Maine College of Art & Design Introduces the John Bisignano and Bettina Swirkal Memorial Scholarship Fund

Midcoast Artist’s Generosity Benefits MECA&D Students

Painting by Maine Midcoast artist John J. Bisignano. More images available upon request.

PORTLAND, ME January 24, 2022Maine College of Art & Design (MECA&D) today announced the establishment of the John Bisignano and Bettina Swirkal Memorial Scholarship Fund to benefit deserving students from Maine enrolled full-time in a degree program at the College. Starting in the Spring of 2022, the fund will provide $5,000 per year to qualifying students who will be selected by the Advancement and Financial Aid offices.


“John’s is a fascinating story of success built from humble beginnings and a passion for the arts that transcended all else,” said Laura Freid, President at MECA&D. “We are so grateful for the opportunity to honor John’s memory as an artist by helping advance the talent of future generations.”


Although John James Bisignano (1929-2021) was raised in poverty, one thing that always burned brightly for him was his love of art. Born one of 13 children, John settled in Maine with the love of his life, Bettina ‘Betty’ Swirkal, in 1988. The pair’s small home in Owls Head was the setting for the unassuming lives they led as artists. 

Remembered as a humble man, John has been described as an intellectual and disciplined powerhouse. After serving in the Marines, John worked as a commercial artist during the day and when time and resources permitted, he attended the Art Students League in New York City, a school that produced such greats in the art world as Robert Rauschenberg and Jackson Pollock. John had more than 50 solo shows and participated in close to 100 group shows. His work is in private collections throughout the United States.

In 2014, John’s heartfelt wish to create a foundation for young aspiring artists who do not have the resources for college was realized when he established the John Bisignano and Bettina Swirkal Memorial Scholarship Fund. Following his passing, the fund was finalized and made available to provide scholarship assistance to deserving MECA&D students from Maine, with a preference for students who graduated from Oceanside High School in Rockland, Maine. As an endowed fund through the Maine Community Foundation, this meaningful gift will serve as a lasting legacy to John and his wife. 

Additional gifts to the fund can be made online or by mail through:

Maine Community Foundation
Attn: John Bisignano and Bettina Swirkal Memorial Scholarship Fund
245 Main Street, Ellsworth, ME 04605

John’s work can be viewed at Works are for sale, with proceeds going to benefit the scholarship fund.

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Maine College of Art & Design (MECA&D, pronounced "Maine College of Art and Design”) has been activating students of all pursuits to make art, make an impact, and inspire change since its founding as Portland School of Art in 1882. Located in Portland's thriving Arts District, students have access to state-of-the-art facilities, 24-hour-a-day studios, a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and a community-based Artists at Work program—making MECA&D the right-sized school in the right-sized city for every student who wants to make their mark and be seen. MECA&D offers BFA Majors and Minors, Graduate Programs, Continuing Studies, Pre-College, and includes the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and the Institute for Contemporary Art. Follow us at @mecaart.


Jacqui Walpole
Director of External Relations