The patina of a life lived joyously with art is as thick and colorful inside Mel McCuddin's home as the 40-plus years of dried oil paint around the makeshift easel in his studio.
Home base for McCuddin is in a modest east Millwood house he's shared with his wife, Gloria McCuddin, since 1976. It's chockful of artwork — much, but not all of it, by his own hand. Drawings by the couple's grandchildren hang alongside McCuddin's distinct, otherworldly figurative paintings. And the walls and shelves illustrate a who's who of the local art scene — some of the works purchased, some traded with other artists.
In the bathroom is one of many artworks by Harold Balazs, McCuddin's lifelong friend and fishing buddy who died in 2017.
"I miss him," says McCuddin, and this is the only time you can't hear a smile in his voice, which anyone who has had the good fortune to know McCuddin knows is completely genuine.
"Mel is the most positive person you'll ever meet," says Gloria, who is 86 to Mel's 88 years. Their commitment is mutual and endearing.
One of his earliest pieces, an abstract landscape from 1953, hangs in the kitchen. By the early 1960s, McCuddin had enrolled in several local art programs, while also working — as a janitor, driving truck — to support his young family. Struggling yet determined, McCuddin left school and committed himself to painting, which he's done for nearly 60 years, much of it in the studio behind their home.
To get there, we walk through the pink and orange door in the kitchen, cross the deck, pass the fish pond and the metal sculpture of a rooster in primary colors, and go down a crunchy concrete path littered with glimmering shell casings.
His studio is actually a converted barn that's adorned, both inside and out, with assorted artwork and ample evidence of McCuddin's sense of humor. An arrow-shaped sign outside with the word "bar" on it points to the door. Inside, a shelf above one work area is packed with mementos, photos of family and friends, and toys, including a Frankenstein doll whose pants have fallen down, tucked in among other ephemera like the shark's teeth and blow dart his brother gave him.
In a far corner, an old, mostly white and paint-splattered table is laden with coffee cans full of paint brushes or paint thinner, plastic lids where McCuddin mixes oil paint, and dozens of paint tubes mostly organized in trays. Beneath the table are several decades worth of spent tubes.
Nowadays, McCuddin says, he only spends two to three hours in the studio at a time but works quickly and on several canvases at a time, allowing the imagery to emerge from the layering of paint.
"It takes longer for paint to dry than to create a finished work," he says, laughing.
Next to the painting area is the shop where he makes frames and stores the larger works that he's accumulated but not found a place to exhibit. Not including these paintings, McCuddin says, he figures he does around 70 to 90 paintings a year.
"I like to think there's going to be something worthwhile when I'm gone," says McCuddin, who has exhibited at Coeur d'Alene's Art Spirit Gallery since 1997 and will do so again in October 2021. It's a show not to be missed.