It would be difficult – actually, impossible – to argue with Peter Whalon’s description of his friend Frank Handlen as a “Renaissance man.”

In his 105 years, Handlen has been a boatyard worker, carpenter and gifted artist who has donated dozens of his paintings to organizations in and around Kennebunkport to be auctioned to raise money. Oh, and there’s that 40-foot sailboat he crafted in his backyard. And his sculpture of a fisherman and his wife, commemorating the town’s early residents, that sits on Kennebunkport’s village green.

Frank Handlen’s 1995 sculpture, “Our Forebears on the Coast,” at the Kennebunkport Village Green, is one of many lifetime achievements Handlen was honored for Friday by the Kennebunkport Historical Society. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Friday, the Kennebunkport Historical Society honored Handlen with a one-hour talk by Whalon, a former president of the historical society, about his friend, followed by a reception and birthday cake. Handlen, the town’s oldest resident, walked in under his own steam – he had a walker, but it seemed to be doing little or none of the work – and made a few remarks of his own after Whalon recounted a remarkable life.

Handlen was born on Sept. 26, 1916, in Brooklyn, New York, but there’s an intriguing story in even that mundane fact. Whalon said the 26th is the date on Handlen’s birth certificate, although Handlen’s mother always insisted he was born on the 27th.

The Handlens moved to New Jersey, where a family friend told Handlen after he graduated from high school that Maine was the land of opportunity, particularly for an artist.

So at 18, he came north to Biddeford Pool, worked in a boatyard and continued to paint – seascapes and boats at mooring were favorite subjects – on the side. During World War II, he wasn’t drafted because he was 25, married and had two children, but he contributed to the war effort by helping assemble machine guns.


He moved to Kennebunkport in 1970, where he indulged in his passion for boatbuilding by building a 40-foot sailboat by hand, often using tools that he crafted himself, in his backyard. After four years of construction, the launching was apparently quite an event in town, with the boat moved by truck through Dock Square to be christened and launched in the Kennebunk River.

Frank Handlen, 105, blows out a candle on a birthday cake Friday at the Kennebunkport Historical Society, which honored him as the town’s oldest resident. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

With no assurance that it wouldn’t immediately sink, Handlen “seriously thought of launching it at night, with no moon,” Whalon said, but the Salt Wind stayed afloat and Handlen and his second wife frequently sailed it off the coast of New England and as far away as the Bahamas.

But art was always at the center of Handlen’s life, Whalon said, and at one point, his work caught the attention of Charles Cawley, founder of MBNA, a fast-growing issuer of credit cards.

Cawley bought a few of Handlen’s paintings – and then a few more, and more after that, Whalon said.

“Cawley was like an ATM to Frank,” Whalon said.

Handlen listened and chuckled as Whalon told his stories and then stood up to add a few remarks of his own. And, he told the 50 or so people at the historical society’s gathering, that he still paints daily – but, “honestly, I had to give up tap dancing.”

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