World of Wonders

From the organized chaos in John Whalley’s studio emerge stunningly realistic still lives — here’s a peek at his process.

As told to Sarah Stebbins
Photographs by Cody Barry

My collections of old objects have grown organically over the years as my wife, Ellen, and I frequent flea markets and antiques shops. Measuring and musical instruments, compasses, chalk lines, oil cans, locks, hose nozzles, tools, tins, bottles, books, and photographs are organized by subject and color on shelves and in cabinets in my studio, housed in an addition to our 1880s Cape in Nobleboro. The studio is a world of wonders for me and is always a source of inspiration for new work. On old wooden boxes and tables I assemble groups of objects that, over time and with rearranging, become wonderful little compositions. As I work on depicting these in graphite or paint, I try to remain true to what I see — the subtlety of color and surface texture, the interplay of light and reflection. Carefully observed, these layers can make viewers feel as though they’re sensing the very air that surrounds the drawn or painted objects. Artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Chardin captured this realness magically and their work is the standard I aspire to.

John Whalley’s work can be seen upon request at Greenhut Galleries in Portland. 

John Whalley holds the makings of his egg tempera Moonrise: a 1904 Bangor Grange Cook Book and vintage tin measuring spoons.

“We call the collections ‘orphaned objects,’ since most have been redeemed from dustbins and the corners of old homes and barns. In my work, I hope to bring out their dignity and hidden beauty.”