Over more than three decades, Maggie Fickett became a familiar figure as she painted streetscapes and houses in the city and nearby towns.
Passersby would see a petite woman on a camp stool, white hair banded in a ponytail and often wearing a straw hat, capturing a visual history on location in watercolor.
They would discover her New England accent and high-pitched laugh as she talked about her art.
“Some people paint from photographs all the time, and they do beautiful art,” Fickett said in 2011, as she painted a downtown view. “But to me, I think, ‘Well, that’s done, the camera did it.’ So it doesn’t hold much attraction to me.”
Maggie Fickett returned to her native Maine in 2014. Debbie and Bob Fickett had moved his aunt after becoming concerned about her safety.
Fickett died in a memory care unit in South Paris, Maine, on March 26 at age 89.
But much of her art remained in Greensboro.
Starting June 1, the public can see hundreds of her paintings in an online exhibition on the Center for Visual Artists (CVA) website at greensboroart.org.
“Maggie Fickett: Living In Plein Air” shows more than 200 works that are framed or matted, plus hundreds more unframed and without mats.
No exhibition end date has been set.
When she peruses Fickett’s art, CVA Operations Director Corrie Lisk-Hurst thinks of advice from her own father, an English professor and writer.
“He always would tell people who are aspiring authors that the most important thing they could do was write every single day,” Lisk-Hurst said. “Even if you don’t think you have anything to say, even if what you write is terrible that day. Write every day and have a practice of doing that.”
“Maggie really illustrated that,” Lisk-Hurst said. “Everything she saw was fodder for painting. ... She really did practice every day.”
Fickett created a few pieces in pen and ink, such as one of the former Ham’s Restaurant on Friendly Avenue. She used oil on canvas to depict a sunflower in her yard.
But the vast majority are in watercolor on paper.
She discovered the turn-of-the-century architecture of downtown soon after arriving here from Boston in 1979.
“Oh, my, I love it here!” she remembered saying. “All the buildings are different. Some have balconies, some have dentil work. Every single one is an individual.”
Aside from painting streetscapes, she created paintings and ink sketches of homes on commission.
Fickett’s paintings show a visual history here that, in many cases, has been erased by change.
The old Boar and Castle Restaurant, closed in 1980 and later demolished.
Buildings on South Davie Street downtown, before a 1985 fire destroyed part of the scene.
War Memorial Stadium, during its days as a minor-league ballpark.
Bert’s Seafood Grille in the 1980s and 1990s on Spring Garden Street, before it moved to West Market Street.
She turned some of her paintings into limited-edition prints.
Debbie Fickett remembers traveling from their Maine home to visit in Greensboro.
Maggie Fickett’s paintings covered her living room walls.
“I woke up in the morning and the light and the color were just amazing,” Debbie Fickett said. “The watercolors just sparkled. It was like being inside a beautiful kaleidoscope. From that day onward, I really became a fan of her work.”
As they cleaned out her home after the 2014 move, they rescued her art.
Maria Johnson, who had written about Fickett in 2017 for O.Henry magazine, and Laura Gibson, who curates art exhibits at the Center for Creative Leadership, helped the CVA organize the show at its gallery in the downtown Greensboro Cultural Center.
The gallery actually had hosted a solo exhibition of Fickett’s work back in 1988, when it was operated by a CVA predecessor, the Greensboro Artists’ League.
But before the show could open in April, the cultural center was closed temporarily by the coronavirus pandemic. So the exhibit was moved to the CVA website, as the nonprofit organization’s first online show and sale.
Lisk-Hurst and CVA gallery Manager Devon McKnight arranged for the exhibit.
“I have been so amazed by the response from some of our younger people,” Lisk-Hurst said. “Their enthusiasm has been really rewarding and exciting. It makes you feel like great art is timeless. And she’s reaching a new generation now.”
Lisk-Hurst remembers meeting Fickett 20-some years ago at GAL, when she worked as curator. Fickett also taught for another CVA predecessor, the Center for Creative Art.
She vividly recalls one of Fickett’s paintings, showing women sitting at a picnic table at the beach.
“It just tickled me because it was so real and not stuffy,” Lisk-Hurst said.
As they sorted through art for the exhibition, one caught her eye. “I said, ‘Oh, my goodness,’ ” Lisk-Hurst said. “ ‘This is the exact image that I remember!’ ”
Lisk-Hurst admits that she’s both excited and nervous about the exhibition.
“I’m a little nervous about the format since we have never tried this before,” Lisk-Hurst said. “But I’m excited that it may enable us to share her work with perhaps even a broader audience than we would have, had we only had an in-person exhibition.”
She views it as “the perfect way to combine the education piece with Greensboro local knowledge and the technical expertise of her work.”
“What I really appreciate is how she explored and experimented,” Lisk-Hurst said. “When you see the full body of her work, it’s fascinating to see her play with things, whether it was playing with how she got an effect or playing with a subject that was funny or an angle of something.”
“... It’s so clear that (her) art was experimental and playful and not staid,” Lisk-Hurst said.
Painting prices will range from $10 for a smaller, unsigned work to perhaps $900 for a larger and more complex work. Most will cost $100 to $250.
Panel discussions, videos and online classes will accompany the exhibit. Artist Alexis Lavine will lead a “Paint Like Maggie” workshop. Panel discussions will focus on Fickett, and what it takes to be a successful artist. The schedule will be announced later.
Her family will use at least some of the proceeds to endow a Plein Air painting class at the CVA, continuing Fickett’s legacy of capturing the landscape and cityscape of a town and its historic buildings.
Debbie Fickett wants Maggie Fickett’s friends here to know that she was happy to be with family and friends in her final years in Maine.
“Maggie loved sharing a smile with people,” Debbie Fickett said. “I hope other people will be able to look at her work and smile and enjoy a moment.”