CARY — After 15 years, 1,000 paintings and a locally renowned masterpiece, John Sweemer is bowing out of Cary’s art scene.
Sweemer, 91, moved to Cary in 1997 from Illinois, where he had retired after a successful career as a freelance graphic artist.
Having painted with watercolor, acrylic and oil for decades, Sweemer quickly made an impression here – his watercolor painting “Cary Downtown” won several awards in 1998 and is commonly found around town.
Now Sweemer is planning to move to an assisted-living home in Pittsboro early next year. But he’s not taking his entire painting collection with him.
He will open his apartment to the public as a gallery on Saturday, Nov. 16 and 23. He hopes to to sell more than 120 original paintings and copies.
Sweemer, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, draws on his traveling experience across the country for much of his inspiration.
He’s a fan of marine life, and many of his paintings are of harbors and lighthouses from North Carolina to Maine to Minnesota.
Sweemer says he can’t pinpoint what it is about water that draws him; perhaps it was fishing in Lake Michigan as a child in Wisconsin. Or it could be the time he spent on the water in the Coast Guard.
“People say it’s because the scenes are peaceful. I don’t think about it,” Sweemer said. “There’s something in me that when I see a particular setting, I get that feeling like photographers do. I just have to paint.”
As a child, his desire to draw was so strong that his sixth-grade teacher scolded him. She said he wouldn’t get through high school if he didn’t get his head up from his sketches.
He did get through high school, and graduated from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.
And in Cary, his experience brought him quick respect from the arts community.
“As long as I’ve been in the Cary area, he’s been the master of watercolor,” said Lynda Chambers, who’s on the Triangle Artist Guild with Sweemer.
The guild and other groups have provided constructive criticism that helped him improve during his Cary years, Sweemer said.
Chambers said the group learned from him, too.
“He’s a wonderful gifted artist who really shows his heart through his work,” said Chambers, who works with oils, abstract and mixed media. “He’s a master of capturing the feeling of a town.”
Jerry Miller, a Cary artist known for his pen and ink drawings, said Sweemer’s legacy will stand as part of a group that started the Cary Gallery of Artists downtown.
“He’s a tireless painter. It’s time for him to rest a while,” Miller said. “But I sure am gonna miss him.”
Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht