Robert Perrin was born in Medford, Massachusetts and studied art at the School of Practical Art in Boston (now called Art Institute of Boston). Perrin was a pioneer on Old South Wharf, where his converted fishing shanty evolved into the first art gallery on the wharf in 1956. Perrin migrated to the island in 1946 after serving in the U.S. Army where he painted a large mural at the United States Officers’ Club in Chateau Thierry, France. By the mid-1960s, he had moved permanently to Washington Street, where he held weekly watercolor demonstrations during the summer.
He was elected to the American Watercolor Society in 1956 and held membership in the New England Watercolor Society, Guild of Boston Artists, and the Artists Association of Nantucket.
Perrin’s inventive nature led to a variety of endeavors. He illustrated children’s books with characters like Nancy Tucket and the Whopper, and experimented in other media, including fiber arts collage. As reported in American Artist magazine in 1959, he converted his Volkswagen bus to an en plein air studio on wheels. Perrin favored Payne’s gray for his signature ghosts and puddles imagery, and he campaigned successfully against its discontinuation by a major watercolor manufacturer. He made art in three distinct periods: Perrin Puddle Period, concentrating on sights from the wharf and Nantucket’s puddles; Queen Anne Lace Period, featuring open fields, flowers, baskets, etc; and Ghosty Period, dominated by Nantucket houses and beaches with transparent ghosts of earlier Nantucketers. Many locals remember him wearing a top hat and carrying a giant pocket watch during special events.