Firefighter Turns Artist

Firefighter Turns Artist

Gallery holds show for local artist.

After a 30-year hiatus, Michael McGurk’s art career is ready to take off. He just opened his first show at Art & Framing by Valentino and plans to continue painting when he and his wife, Cecilia, move to Charlottesville, Va. in September.

Even though McGurk attended a two-year art school in Pittsburgh, Pa. after he finished high school, he didn’t pursue art on a full-time basis. Instead, he got interested in the fire department. That’s how he ended up in this area; he heard that they were hiring and became a D.C. firefighter.

During his career with the fire department, McGurk was on the scene for many major disasters. While he wasn’t on duty the day the plane flew into the Pentagon, he was on the job for the next few days, working on the recovery effort.

He was on duty when there was a major blaze at Kahn’s Department Store. Located at 7th and Pennsylvania, the fire lasted a couple of days. Another major fire that he remembers was in the post office on L’enfant Plaza — on the ninth floor.

Over the years, McGurk dabbled in art and as he got closer to retirement, he came to paint more.

“Near the end, I decided that I was going to branch out,” McGurk said. “I wanted to get away from the fire service and I had been taking classes at the Art League and the Corcoran.”

McGURK ACCEPTED a job at the Art League as one of its facilities managers. That job entailed managing the three Art League buildings — ordering supplies, fixing classrooms and directing the janitors. He liked it because it kept him in contact with other artists and instructors.

“The instructors there are top notch,” he said.

As a member of the Art League, he was eligible to enter some of his works into juried shows. He won a few prizes and said, “That validates the fact that the direction you’re going in is the right one.”

McGurk got to know Rose Valentino because their children attended the same pre-school. They also discovered that they were from the same hometown and that their parents knew each other. McGurk said that he had been bringing his paintings in to get framed, when Valentino said, “You really ought to have a show.”

And so, they set it up; an opening reception last week drew a large crowd. The show runs through Aug. 31.

“He has lovely fire department pastel art, along with portraits and landscapes,” said Bonnie Rabichow, Valentino’s partner.