Tom Heinsohn and Paul Gallant painting outdoors
Tom Heinsohn (left) and Paul Gallant (right)

Tom Heinsohn’s “painting buddy” shares a warm tribute to the man he knew as a plein air painter who taught him many memorable lessons.

BY PAUL GALLANT

Tom Heinsohn, a two-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, passed away November 9, 2020. Tommy was known to all as “Mr. Boston Celtics,” spending over 60 years with the team as a player for 12 years, a world champion coach for 12 years, and then as the Celtics broadcaster. Tom was a living trivia question for many years…the only person to win Rookie of the Year as a player and as a coach.

Tom Heinsohn basketball player
Boston Celtics player Tom Heinsohn (#15), catching the ball during a game v. Philadelphia. At background, teammate Bob Cousy (#14), circa 1962

Upon retiring from coaching, he began to share his lifelong love of art. During his early days in Boston, Tommy discovered Cape Ann and Gloucester, MA where he eventually built a second home and studio. Tommy painted with many of the great Cape Ann artists including Emil Gruppe, Charles Movalli, and David Curtis.

In the 1980’s, Tommy was a celebrity representing Miller Lite Beer. I met Tommy at a food convention in Nashville, TN. He was attending to the Miller booth and next to his booth was my 8 O’Clock Coffee booth.

Tommy was a boyhood sports idol of mine growing up in the Boston area. Having seen him interviewed several times, he always mentioned his love of art. I introduced myself to Tommy and after a quick acknowledgement of basketball, we started talking art. Before we departed, Tommy had provided me with a bibliography of art books and an invitation to visit him in Gloucester, MA to paint the magnificent waterfront. When the invitation did arrive, I was quite surprised; Tommy was a man of his word.

Painting by Tom Heinsohn
Painting by Tom Heinsohn

I arrived in Gloucester with my paints and equipment. After polite greetings and introductions, we headed to the waterfront, me with my gear and Tommy empty handed! I asked, “Where are your paints?”

“You are going to paint and I’m going to teach,” he said. “I learn from teaching.” I guess a guy who won two world basketball championships knows how to teach and communicate.

I had been painting or drawing all of my life, attended the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, and learned more about plein air painting that afternoon than all my formal art education to that date.

Fishing boat Painting by Paul Gallant
Painting by Paul Gallant

We had a great weekend. Tommy invited me to join him at a workshop in Gloucester offered by Charles Movalli. The following year and for 20 years thereafter, we attended David Curtis’s workshops…another great teacher. From that point on, he referred to me as his “painting buddy”. Over the next 30 years, we attended workshops together, traveling throughout New England on painting trips with many Cape Ann artists. The late Donald Mosher was the organizer of these trips. Don owned a gallery in Rockport, MA. These trips were keyed at great painting locations. Here Don would paint for his gallery quintessential New England scenes. I have travelled the world and hold these plein air painting outings among the most memorable experiences of my life.

Prior to meeting Tommy, my painting style was “drawing with paints” as I did a lot of pen and ink work. He taught me to see shapes and not the detail I had in my paintings. One of his early observations of my style was, “if Paul was painting a house in the background, he would include a girl taking a shower in one of the windows!”

Early in my experiences with Tommy, I began covering the canvas. He would emphasize that I create areas of mystery and utilize more abstraction. Lights against darks, cool against warm. He also emphasized aerial perspective. Colors release their intensity as they recede … “overstate, understate, never tell the truth!”

Painting by Tom Heinsohn
Painting by Tom Heinsohn
Painting by Tom Heinsohn
Painting by Tom Heinsohn

Over 30 years as “painting buddies” we spent countless hours driving to locations and painting many times side by side. I became very well versed on interesting details of many well known players and coaches.

Every Fall we would paint in Northern Vermont, favorite painting locations of all great Cape Ann painters such as Emile Gruppi and Aldro Hibbard, and paint snow scenes. Don Mosher found an inexpensive motel in Jeffersonville, VT. Next door was a bar called “The Animal Preserve.” The name suggests it is not a high society lounge … inexpensive drinks, hamburgers, etc. Five or six artists would sit around drink beer and trade stories, jokes and discuss painting. “Those were the days my friend, I thought they would never end.”

God bless Tommy.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The art world lost another bright light. Tommy came to Portsmouth, NH often and it was a delight to spend some time with him at Ceres Gallery. He was a big man with a big heart and he will be missed. God Bless Tommy.

  2. “Overstate, understate, never tell the truth!” Thank you for sharing this pearl from your friend. I love hearing about athlete/painters.

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