His paintings were big splashes of primary colors, butterflies, flocks of brilliant blue and yellow birds, and wildlife around a water hole, a peaceable kingdom.
So placid were these images that they would seem the work of a gentle nature lover. Yet, when the paintings came up for sale in April 2001, one lawman described them as “sickening.” Gov. George Pataki had the artist banned from any other exhibitions.
Arthur Shawcross, 55, the artist, was also an inmate at the maximum-security Sullivan Correctional Facility where he was serving a sentence of more than 250 years for his other hobby —
It’s not clear when he took up his paints, but his other pastime had started some 30 years earlier with the slaughter of two children.
He went to prison, was paroled, and started again. At least 13 victims would die at the hands of this jailhouse Rembrandt, known throughout the community around upstate Rochester, as the Genesee River Killer.
The exhibition was the fruit of a prison program — “Corrections on Canvas” — that gave offenders art supplies and a way to express themselves without committing a felony. But the presence of this convict’s work was too much.
Citizens circulated petitions, driving him from town to town, while others argued that he had served his time and should be given the chance to make something of a life that had long been troubled.
Born in June 1945, Shawcross was remembered by schoolmates as a bully, but he would later insist that he had been the victim in the schoolyard and at home, where he said his mother sexually abused him. By his 21st birthday, he was married and a father. He divorced his wife just in time to get a draft notice that sent him to Vietnam.
Upon his return in 1968, he settled with a second wife in Oklahoma and got his jollies by setting fires. Burglary was added to his repertoire when he moved to upstate New York. That landed him in jail, where he served nearly 22 months of a five-year sentence.
Less than eight months later, he moved on to more serious crimes, when he lured Jack Blake, 10, into the woods and murdered him.