Art Of Peace: Lions Club Releases ‘David K. Merrill’s Lifetime Of Painting,’ Coinciding Library Exhibition On View
Former Newtown resident David K. Merrill, 87, has dedicated his life to his family, faith, and art. The culmination of that dedication has created beauty in the form of two great loves, four children, and more than 3,000 paintings.
To celebrate his career that spans more than six decades, Newtown Lions Club has created the book David K. Merrill’s Lifetime Of Painting. It was released in spiral-bound form at C.H. Booth Library in December 2022 and is now available worldwide in hardcover.
All proceeds from the sale of the book are going to Newtown Lions Club to help with their charitable initiatives.
The process for this project began when Newtown residents Rhonda Cullens and Ed Miklaszewski were working on updating a previous Newtown Lions Club book called A Tour of Newtown, Connecticut. As co-producers of that book, they wanted to feature one of Merrill’s paintings. According to a press release ahead of the release of David K. Merrill’s Lifetime of Painting, Merrill was approached with a request to share a painting for the updated version of A Tour of Newtown, Connecticut.
The generous artist was reportedly very enthusiastic, having received great support from the local Lions on previous projects of his. When Merrill told Miklaszewski that he would be willing to let the Lions use any of his paintings for their fundraising efforts, a new project began taking shape.
Merrill and Miklaszewski met at a local diner, where Merrill had his first look at A Tour of Newtown, Connecticut. He had not looked through the initial book until then. It was during that visit at Blue Colony Diner that the idea was born to create a book of the same quality featuring Merrill’s work.
Speaking with The Newtown Bee on April 3, Merrill said he told the Lions he was grateful to them publishing the book featuring his art.
“I told them, ‘I could never do this myself.’ And they said that they are the ones who are grateful,” he shared.
The book proposal was approved by the Lions Board of Directors, and then Cullens, a longtime fan of Merrill, agreed to be part of the endeavor.
“For years, I had been taking any of our out-of-town guests to Edmond Town Hall to see the beautiful murals David had painted on the walls there,” she said. “Then, after September 11 , I would also take our guests to see the Flag Trees Memorial on Route 302 he painted. But I finally had the pleasure to meet this wonderful man on October 28, 2013.”
That day holds a special place in Cullens’ heart. Cullens happened to be at Newtown Municipal Center checking on an exhibit being presented by Flagpole Photographers Camera Club — of which she is member — when she saw Merrill painting Newtown’s Veterans mural.
The two spoke about how her son, Chad, had just been picked up by his United States Army recruiter and left to join the service. She took a photo of Merrill that day, and it later became the back cover photo for David K. Merrill’s Lifetime Of Painting. Today, the name Chad Cullens is on the veterans’ wall.
With Cullens working as the producer and Miklaszewski as the associate producer, the team was rounded by photographer/editor Chane Cullens and multimedia producer Andrew Iorio.
Merrill put the group in touch with art collectors Doug and Joyce Fedorko, who own an extensive number of his paintings. Doug allowed the Cullenses to photograph his personal studio collection.
Featured artwork also came from the collection of Mary Cardella.
Cullens called the opportunity to work with Merrill on David K. Merrill’s Lifetime Of Painting “a delight” and enjoyed the collaborative effort.
“As my husband, Chane, photographed the paintings, David gave me their titles and a bit of the story behind each of them. There is so much thought and meaning behind every one of his masterpieces. His attention to the smallest of details is amazing,” Cullens said.
In addition to that, she did some research on her own by visiting the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library in Monroe and Southbury Town Hall for the first time. Both locations feature magnificent, multi-floor murals featuring scenes of their respective towns, similar to Merrill’s work within Edmond Town Hall.
Until then she was only familiar with Merrill’s work inside her hometown building that depicts Newtown’s history.
“I was happy to learn both buildings house beautiful large murals David painted of their town’s histories, as well,” Cullens said.
Cullens had the task of laying out the 75-page book, which had more than 100 paintings sorted into categories: The Artist’s Favorites, Collection of Murals, The Changing Seasons, Buildings & Structures, Barns & Farmlands, Trees & Landscapes, Lighthouses & Waterways, and Still Life & Portraits.
Before long, she was finalizing the edits and ensuring his work was respectfully archived for future generations to get to enjoy in one book.
“This amazingly talented artist, who is such a kind, gracious, thoughtful, and generous person, has come to mean so much to all of his New England neighbors, and we have been richly blessed by having him as part of our community,” Cullens said.
David K. Merrill’s Lifetime Of Painting not only collected many of Merrill’s creations in one place, but it also introduced readers to who he is as a person and artist.
Merrill shared additional details with The Newtown Bee about where his passion for art began.
“As a child, I always loved art in school … whenever the teacher said, ‘We’re going to do art,’ I was so excited. It was something I was born with,” he said.
It was not until he was 19 years old that Merrill began to consider art as a professional career path.
“When I was in the military at Fort Knox [Kentucky], in the Army Engineers, I missed New England. I had also become a great believer in God at the same time … the art inside me became very intense in my mind. I saw a scene that I had to paint,” he said.
He purchased a paint-by-numbers set just to have the board, paints, and brush, then was able to make his own design.
