Friends and contemporaries remembered Gordon Wetmore, who died Thursday, as a passionate and innovative artist who determined early in life that he would paint portraits. The Signal Mountain resident's talent and determination earned him international acclaim.
Wetmore's subjects included President Richard Nixon, Grace Kelly, Prince Albert and Prince Rainier, Jack Nicklaus and Norman Vincent Peale, as well as well-known Chattanoogans including J. Park McCallie and former U.S. Sen. and Secretary of Labor Bill Brock.
"I knew Gordon since I was a teenager," said Stan Townsend, co-owner of Townsend Atelier. "From the onset Gordon was interested in portraiture. He has always been very, very passionate about portrait painting, and he stuck to his guns on it."
Wetmore's portraits are on display at the White House, the Royal Palace in Monaco, The Knessett in Jerusalem, Harvard, Duke, Emory and Northwestern universities, the University of North Carolina, the University of Texas and the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga.
He co-founded the Portrait Society of America in Tallahassee, Fla., in 1998, and helped grow it from a small organization to the largest of its kind in the world. He had been chairman since its founding.
Executive Director Christine Egnoski said the organization now has 3,000 members. Wetmore, she said, will be remembered for his generosity as well as his talent.
"Gordon leaves behind the legacy of passion, for his own art, for helping others develop their talent and for his family," she said. "He was a true leader and influenced the resurgence of representation art in America that has been happening over the last 20 years."
Thomas Caleb Goggans studied under Wetmore for 20 years, beginning as an 11-year-old who showed a talent for drawing.
"He saw a talent and a promise in me," Goggans said. "I owe more to him as an artist than anyone else. He gave me an immense amount and invested more in me than I could ever pay back."
Wetmore was a member of the Artist's Fellowship of New York, the Oil Painters of America and the board of Overseers of Opera Boston.
He spent long periods of time in Ireland and Israel, where he painted hundreds of scenes. His work was featured in "Ireland," published with a foreword by Princess Grace, and in "Promised Land."
American Artist magazine described Wetmore as "a friendly, open person, uniquely suited to portrait painting." It's a description echoed by Townsend.
"He was very generous with his time and support with artists that were interested in this medium or genre, or any genre for that matter," Townsend said. "He always found time to talk to people."
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.