STOCKTON SPRINGS — Noelle Merrill said she was being nosey when she decided to look inside her recently deceased neighbor’s house while workers were emptying out the home in preparation for a sale.

While taking an afternoon walk with another neighbor, Merrill said, they found Tina Pesce’s yellow house across from the Sandy Point Congregational Church on Route 1 was being worked on, and decided to take a closer look.

“I was stunned,” she said when she discovered meticulously painted murals adorning the walls of a bedroom and a sunroom in the home. Merrill was so awed by the discovery of the art that she felt compelled to document it, and went home to retrieve her phone. 

This is one of the murals with which Tina Pesce decorated her home in Stockton Springs. Courtesy of Noelle Merrill

A woodland scene surrounds one bedroom, with a lighthouse overlooking the bay. Beyond the lighthouse a coastal village can be seen, and farther on the horizon, a masted schooner sails peacefully on the water. Merrill posted her photographs of Pesce’s murals on the Friends of Sandy Point Facebook page and received many comments.

“People you would never expect commented on it,” she said. Besides Facebook, the story has also been told in Bangor Daily News, The Boston Globe and a Country & Western radio station out of Providence, Rhode Island, WOKQ, Merrill said.

Tina Pesce painted this mural in the sunroom of her Stockton Springs home. Courtesy of Noelle Merrill

Seventy-four-year-old Christina Pesce, known as Tina, was a private and talented person. Merrill described her neighbor as reclusive, though she admitted she did not often seek out contact with Pesce.

“I believe she only had one dress that she wore, along with flip flops,” she noted. Pesce enjoyed what she did and did not care what others thought, Merrill said. “If she liked it, it didn’t matter.”

One of the many murals Tina Pesce painted in her Stockton Springs home. Courtesy of Noelle Merrill

As Merrill remembers, Pesce would not let anyone in her home and only on a few occasions in the 13 1/2  years they were neighbors did they interact. “Occasionally we would help her out,” she said. “My husband helped with a stuck door, then he was out” — never getting a glimpse of the art on the walls.

Pesce took care of her 44-year-old intellectually disabled son, Robert, who lived with her and worked at Waldo County General Hospital. She would drive Robert to work and pick him up every afternoon, and occasionally, Merrill helped her with transportation.

Merrill said she knew little about her neighbor or the talents she possessed. Later on in her life, she said, Pesce developed health problems, making it hard for her to move around. 

With all the hard news in today’s world, Merrill thought people would appreciate a positive story, one with a wonderful surprise. “I thought people would be interested to see her talent.

“Her house is on the market right now,” she said. “Someone will buy it. I don’t know if they will save the murals.” The artwork is painted on sheetrock, Merrill explained, and to save the murals the entire section of wall would need to be replaced.

Veronica Garvey Magnan knew Pesce and her son for 18 years, and owns three of Pesce’s paintings. She described her friend as an interesting and private person, adding that Robert is “the most gregarious and outgoing young man” she knows and can sing like an angel. 

Neighbor Noelle Merrill salvaged this discarded painting by Tina Pesce from a dumpster outside the late artist’s home. Courtesy of Noelle Merrill

“He knows the words to every tune, the performer and the writer of every song,” she said. “And he can sing very well.” According to Magnan, Robert was active in the church and in the Sunday School program, though his mother did not attend, being a devout Catholic. Magnan said Robert calls her “Teach.”

When she saw the murals on Facebook, she was surprised to see them treated like a secret, having seen them before at Pesce’s house. “She was proud of them.” 

Her paintings tend to have traditional themes, Magnan said, with “very crisp” lines and interesting perspectives. She compared Pesce’s work to that of American primitive artist Anna Mary Robertson Moses (Grandma Moses). One of Magnan’s favorite of Pesce’s paintings is of the old Waldo Hancock Bridge. “She had a spectacular view of the bay from her house,” she said.

Magnan said Pesce was originally from Massachusetts and believed she had been an amateur artist all her life. Besides painting, Pesce also enjoyed crafts and for a time had a gallery at her house with a sign out front. 

“Every time the ladies’ Congregational Church group would have a sale, she would contribute her paintings,” she said. Magnan noticed that Pesce started donating her painting and crafting supplies to the church when her health began to decline about seven years ago. That is when she thinks Pesce lost the ability to paint, she said. At that time, Pesce also stopped coming to the Sandy Point Community Club, to which she belonged.

She donated paint brushes, crayons and feathers, all anonymously, Magnan said. When Pesce had health problems, Magnan said, the church helped out by setting up a shuttle service for Robert, so he could continue to work at the hospital.

“They had formed a life,” she said. “A successful and interesting life… . She did know people enjoyed her work.”

Pesce’s other son, Matthew, lives in California and is organizing the sale of his mother’s property. In a Facebook post, he wrote, “Given the fact I live on the other side of the country and my brother has already moved down to Massachusetts, there’s really no option but to sell the house.”

In a conversation with The Republican Journal Oct. 15, he said his mother moved to Maine in 2003 from Woburn, Massachusetts, where she had a ceramics studio. She attended high school in Lexington, Massachusetts, and  later worked in several hospitals helping people with substance abuse issues.

After her declining health, he said, she did not interact with many people. She told him once that because of where she lived, the cars went too fast to stop at her gallery on Route 1. “She was very humble,” he said. “She would be blown away that there is this much interest in her work after her death.

“She is probably looking down on everything, laughing,” he said. “She had a great sense of humor.”

The house is currently listed for $275,000 with Realty of Maine, where the description notes the home needs some TLC. When asked what is needed to make the house whole and if the murals are still in place, the listing broker said the home is in need of maintenance, and, yes, the murals are still up.

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