ORLEANS – When banker Valerie LaBelle reported to work at the Rockland Trust branch here on the Tuesday after the long Memorial Day weekend, she saw something that made her very happy: A small color rendering of an inlet running through marsh grass was tucked up behind the Plexiglas of a poster in the bank’s ATM lobby.
When she retrieved the original art and turned it over, she saw the words in black ink: “From: the mystery artist.”
“I’m like, ‘oh my God, he’s back!’” she recalled last Friday.
Last summer, an unidentified artist began leaving pieces of art in the ATM lobby on a regular basis. He or she started with sketches in black ink on the blank backs of glossy eight—and-a-half-by-three-inch flyers advertising foreign currency. Early sketches show a simple dinghy with a seagull over it or a fishing shack. They are sketches that an experienced artist could create in a flash while standing at the counter by the ATM, using the black ballpoint pen that is attached to a chain. This is an artist who lives by the water and observes what he or she sees.
After a while, color was introduced. Although these sketches, too, were created on the glossy “canvas” on the back of the flyer, it seems unlikely that the mystery artist carried six or seven colored markers and stood by the ATM machine sketching, for example, a church’s steeple seen from a distance. Or did s/he? And do the left-leaning cross-hatches in many of the works suggest a left-handed artist? The signature evolved, too, from the florid “WD” of the early sketches to what appears to be “Walter D.”
LaBelle has “an intuition it’s a man. But I could be wrong,” she says. “Maybe it’s a woman. But I don’t think so.”
As last summer wore on, the collection of art expanded and it was “beautiful, growing in elaboration,” LaBelle says. The bank staff quizzed one another and customers but no one admitted knowing anything about the artist’s identity. The staff left notes for the artist asking, “who are you?” but got no reply except more art. Someone took one of the little sketches around the corner to the Addison Art Gallery and asked Helen Addison if she recognized the signature or knew an artist named Walter. She did not.
Many people wonder why LaBelle doesn’t watch the surveillance video taken in the ATM lobby. But she says she can’t. First off, it’s a privacy issue. Secondly, the videos show only faces peering into the ATM machine during transactions. It’s not as though videos exist of someone using the ATM lobby as an artist’s atelier.
Then a customer left off a collection of shark cartoons, with references to 1970s culture. Although the bank staff laughed, those are clearly the work of a different hand. Meanwhile, the mystery artist’s work continued. It seemed that he—or she—took home several bank flyers and worked at home. With color came greater complexity in the work. One sketch shows a fishing shack with a derelict fishing boat in the grass in front of it. In the foreground is a dock with a dinghy tied to it. A heron stands in the shallow water.
The bank staff began leaving paper out for the mystery artist. A lighthouse and keeper’s cottage, with seagulls circling overhead, was their reward. It was done in blue ink.
In another, an old pump surrounded by pink flowers is rendered in crayon or pastel. And a third is of a recognizable scene near the Community of Jesus at Rock Harbor. It shows three boats moored in an inlet with the community’s stone bell tower in the distance. Atop the bell tower is a giant black sculpture of an angel. Another in the same style shows what appears to be the Brewster herring run. The signature offers a small clue: After the “D” in the last name is a letter with a dot. An “i?” So now possibly we have “Walter Di—.”
The bank staff collected the art in a large flat book they display in the bank’s lobby. Everyone last fall loved the small but growing collection of art. Just as great, LaBelle says the mystery artist fits in with Rockland Trust CEO Christopher Oddleifson’s philosophy of engaging customers and having fun.
And then the art stopped.
It just stopped.
“I have a feeling he’s a snowbird,” LaBelle says. And her feeling was apparently validated when the art appeared again after Memorial Day weekend, just as if the mystery artist had swept into town for the summer with the rest of the seasonal visitors.
Nine blank pages remain in the book displaying the artist’s work in the bank lobby. “We’re anticipating a lot more this summer,” LaBelle says. A sign in the ATM lobby reads, “Welcome back, Mystery Artist! We missed you!!!”
“Life is short,” LaBelle adds. “We work all day. You might as well whistle while you work. That’s my philosophy.”
And at this point, LaBelle says she isn’t sure she wants to know the artist’s identity.
After all, everyone loves a mystery.