Lewiston shooting victim’s friends and family gather for his posthumous art opening
WINTHROP, Maine — Peyton Brewer Ross’ first art show opened at a Main Street gallery on Saturday. There, Ross’ friends and family gathered under his bright, colorful paintings, passing around his favorite snack food, Slim Jims.
Ross’ two-year-old daughter, Elle, was the real center of attention. Dressed in overalls, clutching a fistfull of Goldfish crackers, she twirled between guests, charming each gallery goer.
It was a scene, everyone agreed, the gregarious Ross might adore.
But he wasn’t there to enjoy it.
Ross was shot and killed while playing cornhole at Schemengees Bar and Grill in Lewiston on Oct. 25, one of 18 people who died in Maine’s worst mass shooting.
Saturday’s art opening not only featured Ross’ light-hearted paintings, but also work by other artists who knew and loved him, including his fiancee and his daughter. The gathering was both a celebration of Ross’ life and a testament to the healing power of making art.
“This is where I had my first gallery show,” said Rachael Sloat, Ross’ fiancee. “I never dreamt we’d be here for Peyton’s.”
Three paintings by Ross hung at the show. All were made for an art class he took at Southern Maine Community College. They reflected his outgoing, engaging spirit.
One was a faithful rendition of a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer logo. Commonly known as PBR, the workingman’s brew reflects both Ross’ blue collar pipefitter job at Bath Iron Works and his own initials. Each painting was playfully signed “PBR.”
Another painting was an unflinching self portrait by Ross, sporting a handlebar mustache and cowboy hat. The largest painting showed an unnamed friend wearing a jacket marked “legend.” The enigmatic blue figure held a pair of men’s underwear and was flanked by a pair of legs clad in fishnet stockings.
“There’s a story behind that,” Sloat said, “but I’m not going to be telling it here today.”
On the opposite wall hung an assemblage of vibrant scribble paintings by Ross’ daughter.
Sloat said artmaking has helped her daughter deal with the loss and grief.
“She’s two. She doesn’t have the words yet to say how sad she is and how much she misses her daddy,” Sloat said. “I hope his art, and pictures of him, can help her remember how much he loved her, since she’ll never know him.”
On a nearby end table, a small video screen played a clip of a chocolate and peanut butter birthday cake alight with candles. It was Ross’ favorite flavor. Artists and friends Clint and Emily Pettengill made it for what might have been Ross’ 41st birthday. Without their friend there to blow out the candles, they’d let them burn out on their own. Then they threw the kind of party Ross might have loved.
Childhood friend and Westbrook High School wrestling teammate Dominic Cofone brought in a set of cornhole holes emblazoned with enlarged photographs of Ross.
“They’ll end up on the wall in my man cave. I’ll have a whole Peyton corner dedicated to him,” Cofone said.
Standing by the door was a stack of blank paper cards with instructions to share thoughts and memories of Ross. The first anonymous message hung above the stack read, “Hope there’s a cornhole league in heaven, Peyton. I know you will win.”
Gallery owner and University of Maine Augusta art professor Peter Precourt said throwing the art opening for Ross felt like the right thing to do, something that might make a difference.
“I wanted to help celebrate his life but also bring people together for face-to-face conversations over art,” Precourt said. “The only news you can trust is local news, and the only kind of talking that matters is between people in real life, not online.”
It didn’t surprise Precourt that people were dealing with their feelings by making cornhole boards, birthday cakes and expressive scribble drawings.
“We always try to meet grief with art,” he said. “That’s why we put flowers on graves.”
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