhibits and attracted commissions both corporate and private, it is to her artistic parents that she continues to give much credit. Of her long-lived father she has remarked, “He was tough on himself, and tough on me” though his exacting critiques were also balanced by high praise. “Paint, paint, paint;” she recalls him saying, “That’s how you’ll get better”. The elder Lesieur firmly believed that he was always learning and always finding something new.
Lesieur developed a distinctive style using a felt-tip pen and watercolor, an unforgiving approach to portraiture. Whether a matter of time or temperature, sometimes he began a work in charcoal before returning to his studio to complete it in watercolor or pastel. When the weather was not cooperative, he would work from his car on occasion, bringing along a thermos of coffee to help keep warm. With their children grown and then later, sadly, Maria passed on, Bob delved more deeply into his craft--taking classes and painting outdoors as much as possible, sometimes alone and at other times with colleagues from the Canton Art Association. His portfolio of still life paintings, landscapes and portraits of both homes and individuals were recognized, admired and awarded. His work was sought after and collected both privately and at the corporate level.
It was at the Canton Public Library that Lesieur added significantly to this body of work by painting either “face or place” weekly over three decades of classes. This inventory of the resulting hundreds of portraits were among the more than 800 total canvases that Bettina catalogued from her father’s estate. Lesieur painted to the very end of his life, continuing to hold himself to the high bar of the masters and leaving in his wake not only a lasting source of pleasure but the physical legacy of a life well lived represented by a lifetime of devotion to his craft .
The Canton Public Library is most fortunate to have in its collection a few of Lesieur’s unique works. Perhaps most striking and meaningful to this institution is one completed later in his life of the then newly-expanding library. It is a view from the Washington St. sidewalk of the arcade running alongside the parking lot side of the building up to the new front doors. It hangs in the Reference Room to the left as you enter and is well worth a few moments of your time and appreciation. Bob likely would have been tickled by one observer’s remark that if he didn’t know it was a painting, he would have thought it a computerized rendition of the proposed library expansion. It’s just that good.