CHATHAM — Marguerite “Peg” Falconer, who for six decades blazed trails as an impressionist painter, is being remembered by friends and fellow artists as a generous, genuine person.
Mrs. Falconer died on Friday at the age of 97, leaving behind an impressive body of work that will surely surge in value, and an equally impressive number of friends and colleagues who remember her fondly.
“I was privileged to be able to call her a friend,” fellow painter Jack Garver said. “She was a great person.”
A native of Quincy, Mrs. Falconer's mother was an artist who never sold her paintings; her father was a printer. Under her mother's encouragement, she became a prodigious painter who went on to study at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln. Mrs. Falconer taught art classes in various South Shore communities, and as a result, began to accumulate a number of paintings. She traveled with an easel and other supplies in the back of her car.
Forced to take a break from her art while caring for her aging parents, Mrs. Falconer then came to Chatham, where she had spent many summers at the home of her cousins. She came to town with the idea of opening a gallery of her own, taking advantage of Chatham's famous light and its vibrant downtown.
“I always loved Chatham, and I knew that this was where I wanted to be,” she said in a 1997 interview with The Chronicle. In 1968, she and oil painter Dan McElwain opened a gallery together on Main Street. Mrs. Falconer became comfortable painting in front of spectators, often working in the front window of the gallery. That's how colleague Debbie Hearle remembers first having seen her.
“I would walk in the evening through town with my mom and dad, and she and Dan would be standing outside,” Hearle said. With McElwain in an ascot and Mrs. Falconer in a beautiful outfit, “they were both elegant,” Hearle recalled. Years later, Hearle would be an accomplished painter and would own a gallery just down the street.
“Her paintings were exquisite,” Hearle said. “She always had something going there at her easel.”
During the summers, Mrs. Falconer would often work 12-hour days at the gallery, going home and painting in her kitchen at night. Theirs was the only art gallery open year-round in Chatham, and Mrs. Falconer particularly liked the relaxing mood that took over once Labor Day passed and most summer visitors had gone home.
In 1969, she invited local artists to a meeting that helped bring about the Creative Arts Center, where she taught for years.
“The arts center owes something to her,” said Garver, who also taught classes at the center for many years. “Her work speaks for itself,” he said. “She had an incredibly sure hand. I have never seen anything awkward that she ever painted. But she was very self-effacing about it,” Garver recalled.
In her early years, Mrs. Falconer went out each morning to sketch scenes that would later become paintings, but after a few years, she developed the ability to paint familiar local scenes from memory or from photographs. She learned the importance of painting scenes that people wanted to buy, but always balanced popular themes with more creative ones.
“She painted what she was inspired to paint, mostly,” Hearle said. “Her inspiration really was there and that's what guided her.” Still, speaking in 1997, Mrs. Falconer quipped that she had “saturated” the genre of sand dunes.
“I did dunes until I felt as if I was covered with sand,” she said with a chuckle. But she also was encouraged by the sale of her paintings and by the often emotional response they evoked from visitors to the gallery.
By the 1990s, Mrs. Falconer's work had won wide critical acclaim, and she was invited to hang a painting at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum. Some of her paintings are a part of the permanent collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Despite that acclaim, Mrs. Falconer remained firmly grounded, friend Otis Russell recalled.
“She was a sweetheart,” he said. When Russell and other volunteers started The Art of Charity, a pro-am art auction that raised money for local children's charities, they were reluctant to ask for help from an artist of such stature. But Mrs. Falconer happily offered an original oil painting for the first auction, and her gift helped give the event some of its initial momentum. “She made us feel we could go to anybody and say, 'Could you help us out?'” Russell said.
In later years, she donated giclée prints for the auction, painting a tiny remarque in the corner to personalize the works. Russell recalled that, even as a famous painter, she would fret about ruining the print with a bad brush-stroke.
“She was so human about it,” he said.
Mrs. Falconer is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Kevin Eldredge of Chatham and San Mateo, Calif., along with nephews Ryan Falconer of Yarmouth and Alexander Falconer of Boston.
A memorial service will be held at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church of Chatham on Sept. 3 at 11 a.m.