Student News: Graduating Senior Amberlynn Narvie Paints Portraits of Beverly Dunkin’ Donuts Customers

April 27, 2015

Montserrat student paints portraits of customers at the Beverly Dunkin’ Donuts

Posted: Friday, April 24, 2015 By Dustin Luca Staff Writer

Everybody has a story, but few are shared within the anonymous confines of the public coffee shop — unless Amberlynn Narvie is behind the counter.

Narvie, a 21-year-old Montserrat College of Art senior, is working on her fifth portrait of what she has called “the regulars” at her former part-time job at Dunkin’ Donuts in downtown Beverly.

The regulars are customers who have a habit of visiting a place. But there’s never anything “regular” about the regulars, Narvie said.

“Everybody has their own story,” she said. “Every single one of them is different.”

The project came out of Narvie’s quest for a thesis project entering her final year at Montserrat, she said. She expects to graduate with a BFA in illustration May 15.

By working at Dunkin’ Donuts for three years, Narvie got to know the more private side of some of her customers. She recently left the job ahead of commencement.

“When you work at a place for so long, you talk to the people, see them every day,” she said. “You really get to know them.”

A royal spotlight.

Take Linda, for example. On a canvas 4 feet wide and equally high, the woman sits at a table with a Styrofoam coffee cup, a wrapped-up sandwich and a small paper shopping bag with twine handles. Dressed in a heavy green coat and wearing a black hat with red brim, she’s smirking while looking up at the painter, holding her hands in the air and shrugging.

Linda, Narvie said, has a more emotional side than the painting shows.

“I can’t remember a time when Linda and I had a conversation where she didn’t cry,” Narvie blogged about the oil painting. “Not necessarily sad tears, but tears of all kinds. You could say that she is emotional, or you could say that she just has a deeper connection or understanding of things than most.”

Then there’s Joanne, a somewhat older woman in a salmon-colored T-shirt. She’s depicted casting a natural, arguably holy light in a dark corner of the restaurant as five other regulars sit around her and talk to her.

Joanne, Narvie said, was the mediator among the regulars — someone who neutralized conflict and kept people together, drawing in other regulars to talk and share their stories.
Ted was homeless, a man who once told Narvie he had been unemployed for more than 50 years.

“He was really old and was kind of hunched over and would shuffle around,” she said. “He’d sit on the corner, and everybody would buy him coffee because he always looked down and out.”

Ted’s portrait shows two versions of him, one coming out of the other. The right-most version of him seems to be walking way, hunched, carrying that drained expression so many people knew him for, Narvie said.

The other version of Ted looks directly at the painter, his eyebrows popping up into his forehead as he smiled at the artist, his expression beaming with life.

“And that’s Ted,” Narvie said.
Realism, humanity influence student Narvie’s style is heavily inspired by Edward Hopper, a prominent American realist painter best known for his 1942 painting Nighthawks.

“He’d have humanity in his paintings,” she said.

Narvie’s focus also stems from her childhood, from a mother who she said “had a lot of stuff going on, and it was always really real.”

“I’ve always been interested in people, interested in their stories and them retelling their life,” Narvie said.

Doing the work isn’t easy. Each painting can take up to 150 hours, from initial sketches to the full-blown canvas.

Her work is done from the back of the Montserrat art studios at 301 Cabot St., in a small walled-off area about 6 feet wide and 5 feet deep. There’s barely room for two stools when all the different canvases are brought in.

The walls are hardly bare though, with one of the only spots not already covered by artwork bearing Edward Hopper’s name in blue paint.

Narvie works daily, she said, and she has been known to pull all-nighters in her cubicle. “There was one week where I went crazy,” she said. “I was in the studio for four days in a row, from 3 in the afternoon until 7 in the morning.”
But sometimes, the hardest part of painting a regular is getting them to agree to it.

After getting to know the person, Narvie would ask for permission to capture the person in paint and, every time, she’d be met with an immediate, cold “no,” she said.
But everybody comes around over time.

“I learned that just waiting works,” Narvie said. “They think about it and usually, they come back to it and say, ‘well, if you were to paint a portrait, what would you do?’ “

Narvie has a reception with several other Montserrat students on Wednesday, April 29 at 5 p.m., at the “301 Gallery,” 301 Cabot St., Beverly. For more on Narvie’s work, visit