In 1968, Arnie Casavant was laid up at the old Chelsea Naval Hospital after having been injured while in the military.
The Rhode Island native was fond of his days recovering at the hospital, but he didn’t give Chelsea much thought until a decade ago.
After a failed bid to buy a retirement condo in New Hampshire one day 10 years ago, Casavant and his wife, Kathleen, were driving back down Rt. 1 to Boston in a kind of funk.
As they approached Chelsea, Casavant suggested they take a spin through the old Naval Hospital to change the pace of the day. They never found the Naval Hospital, as it was long gone by then, but they found Chelsea and they stayed.
Now, over the past 10 years that they’ve lived here, Casavant has found his artistic stride and at the Art Walk this weekend he’ll be presenting art and teaching art.
“Moving to Chelsea and starting to paint more coincided with me attending my first Art Walk,” Casavant, 66, said this week. “Fortunately for me it was a stepping stone. I had a show at Spencer Lofts and Pearl Street Gallery as a result of the Art Walk. It just spiraled from there. I started painting a lot more after and it turned into a whole new career. I have a studio in [the South End] in Boston and I am in a gallery in Cape Cod. The success I’m having now started because of the Chelsea Art Walk and the folks I met there.”
This year at the walk, Casavant will not only be showing his work at several of the nine venues, but also he’ll be teaching drawing at the Community Garden on Sunday.
That will be nothing new for him.
Casavant moved to Chelsea from “the ‘Burbs” he said after teaching art in Easton, MA for 30 years. So, teaching drawing will be nothing new for the retired teacher and budding artist.
“I’m excited this year to be offering a drawing workshop at the Community Garden,” he said. “It’s going to be about two or three hours helping adults learn to draw. I think we’ll add something really special to the Art Walk. There’s nothing better than to help adults find out what they want to focus on artistically.”
Casavant’s focus, however, is no secret, and many might have met him on the streets as he has painted urban scenes “on location.”
One of the things that attracted him to Chelsea were those gritty and vibrant urban scenes. He has taken to the Mystic/Tobin Bridge, the industrial oil tanks, and even the colorful fruit stands in and around Bellingham Square.
His favorite, however, is the Bridge.
“It’s always there for me to paint,” he said. “I’ve probably painted it more times than I can recall.”
Often, Casavant can be seen throughout the streets of the city painting on the sidewalk or in a park with his easel. He’s not shy, he said, and enjoys it when people come up to him and ask him what he’s doing.
“Chelsea has provided me with a lot of paintings and when I have a show in Chelsea, it’s so well received and people really come out to see it,” he said. “I think people in Chelsea have a lot of pride in their community. Many times I’m painting and and old timer will engage me in a conversation and tell me about how the City used to be. They’re interested in what I’m doing and they love the city. There may be some rough edges to Chelsea, but the heart of the community has a lot of pride.”
While many trek off to Florida or up to Maine for their retirement years, Casavant said he and his wife have found the perfect retirement enclave in Chelsea.
“Painting has added so much to my life and Chelsea has had so much to do with that,” he said. “Here we are 10 years later and we love the city and the proximity to Boston. We just can’t go back to the ‘Burbs. We can’t do the Applebee’s on Friday night with the kids and then the Mall on Saturday. We did all that with our son and we can’t go back.”