When Linda Bean began talking with Ron Crusan about coming to Port Clyde to become the director of her new Wyeth Gallery she asked him, “Can you sell?”
Crusan, who at the time was the Executive Director of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, vividly remembers his response: “‘Can I sell? I’ve been selling my whole career! It’s been different products, but I’ve been selling the whole time.’”
Indeed, Crusan admits that, beginning with his first job as an executive director of an arts center in North Carolina in 1991, he has always taken an entrepreneurial approach to his work, a bent he believes he shares with Linda Bean.
“This art center was having financial troubles and they were talking about not opening even as they were interviewing me for the job,” Crusan recalls. “They said they wanted to hire me, but wanted to put it off for a couple of months because they couldn’t afford to pay me. And I said, ‘You can’t afford not to have me come in.’ And they said I was right, if they put it off they’d never open. So I went in and over the course of seven years we doubled the budget, got donors lined up and really made that place go. So I got the reputation for turning organizations around. Then every organization that was in trouble called me. That was really hard work.”
Crusan claims no special training to explain his ability to turn struggling organizations around. “I was always an art guy—my BA was in studio art and my BFA was in photography—I never had any business training. But I was never afraid to ask people for money. Of course, you have to believe in your organization, but I was selling what people already wanted—I was just laying it out for them.”
Only into its second year of operation, Linda Bean’s Wyeth Gallery is not a financially struggling organization like most of the museums Crusan has directed, but his entrepreneurial outlook will be an asset as he works to develop the business over the next few years. Soon after beginning his new job on April 1, he began working on expanding the gallery’s space, which is located over the Port Clyde General Store. In addition to original paintings and prints by Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, there is now room to show work by such Wyeth-related artists as Anne Wyeth McCoy, John McCoy and Anna B. McCoy as well as work by other artists such as New York painter Maurice Freedman who painted on Monhegan in the 1940s. Crusan also has some of his own work on display—assemblages and other creations using found objects.
Over 2,000 people came through the gallery between Memorial Day and early August, but Crusan says he would like to triple that number. The trick, he notes, is to find ways to draw people to Port Clyde from further afield than St. George. For example, he has just begun an ad campaign to reach people in the Brandywine Valley in southeastern Pennsylvania, which many people think of as “Wyeth country” because of the Wyeth family’s ties there. “But this also is Wyeth country,” Crusan stresses, “so we’re trying to get people in Wyeth country there to come to Wyeth country here.”
Another part of the business that Crusan is trying to build is the “Wyeth by Water” tours. “People who are already here in St. George come across the tour and take it, but, like with the gallery, we have to market it outside of Tenants Harbor and Port Clyde.”
Apart from the business side of Crusan’s new responsibilities, a big reason Linda Bean wanted Crusan on her payroll was his experience and skill as a curator of art.
“After many years of working in the non-profit world of museums, I always had thought that an ideal job would be either a corporate or a private curator, a job that would not involve all the politicking and fundraising and all the things involved in keeping an organization afloat,” Crusan says. “The opportunity presented itself when Linda became involved with the Ogunquit Museum as a supporter. We did an exhibition of her collection of Andrew Wyeth—15 works by Andrew and one work by N.C. Wyeth and one by Jamie Wyeth just to give it some context—so I got to know her pretty well through that. And because she was a donor, I kept in contact with her.”
Crusan cites a pivotal phone conversation with Bean late last winter during which she recounted a variety of needs relating to the gallery and to her personal art collection. “I told her, ‘You just need someone to pull it all together for you,’ and she agreed. So in my blunt way I said, ‘Hire me!’”
A first step in managing Bean’s personal art collection, Crusan says, involves cataloguing it and evaluating the condition of each piece. “I really have no idea of the full scope of the collection—it is spread out and in many different locations, including restaurants and rental properties. It’s everywhere.”
Crusan admits that, while he has always been a fan of Andrew Wyeth’s work—“He paints white sheets blowing in the wind in water color! Who does that? Who can do that?”—he has been learning a lot he didn’t previously know about N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth since beginning his work with Bean as her director of art projects. And, he adds, he has discovered an aspect of their art he hadn’t appreciated before.
“I’ve always known the Wyeths from an art historical standpoint. I thought the art is what is important. But I’ve come to see the other side of it. I never understood this, but to people who aren’t art historians an artist’s place in the community is what’s important, that personal connection of the Wyeths to the community.” After saying this, Crusan adds, “If you read about Andrew and why he painted who he painted, you find that he had a personal connection to the people he painted. He wanted to know the object he was painting intimately, so it worked both ways.”
Crusan says he and his wife, Sally (who is now an emergency room coordinator at PenBay Hospital), are pleased to have made the move to St. George and look forward to buying a home here. “We love it here. I like this community’s remoteness. I don’t leave the peninsula if I don’t have to. My goal is to have a studio for my own work that is quiet and away from people and to also do my thing for Linda. I’m feeling very lucky.”—JW
PHOTOS: Top, Julie Wortman, bottom, Betsy Welch