Francine Schrock’s new business opportunity was pure happenstance. The 47-year-old South Portland resident, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Maine College of Art, has been a professional artist for the past six years. Her work hangs in Maine, New York, Pennsylvania and the Virgin Islands. In a departure from her usual landscapes, last October Francine painted a huge mural at Fallbrook Woods, a Portland residential care facility. Late last month, she started an even bigger mural project at Schooner Estates, a retirement community in Auburn.
The shift in focus began when she got a message from Facebook friend, Maine musician Kate Schrock. They aren’t related and, in fact, had never met in person. Kate was doing some work at Fallbrook Woods, when the administrator, Linda Olore, mentioned that she would love to have a mural in the front room of the facility. Olore’s vision was to bring a bit of the outdoors in for the residents and create a more pleasant, calming environment. Kate told her she knew an artist -– Francine. A short time later, Francine spent six days painting in front of a captive and appreciative audience.
“When we started this process, I don’t think any of us realized the impact it would have not only on the residents, but also on family and staff,” says Olore. “Residents would be out in the lobby after breakfast getting themselves a cup of coffee and anxiously asking when Francine was arriving.”
The weekend before Schrock started the mural, she had attended a creative capital professional development retreat sponsored by the Maine Arts Commission and Maine College of Art. The aim of the retreat was to help artists build skills and identify resources that would help them develop career goals.
“I scheduled it so that whatever I learned I could ruminate about over the week I planned to paint the mural,” says Francine. “I had been immersed in painting for about 10 hours, when I realized this is what I want to do,” she says. “It’s just such meaningful work – making art and touching people’s lives. They so appreciate what you’re doing.”
Francine wasted no time developing a business plan that is simple and straightforward: 12 murals in 12 months.
“If it’s in your heart to do this,” she advises, “follow it and combine it with a good marketing plan. Then just put it out there for the world to see.”
She made a list of nearly two-dozen potential clients and started calling.
She says, “One of the first questions is, ‘Will this really impact our people?’ All I can say is, yes, it will.”
After seeing the impact on Fallbrook residents and staff, the owners of Schooner Estates decided to hire Francine to paint a 360-degree mural in a large common area and a smaller mural in another section of the facility.
John Rice, chief operating officer of the facility, says, “What’s remarkable about getting to know Francine is that she paints with her heart and brings that to life with the people who live here.”
As she did with staff and residents at Fallbrook, before she had loaded even one paintbrush she asked everybody what they wanted.
“‘What do you want to see, what is it about here that you love, that is meaningful to you in your community?’ I can’t just come in and paint a pretty picture for all these people. That would mean nothing to them,” she said.
For 86-year-old Clement Desjardins, the mural gives him an opportunity to reminisce.
“That’s the Bates Mill, there on the riverbank,” he described to me as he pointed up at a section Francine had just finished. “I used to work in a mill –– the one in Jay.”
Barbara Howe, in her late 70s, gazed at the mural from her chair and remarked, “You have the sensation that you’re right there. It’s a nice mural.”
Painting murals is not easy work. Francine must climb up on scaffolding and paint from the edge of the ceiling down to the floor, around doorways and into corners.
“It’s rigorous work,” she admits. “I get home and I’m exhausted and I still have marketing to do. But painting the murals has definitely altered me. I’m much happier doing this.”
And so are the people who helped choose the scenes she is painting, who are watching her while she works, and who will gaze at her murals long after she has moved on to the next one.
As Rice puts it: “Francine and the murals she paints add meaning and value to this place where people live and work.”