In 2005, Carleen Lenner, an interior designer originally from Sunbury, was shopping for artwork to redecorate her home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Lenner was browsing one of the small antiques stores she frequented when she came across a painting that took her by surprise. Among a number of other canvases leaning against the wall was a skillfully-rendered reproduction of Paolo Veronese's "Mars and Venus United by Love," an Italian Renaissance masterpiece which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"This painting was so magnificent that I thought, 'What happened here? This should be in a museum,' " Lenner said. "I knew there must be a story behind it, so I got very excited and purchased it for a very small price."
The reproduction was signed "Francisco Ciccio Poblet," so Lenner did what anyone in her position would have done: she Googled it. Improbably, nothing came up. "I couldn't find anything about Francisco Poblet until a few years later when I was getting ready to redecorate again and was considering passing the painting along to my boyfriend's daughter, who was always interested in it," Lenner said. "While I was on the phone with her, my boyfriend decided to type the name into his iPhone and it came up on Facebook. It said: 'Francisco Poblet, 79 years old, lives in New York City and was trained by Salvador Dali.' I was speechless. So I finished my conversation with his daughter and said, 'You know, I'm going to have to get back to you on that painting.' "
Artist Francisco Ciccio Poblet restores his 50-year-old reproduction of Paolo Veronese's “Mars and Venus United by Love.”
Lenner contacted Francisco Poblet and sent him photos of the painting. "He wrote back saying, 'Yes, yes! That's my painting!' He was so excited to see it because he had painted this back in the early 1960s, so it's a 50 year-old painting, but he remembered it like it was yesterday," Lenner said.
Soon after making contact with Poblet, Lenner arranged to visit him in New York to meet the artist and have the painting authenticated. What she thought would be a short visit turned into a friendship. "We just hit it off," Lenner said. "Four hours later, we were still talking."
The two got along so well, in fact, that Lenner became Poblet's artist representative. This is just one in a series of interesting experiences that make up Poblet's life story. "I've never met anyone else like him," Lenner said, "and I've been all over the world!"
Now, Lenner is bringing Poblet to Williamsport. Poblet, a student of Salvador Dali and a survivor of 9-11, will autograph prints of his work and speak about his fascinating experiences from 5 to 9 p.m. Aug. 24 and 25 at The Ankle Root Art Gallery, 38 W. Fourth St.
Poblet was born in New York City in 1932. His father was originally from Barcelona and his mother was from Sicily. At 14, Poblet started taking private painting lessons from Dali, an expatriate acquaintance of his father. Poblet labored under the stern and eccentric methods of his famous teacher until 1949, when Dali returned to Spain. The surrealist master's influence continues to pervade Poblet's art and working method.
"At the time I didn't know who Dali was. He was just a mad painter as far as I was concerned," Poblet said. "But he was a very good teacher, though he could be very stern. Often when I made a mistake, he wouldn't give me a chance to correct it. He would make me paint the canvas white and start all over again. He was very spontaneous. He didn't believe in sketches. He said you have to start out with a thought. He would tell me to open my mind and let whatever images were there through and put them on the canvas. He always said, 'The canvas has a painting within it. It's up to you to locate it and develop it.' "
As a result of his teacher's emphasis on imaginative creation, much of Poblet's work bears the distinguishing marks of Dali. Poblet's early work in particular is surrealist in style. A number of Poblet's paintings even include portraits of his old teacher: eyes and mustache prominent.
"That's all I saw when I was with him: that mustache and those eyes!" Poblet said. "His eyes made a very strong impression on me because he opened them up very wide when he was trying to express something."
After studying with Dali, Poblet went on to work for Western Publishing, where he was responsible for illustrating comic book covers for Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, Hannah Barbera and Marvel Comics. From 1968 to the late 1970s, Poblet illustrated 180 different titles every year, including Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, 'The Flinstones,' Scooby-Doo, Star Trek and several others.
The next phase of Poblet's life, though not as happy as his years studying with Dali or working in the comics industry, is nevertheless remarkable. On Sept. 11, 2001, Poblet lived two blocks from the World Trade Center in New York City. After the first plane hit, he went outside to see what had happened. Just as he got outside, the second plane hit the South Tower, which caused a huge amount of debris to fall on the surrounding city blocks. Poblet was struck by debris which gravely injured his head, throat, neck and stomach.
"There was an explosion and everything started coming down," he said. "That's when I got hit. I didn't realize debris was coming down. I was just lying there, choking. There was a cloud of black smoke at least 19 stories high. There was a cacophony of noise. The noise, oh my god. It was maddening. I thought I was dead."
It would take Poblet several years to recover from his injuries. To this day, Poblet has trouble breathing and his voice is perpetually raspy. He got out of a wheelchair and off oxygen therapy in 2010, nine years after the attack. "I'm still under doctor's care right now," Poblet said "It affected me very greatly. I have to take a lot of medication daily in order to survive."
Poblet had plenty of harrowing words to describe his experience of 9-11. More harrowing still are the drawings and paintings he produced after the horror of that day. His vivid memories of the attack are the inspiration for the hundreds of pieces that make up his 9-11 series.
"I couldn't stop painting," Poblet said. "In the month of September of 2001, I did about 100 paintings alone. I have hundreds of drawings and paintings. A lot of people have tried to talk me out of painting more 9-11 scenes. They say, 'Almost all of your art is about 9-11. You can't only draw that. It's depressing to people. People are trying to forget it.' I say, 'No! Wrong!' People cannot forget. Why should anyone forget the horror? It's still in me. I have to express it's truth. This is history and it shouldn't be forgotten. If you forget, it can always happen again."
Among all of Poblet's noteworthy life experiences, one will be of particular interest to the local community. During the 1960s, Poblet was the art director for the Grit Newspaper in Williamsport. So, in a way, Poblet's visit to Williamsport this week will be a kind of homecoming.
"I'm very excited to return to Williamsport," Poblet said. "I'm honored there would be anyone interested in hearing my story."
For more information about Poblet and to see examples of his art, visit www.franciscopobletfineart.com.