“I realized at that time that I would spend my life — not knowing where it would take me — doing my art,” Merrill said.
When he painted for himself, he found that he drew from his childhood experiences of what brought him happiness.
“As a child, after school, I’d go to the woods behind our house and climb trees ... I also love barns. My uncle had a barn in Monroe on Elm Street, so I found that I combine nature and barns oftentimes,” Merrill said.
When he is commissioned to do portraits of houses, he focuses on the person’s wishes and brings it to fruition.
While it was a difficult decision for him to commit to being a professional artist, he strives to always learn more and work hard to overcome any challenge.
“The one thing I’m most proud of is that I have four children and they never went hungry. They never went without clothes. They had a heated house, and so forth. I worked very, very hard. Twelve hours a day, six days a week,” Merrill said.
The first mural he was commissioned to do was at Southbury Town Hall, which he painted in 1978 at the age of 42. He went on to create the murals in his hometown of Monroe and then in Newtown, where he lived for 17 years.
Merrill and first wife Natalie had four children, all before he was 30 years old. They had 15 wonderful years together before she developed and succumbed to Hodgkin’s disease.
David K. Merrill’s Lifetime Of Painting has paintings inspired by her, including “Lifetime on a Saturday Afternoon,” which Merrill made in July 1972, after hearing the eulogy the minister gave for his late wife.
His favorite painting that he has ever done, hands down, he said is “The Birches,” also featured in the book.
“It’s my Taj Mahal. I say that because the Taj Mahal was built to honor the love a man had for a woman who died. My first wife, Natalie, loved birches, so I did that in memory of her. The largest birch represents the maker of all things. The two birches on the right represent my wife and me. Then the four [trees to the left] are my four children. It took me one month, ten hours a day, for six days a week. I got so deep into that scene,” Merrill said.
Later in life, when he was working on the murals at Edmond Town Hall in 1984, Merrill fell in love once more.
“For one year this very, very pretty woman would come to work every day in the tax office. She was the assistant tax collector,” he said. “She’d come in from the back parking lot, go up the stairs, and pass by where I was working.”
Merrill and the assistant tax collector — Beryl Semple — would always greet each other in the morning and say goodbye in the evening.
The two officially met at a Christmas party in the clerk’s office, shared a kiss, then went on a dinner date at Stony Hill Inn.
They were smitten and by Easter Sunday, Merrill proposed, Beryl said yes, and they were married at Castle Hill looking down at the scenic view of the flagpole on September 7, 1985.
“We were married 35 years. Some of the best years of my life were with her,” Merrill said.
Beryl inspired much of his art, including the book’s cover photo titled, “Newtown Winter at Night on Main Street, Newtown, CT,” which was originally a gift he gave to Beryl for Christmas in 1994.
David K. Merrill’s Lifetime Of Painting is dedicated to Beryl, who died in June 2021.
Coinciding with the release of the hardcover edition of David K. Merrill’s Lifetime Of Painting, the “David K. Merrill’s Lifetime of Painting” exhibit is on view through May 31 at C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street.
Fedorko selected nearly four dozen works from his personal collection of Merrill’s art for the exhibition. In addition to the paintings in the library’s Olga Knoepke Memorial Meeting Room and entryway, a collection of small paintings and David Merrill memorabilia are being displayed in the second floor display case.
The exhibition can be viewed during regular library hours: Monday through Thursday, 9:30 am to 8 pm; Friday and Saturday, 9:30 am to 5 pm; and Sunday, noon to 5 pm. Note the meeting room is not accessible when programs or meetings are being conducted.
When Merrill was asked what he hopes residents take away from the experience of seeing his art showcased in such a way, without hesitation, he said, “Peace. I think my work has a feeling of peacefulness and that’s what God wants us to have, peace and joy and to spread that.”
The library and Newtown Lions Club will co-host a book signing and reception on Sunday, May 7, from 1 to 4:30 pm. The celebration will include a talk from Merrill. Light refreshments will be served.
“I’m very excited and looking forward to it,” Merrill said.
Soft cover editions of David K. Merrill’s Lifetime Of Painting are available for purchase at C.H. Booth Library’s front desk.
‘Have Goals And Keep Going’
For those unable to attend the book signing or purchase a copy in person, Miklaszewski shared, “The hardcover version is now available online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book sellers, including international distributors. Amazon Publishing Pros reviewed the book prior to production and gave it glowing comments on its sales page.”
The book even peaked at Amazon’s #1 New Release in Public Art list in March.
People can also look forward to a video, soon to be recorded, of Merrill and Fedorko discussing Merrill’s favorite paintings.
Merrill currently has no plans to stop painting and continues to have people commission him for work.
“I’m a person who sets goals. I have three goals in life. One was to get a hole in one at golf — I did that on April 6, 2008. Next goal is to climb Mt Katahdin. When I told Beryl she said, ‘No you can’t do that, you’re too old.’ Well, she can’t tell me I’m too old anymore,” he said with a laugh. “My daughter, my youngest son, and my nephew … the four of us are going up. They’ll push or pull me up. I’ll make it.
“My last goal is I want to paint until I’m 100,” he said. “It’s important to have goals and keep going. Don’t stop.”
Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.