Influential Portland gallerist June Fitzpatrick dies at 83


June Fitzpatrick locked the door to her gallery for the last time in 2016. Longtime gallery owner and influential figure in the Portland art scene, Fitzpatrick died Monday. Brianna Soukup/staff photographer

June Fitzpatrick, a longtime Portland gallerist and strong supporter of two generations of local artists, died Monday at the age of 83.

“June was like a mother to me,” said Blainor McGough, the partner of Fitzpatrick’s son Nicholas, who died suddenly in 2019, and a former director of Mayo Street Arts. “But she was also a friend. Her influence on the artists and on the culture here is just huge. June Fitzpatrick Gallery is where everyone wanted to exhibit.

McGough said Fitzpatrick died of natural causes but had battled heart disease in recent years.

Artists and other gallerists have described Fitzpatrick as a “force of nature” and a “connector between artists and their community”.

“She had a very discerning eye and a warm, gracious spirit,” said Rachael O’Shaughnessy, a painter who studied at the Maine College of Art & Design when Fitzpatrick’s gallery occupied an adjacent space on Congress Street. “We learned very early in art school that she was the person to go see.”

Originally from England where she studied art history, Fitzpatrick moved to Maine in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Blainor McGough

Born and raised in Sheffield, England, Fitzpatrick majored in art history before coming to Maine in the 1960s with her then-husband, Eddie Fitzpatrick, who had taken a job at the Portland Press Herald. He was an editor for years, overseeing arts coverage, before leaving to open a restaurant, the popular Pepperclub in Portland. They had been divorced for many years when he died in 2017.

June Fitzpatrick also worked at the newspaper for a time before owning and operating various businesses. Her first art gallery opened in the mid-1990s, and soon after, she launched a second. His gallery on the High Street closed in 2011 and his space on Congress Street closed in 2016.

Edgar Allen Beem, who wrote about art in Portland for decades, said Fitzpatrick was unquestionably the city’s greatest gallerist of her time.

“She had a really good eye, and she not only showed what she thought she could sell, but what she thought was worth it,” Beem said. “I think the most important thing with June is that she was a good person. She was nice to everyone and made everyone feel welcome.

Carl Little, another longtime Maine writer and art critic, called Fitzpatrick “a central figure in the art scene”.

“The art world here is pretty tight, but he was someone who always brought people together,” he said. “And she really cared about people too. It’s not something you have to do as a gallery owner.

For many years, Fitzpatrick was also the adoptive mother of several babies awaiting adoption, and she brought that same motherly nature to her galleries.

“I used to call her my art mom,” said Tanja Hollander, a photographer from Auburn.

When Hollander was 22 and had just graduated from college, she returned to Portland to open an alternative gallery. By this time, Fitzpatrick was well established.

“She was my biggest champion ever,” Hollander said. “She was so supportive and welcoming of other galleries and young artists.”

Annie Wadleigh, associate director of development at the Maine College of Art & Design, had known Fitzpatrick for three decades.

“I think his galleries were so successful because of his generosity of spirit,” Wadleigh said. “Her personality drew people in and she created a wonderful community of talented artists and supporters. She was so central to the arts community.

Wadleigh said Fitzpatrick often provides space in the gallery for MECA students and for faculty exhibits as well. After his retirement, the school recognized Fitzpatrick with an honorary Doctor of Arts degree for his contributions to the art world.

Many fondly remember dinner parties at his West End home.

“She used to do openings and then she would invite artists and their families to her house, so sometimes I would get invited,” said Ed Pollack, another Portland art dealer. “It was like a cultural fair. Always interesting people and interesting conversations. She knew how to make people feel good with each other.

Beem said his home was “like stepping into 19th century London, with all this wonderful art on the walls and antiques on display”.

Lyman’s Amy Stacey Curtis was a young, gallery-seeking artist in the early 2000s when she first met Fitzpatrick.

“I had no idea what was going on at the time. I was new,” Curtis said. “But June’s gallery was the only one where I felt really fit. she would appreciate my aesthetic. I also liked the way she presented the work she presented – minimal, clean and professional.”

Curtis said she had visited Fitzpatrick in his gallery every Thursday for years.

“It didn’t matter how busy she was…she always stopped to talk with you,” she said.

Hollander said one thing that stood out to her was Fitzpatrick’s respect for artists, but also for people.

“It was never about trade. She wasn’t looking to make a lot of money or get rich,” she said. “And I remember seeing high-end collectors and homeless people in galleries – sometimes at the same time. She treated everyone the same.

Even after retiring in 2016, losing his only son in 2019, and seeing his own health deteriorate, Fitzpatrick has continued to champion local art and artists. She was a guest curator for Mayo Street Arts pop-up galleries during the first year of the pandemic.

McGough, who worked with her on these pop-up galleries, said the outpouring of support since Fitzpatrick’s death is testament to her impact.

“She always knew exactly what she wanted to do, and she did it,” McGough said.

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