Duane A. Paluska, an Assistant Professor of English (1968-73), died on January 28, 2020, in Lewiston, Maine.
(The following was published by The Portland Press Herald on January 31, 2020)
Duane A. Paluska, 83, died peacefully on Jan. 28, 2020, surrounded by family at Central Maine Medical Center after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke.
He was born on June 22, 1936, in Aurora, Ill., and grew up in nearby Naperville, Ill., the middle son of John and Ora Paluska. After graduating from high school in Naperville, he attended Knox College, where he received a degree in English and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa (1958). He continued his studies at Yale University (1959) on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, and later received his masters at Bread Loaf School of English (1964) and a Ph.D. from Brandeis University (1970).
While completing his graduate studies, he taught English at Governor Dummer Academy and Wheelock College in Massachusetts before moving to Maine in 1968 to teach English at Bowdoin College. He enjoyed teaching, but after six years at Bowdoin his budding interest in making furniture prompted him to pursue a career as a cabinetmaker.
Duane soon established himself as one of Maine’s finest custom furniture makers. He channeled his early influences of Chippendale and Queen Anne traditions and the simple, honest utility of Shaker furniture into a distinctly personal style. He built timeless furniture marked by elegant joinery and clean, unfussy design. He worked on commission based on word of mouth, and it was not unusual to wait a year or more for a piece of his furniture.
In the late 1980s, he returned to painting and sculpture, having abandoned a promising career as a painter when he began teaching in the 1960s. Inspired by the experience of re-canvassing a favorite wooden canoe, he began canvassing and painting wall cabinets. This soon led to more traditional wall art featuring wood shapes wrapped in pieces of painted canvas as well as early forays into sculpture. His solo show at Dean Valentgas Gallery in Portland in 1991 was the first of numerous solo and group shows throughout the Northeast in the ensuing years. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Portland Museum of Art, the deCordova Museum and Bowdoin’s Walker Art Museum, among others.
In 1989, Duane opened Icon Contemporary Art in Brunswick. Housed adjacent to his workshop and studio in a former Knights of Columbus hall, Icon helped launch the careers of many artists and became a hub for the Maine modern art community. Duane had a special knack for curating and hanging the many shows that Icon hosted in the 30-plus years of its existence, often through unexpected juxtapositions of diverse artists.
Duane was a quiet, deeply contemplative man with a wry sense of humor who treasured time spent with family and his wide circle of friends. He loved working with his hands and leaves behind an enduring legacy of beautiful things. Ever curious about the world around him, he was an avid reader, traveler and camper. He logged countless miles touring around North America on his beloved BMW motorcycle, often attending minor league baseball games along the way. He loved many styles of music, particularly classical and jazz, and greatly enjoyed attending concerts. On most Sundays, he could be found baking bread in the home he designed and built in the 1980s; handcrafted down to the smallest detail, the house is his magnum opus and definitively embodies both his craftsmanship and aesthetic sensibility.
Duane is survived by his wife of 37 years, Ellen Frances Golden; his sons, John (Rachel) Russell Paluska and Peter (Megan) Sandness Paluska; his brothers, Keith Gary Paluska and Roger (Sue) Charles Paluska; three grandsons, Wes, Pablo and Fox, and several nieces and nephews.