Joseph Palermo remembers his mother saying he was “born with a paintbrush in his hand.” If this is the case then Mr. Palermo has been holding a brush for 91 years. This weekend will mark the beginning of a month-long show of Mr. Palermo’s watercolors at the Chilmark Library and he plans to be there at the opening. “I think he’s an inspiration,” Elise Thomas said. She helps Mr. Palermo by taking photos of some of the images he’s interested in recreating, everything from waterfowl to lighthouses. Then, in a large alcove in his apartment within his son Greg’s home in Edgartown, Mr. Palermo’s art takes shape. Mr. Palermo has lived with his son for the past few years after living most of his life in New Jersey and Florida.
Mr. Palermo was born in Montreal in 1921 and became a U.S. citizen when he enlisted in the Army. He was stationed in the Pacific during World War II and earned a Bronze Star for shooting down a fighter plane, his son Greg explained.
“After the war he worked as a butcher in New Jersey and then moved to Florida where he purchased a motel in St. Augustine. He sold the motel and bought a restaurant. He is somebody who has to be doing something,” Greg said. “He built a summer house in New Jersey by watching how other people did it.”
In St. Augustine, Mr. Palermo had a weekly get-together with a group of artist friends where they critiqued each other’s work.
“I learned a lot from that,” Mr. Palermo said. And he is still learning and staying connected with these peers via Skype. Many of their paintings also line the walls of Mr. Palermo’s apartment, hanging next to his own delicate coastal scenes.
“I began drawing when I was little,” Mr. Palermo said. “After the war the painting came.”
Mr. Palermo explained that he began with oils and transitioned to watercolor about 30 years ago. When he owned the motel, he happened to notice one of the guests had a trunk full of art supplies and he asked her if she used watercolor. The motel guest said she did and Mr. Palermo asked if she would teach him how to paint with them.
“We went down to the beach and she only showed me once and that was it,” Mr. Palermo said.
When asked if there was any other medium he’d like to try, Mr. Palermo smiled and said, “No. My way is the only way.”
Mr. Palermo said he admires the work of fellow artist and one-time St. Augustinian, Dick Zayac who is noted for painting the scenes in his community much like Mr. Palermo paints the lighthouse at East Chop and the sailboats in Edgartown harbor.
Besides the upcoming show at the Chilmark Library, Mr. Palermo’s paintings can also be viewed at the Wheel Happy Bicycle Shop in Edgartown. The show in Chilmark, however, is Mr. Palermo’s first official art show. He said he is looking forward to it. His family will be there to support him as well.
When asked if there were any other artists in the family, Greg responded, “No...I think you have to have the knack for it.”
Joseph A. Palermo Watercolors — A Collection of works by the Artist opens with a reception with the artist on Saturday, Jan. 5 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Chilmark Public Library. The show will run through Jan. 31 during regular library hours.