In 2008, the Islip Art Museum in East Islip, N.Y., featured an exhibition of the works of six longtime artist couples. The purpose was to see if viewers could identify by their works which artists were a couple, implying that similarities would appear due to mutual influence. In some cases, the influences was obvious and positive, while in others, it resulted in unsatisfactory compromise. For Port Clyde artists Marianne and Bill Swittlinger, who have been married for over 40 years, there exists a more subtle influence and similarity. Both create colorful works of art that are design-driven. However, the inspiration for their creativity stems from completely different interests and backgrounds.
Born in Meriden, Conn., Marianne was influenced at an early age by her aunt, who was an accomplished painter. When it was time to attend college, Marianne had a strong desire to study art, but her father felt it was an impractical decision. So, she attended the University of Hartford as an education major in French and English. She spent her junior year in France, and then returned to the United States to complete her degree. She taught in public schools in Connecticut for a number of years, and in 1975 met and married Bill, who was a math teacher at the same school that year. Five years later, in 1980, Marianne took a sabbatical leave from teaching to complete a masters degree in art education. Eventually she landed a job teaching art at a high school and continued doing that until her retirement in 1999.
During those years of teaching high school, Marianne became involved in the Farmington Art Guild, which was known for attracting important artists from all over the country to exhibit and teach. It was there that Marianne exhibited her first solo show of paintings themed with Native American symbols on teepees influenced by the couple’s frequent travels to the Southwest. After the Swittlingers moved full-time into their summer home in Martinsville in 1999, Marianne was approached by Port Clyde artist Kim Libby to exhibit their work jointly. From this collaboration, they opened “The Girl Ain’t Right Gallery” which eventually became the Port Clyde Art Gallery.
By contrast, Bill Swittlinger, who was born in New Britain, Conn., had no real interest in art as a child. He earned a degree in math education from Central Connecticut State University in 1968 and taught math in the junior high school where he met Marianne. He eventually joined the high school faculty in Farmington, where he served as chair of the math department until his retirement.
During their travels to the Southwest and other locations, and while summering in Maine, Bill began to assemble found objects into sculptures and then paint them. “Walking the dog along the seashore, I would find things and thought that they looked like other things,” he explains. Like mathematics, Bill could see the spatial relationship between forms and reassemble them. Applying colorful paint to his assemblages makes them come alive.
While Marianne’s most important influence on Bill was to raise his interest and awareness in fine art, it would seem that Bill’s focus on inventive assemblages is now, in turn, influencing Marianne. “Presently, I am reinventing myself into a mixed-media paper artist,” she states. “I’ve backed away from straight painting to experimentation, which for me is more authentic.”
This latest evidence of artistic synergy between the two may be a result of a recent change in working style. Over the years, the Swittlingers have worked in separate areas of their home: Bill in the garage and Marianne in her studio. However, this past winter they expanded their creative space to encompass the entire house, one that fosters mutual influence even more strongly.
Marianne and Bill Swittlinger are represented by the Port Clyde Art Gallery, where she is gallery manager and he is the financial manager.
—Katharine A. Cartwright
PHOTOS: Katharine Cartwright