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Thursday, October 29 News

He created Nancy Drew cover art. Now, his family tries to solve the mystery of two portraits.

WESTPORT — When William S. Gillies arrived in town over 50 years ago, he brought his passion for art with him, and now his granddaughter is looking to connect two of his original works with their subjects.

“My dad was going through his stuff and he found these two paintings, that were absolutely beautiful, of these two young girls who have to be in their 60s I’d say now,” said Kim Cataldo, a granddaughter of Gillies. “I just thought it would be cool if we could find them, and send it to them.”

Gillies was known for his cover art for Ken Holt mysteries, Nancy Drew mysteries, and several magazines during the ’40s, she said. Cataldo said he even designed his own font — Gillies Gothic. One of the original members of the famed Westport artists’ colony, he also established the Portrait Group of Westport, according to the website AskArt.com.

Her grandfather would often practice before attempting the final portrait and the paintings in question, each of which shows a young girl, might fall into that category. Cataldo, who now lives in Mississippi, said the two girls pictured may already own the commissioned paintings. Still, she would love to connect them or their families with the original pieces, which she said were made while Gillies lived in Westport.

“He would do what he called oil sketches,” she said. “Then once he got the oil sketches he liked, he would make the commissioned painting.”

Gillies would also occasionally take multiple photographs of a person and piece it together to get a perfect image, she said. Then, he’d create an oil sketch and then the commissioned painting. That could have been the method he pursued when making the portraits of the two young girls.

The oil sketches Cataldo found are just two of the many works left by Gillies, who died in April 2000.

Bill Gillies, Cataldo’s father, said he started collecting his father’s work when he died. Back when his father lived in Westport, much of his work was done right in his home studio, he said.

“He did a lot of portraits in Westport,” said Bill Gillies, who attended Staples High School in the ’50s. “When he moved to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, he started doing scenes.”

After inheriting some of his father’s paintings, Bill Gillies said he went online to purchase many of the magazines he did covers for as well. Since collecting much of his father’s work, he’s begun to share them with his family.

Bill Gillies said he did this because he wanted to ensure the legacy of his father’s art in its various forms was passed on.

“It’s important that my kids, their kids and so forth have a record of this and realize it,” he said.

Cataldo said she wants to remember her grandfather's legacy but would be thrilled to reconnect the two oil sketches with their corresponding families.

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“I have artwork that was grandpa’s that I cherish,” she said. “But I think the families would cherish these pictures of them a lot more.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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