This painting was donated to the National Park Service, and was on display at Acadia National Park Visitor's Center for years. The painter’s son, Neal Dodson (at right in this 1980s-era photo), remembered visiting the painting with his brother Alex. The painting is no longer at the park and has been recorded as missing. PHOTO COURTESY OF DODSON FAMILY

Painting’s whereabouts a mystery

BAR HARBOR — Painter Nelson L. Dodson donated an oil painting called “Shore Walk” to the National Park Service in 1977. The painting depicted an Acadia National Park ranger engaged in an education program about tide pools. The ranger is standing on the rocky coastline and holding a lobster. There are two onlookers, and a wooden lobster trap off to one side.

“It hung in the main Hulls Cove Acadia visitor center for years,” remembered the painter’s son, Neal Dodson. “As kids, when we came to Maine, we would go and visit the painting.”

Now an adult who works as a film and television producer in New York and Los Angeles, Dodson and his family continue to visit MDI every summer.

Eventually it was no longer on display, but stored in the small visitor center theater, Dodson told the Islander.

“And then, in 2014, when we visited again, the painting was gone.”

According to Dodson, at the time staff told him the painting may have been sold. “The details were unclear,” he said.

Park records don’t mention the painting being sold. According to Marie Yarborough, the park’s curator, records indicate the painting was lost.

“In 1999, there was a note put in the accession file stating that the painting could not be found, staff do not recall seeing the painting,” she said. “But they [did] recall seeing a paper reproduction of the painting used for an exhibit.”

The painting was “assumed lost,” according to Yarborough, and de-accessioned.

Records also indicate that the park ranger in the painting was modeled on real-life park ranger Bill Townsend, longtime naturalist and interpreter at Acadia National Park.

Townsend, who is retired but still in the area, said he worked from 1966 to 1984 as a seasonal park naturalist. During the school year, he worked as a teacher. Following his retirement from teaching, he returned to Acadia to work as a protection ranger from 1996 to 1999.

He confirmed that he was the park ranger in the painting. “That’s what they tell me,” he said, noting that he did wear sideburns then, as portrayed in the painting.

Townsend said he used to lead a tide pool walk program, “but I used to hold a crab, not a lobster. And I never used a lobster trap [in the program].” Townsend thought the painter may have taken artistic liberties with those smaller details, but that he “used a photo as reference” for the painting overall.

Townsend worked at the park through the mid-eighties, and said he remembered seeing the painting in the visitor center. “It used to hang on the wall by the theater,” he said. “It was really big. They took it down some time ago.”

Dodson said that his father, a painter and retired art teacher, “was sad to not know where [the painting] was located anymore, but moved on.”

Its whereabouts remain a mystery. Dodson himself is curious where it ended up. “It’s a famous painting in our family, and I would love to find it,” he said.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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