The Right Exposure
Wellington Artist Draws Interest Across the Street From Movie Set
By Darla L. Pickett
SKOWHEGAN — Artist Milton Christianson last week erected his easel on a downtown traffic island, started stroking on paint and he was in business — and in the movies.
By Tuesday, Christianson was earning his keep both as an artist and as part of the background scenery for the HBO movie "Empire Falls" being filmed downtown.
Stacked around him, and on the easel, were paintings of the Empire Grill, an eatery in the movie that has been fashioned from the former Patrick's Pizza Joint.
Impressed with the likeness, Debbie and Richard Zazulia, owners of the pizzeria, purchased a print of the painting Tuesday afternoon.
"We plan to put it up when we reopen, sometime near the end of November," Debbie Zazulia said.
Christianson sold at least two prints on Tuesday and has orders for several of his original paintings.
"I've sold everything," he said. "Even this one I'm working on is sold. They've been purchased for gifts."
Christianson said movie actors and crews have been keeping track of his progress and have expressed an interest in buying.
"They come to look, but then people want their autographs and we never get a chance to talk, really," he said.
The Wellington artist said he came to the location with few expectations. He said he knew they were filming and in true entrepreneurial spirit, with a nudge from a friend, decided it was a good time and place to exhibit his work.
So he packed up his paper and watercolors and set up business in the traffic square at the east end of the downtown rotary.
"I came originally to find a place to exhibit pictures of Skowhegan," he said. "I began painting and they made everybody else go away, but didn't make me go away. I ended up being in some of the shots. They wanted me in some more on these particular scenes and I have to look like I've been here all day."
Christianson said it is good they do not want him too often because he has to get his wood in for the winter and he has a carpentry project that needs his attention.
An impressionist painter, the 56-year-old Christianson said he's had a good time painting while he watches all the action.
"It's fun to be here," he said. "I've made new friends and I've got some more exposure."
The paintings are fact with fiction mixed in — some cars and some people were not there when a painting was started, according to Christianson, who recently returned from a painting seminar in Russia this summer.
At the seminar, Christianson shared with Russian artists his techniques in painting in watercolor that he has used for the past 20 years.
He said he was influenced a lot by the California School of Watercolor, which he said began in the 1920s and was open through the 1950s.
A native of Minneapolis, Christianson received a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Wesleyan University. He grew to love Maine while visiting Waterville with a friend in college, and moved here in 1970.
Christianson has painted in India, Nepal and Australia, as well as in Canada and throughout the United States.
"Exposure never hurts," Christianson said Tuesday. "I'll have postcards of the (Empire Grill) painting in two weeks."
From the Morning Sentinel, Wednesday, October 8, 2003, pp. A1 & A2. Photo and text used by permission.