Disabled Iraq veteran to close his Middleboro art gallery

Alice C. Elwell

Beautiful paintings may feed the soul, but they don’t feed the kids, and the tight economy is forcing Peter and Jenn Damon to make the tough choice to close their gallery or lose it all.

On Saturday, the Middleborough Art Gallery will close its doors for good, but the couple doesn’t view it as a failure, more of the next step in their future.

For Peter Damon, the gallery was a way, “to prove I could be of some use to society.”

“This is not a step backwards; it’s a step forward,” Damon said.

The couple’s downtown art gallery was a venue for local artists and a place to spotlight Peter Damon’s work. When they opened in 2006 the gallery was a success but in last year, as the economy took a nosedive, there was a steady decline in patrons.

“Last year bottomed out. People aren’t spending money and when they do, I don’t think art is No. 1 on the list,” Jenn Damon said. “Paintings are nice, but they don’t feed the kids.”

Peter Damon, a former Army sergeant, lost both his arms in 2003 while working on a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq.

While recuperating, Damon turned to painting, a hobby he thought might help him learn to use his new prosthetics.

“It grew into a passion. I fell for it hook, line and sinker,” he said.

Painting helped him transition from a helicopter mechanic in the Army to a sought-after artist with a line of commissioned work waiting to be completed.

Today he’s comfortable in the role of artist and has learned to be a spokesperson for wounded soldiers.

His condition has enabled him to bring public attention to “people like myself that have been wounded in action.”

“Seeing what I’m doing makes people focus on those wounded in action,” he said. “It shines the spotlight on wounded veterans, showing that they can be a success.”

“Three years ago, I wanted to prove to myself we could do something on our own,” Damon said.

Damon credits compensation from the federal government and Home for Our Troops for giving him the opportunity to open the gallery.

The Damons bought an old building in the downtown, circa 1850s, fixed it up and colored the façade as a Victorian Painted Lady.

He said the gallery was never going to be his “bread and butter,” but sales continued to lag and were not enough to keep the gallery afloat.

The Painted Lady is up for lease, but Damon’s not leaving the art scene. He hopes to open a private studio within a year or so.

“For myself, I’ll still be painting,” he said.

He specializes in gritty urban scenes and local landscapes.

“You could say working class inspired,” he said.

Born and raised in Brockton, Damon moved to Middleboro after he was discharged.

He said the decision to close his gallery “lifts a weight off my shoulders.”

“I didn’t realize how hard it would be to sell other people’s art and produce my own,” Damon said. “We tried this. It’s sad in a way, but in a way it’s a big relief. It’s been a lot of stress on us to keep this place open.”

“I’m lucky … well not that lucky, I lost my arms…” Damon said, but the government’s compensation allows him to follow his heart. “I’ll always be a painter, this is my passion.”

Damon spends a few hours each day painting, but once the gallery closes he’ll have more time to focus on his art.

For his wife, Jenn, it’s a daily grind, it’s up in the morning, get the kids off to school, clean the house, do the laundry, shuttle daughter Allura to violin lessons, son Danny to Cub Scouts, open the gallery and get back home and cook dinner. Now she’ll have time to take step back and slow down, “I’m going to breathe and take a rest,” she said.

“I still don’t think of this as a failure, we were a success bringing culture to downtown Middleboro.”

The gallery will close its doors on Saturday after a 6-9 p.m. reception.

“Look for Damon Fine Art Studio to open in the spring of 2011,” he promised. “I’m always going to be an artist.”

The Enterprise