Over the past couple years, I’ve walked into the Select Board room for a typical Tuesday night meeting and sat down. I’ve always taken the second seat from the left without too much thought until a couple weeks ago. The two paintings over my shoulder have been there longer than I have but where did they come from? The answer may seem obvious, since there’s a plaque that reads “Artwork Donated By John and Diana Halsey” but how did they randomly just end up there? There’s quite a story behind all of it, even an issue with technology causing them to take a couple of months hiatus from the walls as well.
It all started back in 2015 when an artist by the name of Rob Surette was hired by the Town of Reading to put on a Speed-Painting Extravaganza for the general public on Martin Luther King’s holiday. Rob is one of the top artists in the world and has appeared on the TODAY Show, The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, and Oprah. He’s able to speed paint each of his portraits in under 10 minutes! On that day, he painted each of the portraits below: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Leonard Zakim (whose family was in attendance that day), Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, Harvey Milk, Malala Yousafzai, and Abraham Lincoln.
After Rob was done painting, John Halsey then of the Select Board, asked Rob what does he do with the paintings afterwards? Rob told him, he just paints over them and reuses the canvases. John then replied “these are too good and a terrible waste, I’ll buy them all from you. “The entire performance was very uplifting, and it would be a travesty to have these painted over”.
Now that John owned eight pieces of incredible artwork, where would they go? You already semi know the answer to the two smaller ones, except there’s a twist to that later. The answer to the six others would end up being inside Reading Memorial High School’s library, high above all the books, as if they were always intended to fit and reside there.
As for the remaining two, you may notice that Abraham Lincoln looks a bit different than all the rest. That’s because Rob, years later, told the town he’d re-paint Lincoln and MLK in his “hyper-realistic” painting style as free gifts, so that all four portraits match, in style. All four? That’s correct, the town then hired Rob to paint Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Harriet Tubman in the realistic style, which takes a long time to complete. Rob expects Ruth Bader Ginsburg to be completed in March if all goes well. The original Lincoln was relocated to Fidel Maltez’s (town manager) office.
As for the plaques themselves, the former town manager, Robert LeLacheur and assistant town manger, Jean Delios wanted to recognize John & Diana Halsey’s donation to the town back then, so they came up with the idea as a token of appreciation.
So where is Rob Surette now? He’ll be appearing at the international art festival in Disney on January 27, 28, 29, 2023 for Epcot’s Festival of the Arts and then back in Reading thereafter! That’s right, Rob will be back speed painting in May at Parker Middle School, but a definitive date hasn’t been chosen yet.
How about the technology issues that caused the Select Board room’s paintings to disappear for a couple months? The portraits were so realistic that the meeting cameras were auto focusing on them instead of the actual speakers in the room! Now that’s a compliment on how incredible Rob is as an artist. A five-minute painting was capable of tricking a computer. Pretty amazing. The issue has since been resolved.
-Rob Surette of Amazing Hero Art www.amazingheroart.com and John Halsey contributed to this article.