SOPHIA STEWART/SAGAMORE STAFF
Have you ever wondered what a custodian does when he’s not keeping our school in order? In the case of Richard Freeman, a custodian at the high school for the past 11 years, the answer is in the paintings on the walls of the main office, English department and other rooms throughout the building.
Freeman considers himself an oil painter, but not all of his work falls into that category. Circumstances have sometimes made it hard to paint in oil. But he has turned necessity into opportunity and used other materials and experiences to develop himself as an artist.
“To me, it was a matter of problem-solving. Get acquainted with the materials you’re working with, experiment with them, and work them,” Freeman said. “Sometimes you’re gonna screw up, and sometimes you’re not, and that opens the opportunity to improvise, and do something you’re not expected to.”
Freeman, who has a masters in education, has exhibited his work in galleries in Cambridge, Framingham, Boston and many other places. Aside from his painting, Freeman has developed skills as a raconteur, performing at storytelling events in the area. He also enjoys building model cars as a hobby.
Freeman considers real life and knowledge sources of inspiration for his art. He finds books to be the window into human nature.
“I have my own personal library and the books that I read are a critical part of what inspires me,” Freeman said. “Mostly non-fiction. I read like an amateur cultural anthropologist. I tell people that I read as if the world depends on it, because it does.”
Freeman’s reading has left a mark. Chemistry teacher Julia Speyers, who is a friend of Freeman’s, could see its effect on him before she learned about his art.
“Before I knew that Rich was a painter, I knew that he was a man who was interested in seemingly everything,” Speyer said.
Speyer is particularly impressed with Freeman’s knowledge and intellectual curiosity.
“He is very well-read. He is keenly interested in science and current events. He really is a Renaissance man,” Speyer said.
For Freeman, the point of art is simple but important. It’s about helping others see wonder in the world.
“What I care about is inspiring people to feel good and hopeful and confident about living, and the rest of nature,” Freeman said. “Art is to inspire people to say, ‘life is gorgeous.’”
Copy Center Manager Paul Priestly sees one of Freeman’s paintings in the copy center every day. But Priestly’s favorite painting is the large wall painting in the conference room that has a “lovely use of color.”
“He has a really amazing eye. His imagery is beautiful,” Priestly said.
Priestly, like many other people around the school, value Freeman for his art and contribution to the community.
“He is developed as an artist and I think that he’s extraordinarily talented and we’re really lucky to have him here,” Priestly said.
For Freeman, working as a custodian is far from incompatible with his goals as an artist. One day, his sister asked him if he found it humiliating to do custodial work. It is a question to which he always replies, “no.”
“It’s humbling in the best sense of the word, that I may never become a pompous buffoon, and it certainly protects me from being so. The other side of it is the rapport that I can have with students, faculty, administrators, parents, and sometimes other people visiting the school that is just really a blessing in my life,” Freeman said.
Every day, when Freeman comes to the school, he brings his friendly, optimistic energy.
“My goal is to remember everybody’s name, and I know I’m not going to succeed, but it’s fun to try,” Freeman said. “It’s a challenge, but I also see the glow on peoples faces when I do.”
Freeman was not encouraged as a young artist. He was always told to find something more practical that he could fall back on “when you quit.” The advice he has for student artists is quite different.
“If you want to be an artist, or if you have a passion for something that is deeply felt, you need to find, not something to fall back on, but a way to support it.” Freeman said. “I share this with my younger brother and sister: Don’t quit unless you find something you like better.”