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Lance Middlebrook

by William McGinn

Some of us are born with an internal gyroscope. We seem to emerge from the womb knowing what we will be and where we will go. But for most of us, the process evolves.

So it was for Lance Middlebrook, a musician who suddenly discovered another muse. For more than twenty years he created residential and commercial murals for some of the biggest names in American society and today combines both his artistic and his musical careers.

A neighbor introduced me to Lance Middlebrook at a casual gathering some years ago when we lived in Sharon. Soon, I learned to appreciate him as one of the most gifted decorative painters that I have met in my twenty years as a professional interior designer.

Lance did not set out to become a painter, but rather a musician. His first love, other than his wife, Debbie, is music. He's a singer, guitarist and mandolin player who currently plays with his partner, John Mathews, in an acoustic/electric duo based in Millerton NY.

The two play an eclectic mix of folk, traditional, obscure covers and original compositions written by Shamkin and Middlebrook. The duo plays locally at 52 Main in Millerton. the Fife and Drum in Kent and on April 1st you can find them at Twelve Moons Coffee House in Salisbury. (Follow them on Facebook at OMR, Millerton.)

Early in his musical career, Lance moved to Nashville, Tennessee , where he settled with his young family and pursued his music. That's where the painting began when a friend asked him to help with a project he was working, thereby introducing him to the world of high-end decorative painting.

Through that connection Lance met the late Robert Jackson, master muralist and decorative artist. “Jackson was the decorative painter when I entered the design field in New York in 1985. He executed projects for all the top decorating firms of the time and was published regularly.”

Lance soon demonstrated a strong artistic talent and absorbed his training quickly. He had always liked art as a boy and had shown promise in high school but music lured him with its sirens’ song.

Working with Jackson, Lance cut his decorative teeth on projects in some of the nation’s grandest homes. He eventually became a fine decorative painter in his own right and, working independently, completed projects at Opryland Hotel in Nashville, the U.S. State Department, in Washington, D.C., the homes of Garth Brooks, Naomi Judd, and other private residences.

His work has been published in Audio Video Interiors, Southern Accents, Hotels, and Adventures with Old Houses. Projects on residential and commercial properties include custom-painted murals, trompe l'oeil, painted floor designs, marbleizing, painted furniture and more.

Besides Jackson, he worked with numerous designers, including John Saladino in Naples FL, Mario Buatta and Bunny Williams in New York, Josie McCarthy in Dallas, Texas, and Earl Swensson Associates in Nashville, TN.

Still music exerted its pull. He and his family were drawn back to his hometown of Sharon, and eventually to Millerton, where he founded his band, Wooden Nickel, in 2007. They renovated Debbie's grandparent's home and became active in Millerton village affairs.

Imagine my excitement when I discovered that Lance was still painting and interested in working with me. Our first project was my own fireplace surround, painted in a faux bois finish. From there, we went on to complete projects for some of my design clients.

One of them was an elevator hall in an Upper East Side building where the painted walls were to simulate large parchment panels and the doors were painted in a faux bois representation of cerused oak. The project turned out to be as diplomatic as it was artistic. My client and her neighbor were at odds over work just completed by her decorator. Lance’s natural diplomatic skills helped calm my client’s nerves—and my own.

Diplomacy is frequently helpful in the world of interior décor. I later introduced Lance to a friend in Norfolk, who hired him to paint the floor of his living room in an antique checkerboard pattern. This client is very house proud and particular about anything that relates to his Greek Revival home. Half way through the job he called saying urgently that he HATED how it was turning out and asking what could be done. I urged him to let Lance finish, but it was Lance himself who smoothed the waters enough to complete the floor. The painted floor became one of my friend's most prized possessions and he later commissioned Lance to do a pair of stunning faux tortoise tables.

Inspired by Lance, I recently completed a decorative painting project for myself. When I diffidently asked his opinion of my work, he smiled and jokingly offered me a job. That exemplifies Lance's generosity of spirit. He is an American Master.