HALL: In pursuit of perfection: Maurice Metrogen (PHOTOS)

Laura Hall
Maurice Metrogen thinking of his next painting or next tennis game.

Art has played a major role in the life of Maurice “Mo” Metrogen. 

With a bandanna tied around his neck and the familiar baseball cap on, I can picture Maurice out in the open fields with French painters looking for the perfect light. The softness of his features displays a quiet and peaceful confidence of character and ability. With a mischievous twinkle in his brown eyes, he often interjects humorous tales that pop up at the most unexpected times.

Fifty nine years ago, this month, Maurice married the beautiful Patricia Dove of Arkansas after a whirlwind courtship of two months. Pat was the owner of five beautiful horses and Maurice says it was “love of horses at first sight.” Pat broke and rode horses Indian style - bareback with rope in the horses mouth. Maurice says he tried that only once.  

Maurice was in the Air Force for 20 years and part of that time he was stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. While there, he had an art show in an immense ballroom where a large number of artists were showing their work.

Maurice tells me, “I watched this buyer keep glancing over at my work as he made his rounds of the room. Finally he stops dead still, looks my way, cuts across the ballroom and comes directly to me. The gentleman, a buyer for the Sears art collection, bought every original painting I had except one. The name of the buyer, Vincent Price, became famous for his movie roles.”

Retiring from the Air Force in 1968, Maurice worked as a contract illustrator for Oklahoma State University which had a contract with Eglin AFB illustrating mostly classified manuals. Following this, Maurice worked as a civilian illustrator for the Air Force at Hurlburt.

“I did a lot of illustrating for AGOS (Air Ground Operations School). The instructors who taught special subjects needed training aids in tactics and communications,” he said.

Retiring from Civil Service Maurice began to teach watercolor classes for ADSO, the Art and Design Society in Ft. Walton Beach, as well as giving private lessons in his Destin studio. Maurice says, “I always introduce my students to the artist, John Pike, whom many , arguably, consider to be the premier watercolorists in the world.  John was famous for Colliers magazine and Readers Digest covers.” 

Maurice and many of his art peers have studied with John at his art school in Woodstock, N.Y.  The influence of great illustrators like Howard Pyle, who taught N.C. Wyeth, is felt even today.

I ask Maurice if he has a favorite out of the multitude of art pictures he has produced over the years. 

“I’ll show you this picture of Rusty that is one of my favorites. This old stove sat in my work shed for 20 years rusting away but it had so much interesting texture and history I decided to paint it before discarding it. Now the stove is gone and the original painting is gone. I see a print of the old stove with a vase of flowers on the top.  It is beautiful but the ray of sunshine streaming across the painting leaves you spellbound, and can transport you to a time long past.”

Maurice shows me an acrylic painting he has been working and reworking for three years in an effort to perfect it. Once I see the power and intensity of this work, my eyes keep returning for another passionate look that makes my heart pound. This painting, titled Omak Suicide Race, shows the dangerous and exhilarating ride held every year in Omak, Washington.  It is labeled “The Deadliest Horse Race in the World” and controversial for the injuries caused to the riders and often death to the horses. 

Maurice has created a picture of horses racing in reckless mayhem with panic and fear in their eyes as they wildly toss their heads.  The riders, hurling forward, grimace with tight jaws to show their determination to complete the perilous ride. 

Maurice says, “This picture shows haphazardness, high energy, danger, excitement, and foolhardiness all in one picture.” For me,  the painting is fantastic but thoughts of the race leave me with a slight tug of conscience.

The other half of Maurice’s life is tennis though he tells me, “Old age and injuries have put me on the bench more than I like. At 80, I decided to park my motorcycle because it was dangerous, foolhardy, and I had a lot of close calls.” 

As I think back on my interview, I’m sure I saw some understanding worked out between their Border Terrier dog, Murphy,  and his family. I think Murphy has perfected his training of both master and mistress.

Laura Hall is a freelance reporter and longtime Destin resident. Have an interesting topic, contact her at llhall4386@gmail.com.