James Chute — My Collaborative Drawing Projects

In the years 2012 through 2015 I conceived and executed four collaborative drawing projects. These projects provided conceptual contexts for the improvisational drawing practice I had been concentrating on for the previous several years, and also incorporated social and performative elements. In retrospect, they can be seen as a progression.

The first, talking & drawing (2012), was based on Lee Lozano’s Dialogue Piece (1969). Lozano invited other artists, mostly male, to her loft for private conversations. From her notebooks we know who she talked with, but not what was said. I had been intrigued by this concept (a conversation indicated but not recorded) since I first learned of it. After a couple of years contemplating if and how to attempt something similar, and having benefited from sage comments from friends Lucinda Bliss (“you have to find a way to make it your own”), Ronnie Wilson (“well, why don’t you draw while you’re talking to them?”), and Virginia Rose (“you have to do it”), I launched talking & drawing in late February 2012. Between March 9 and August 9, 2012, I had conversations with 53 female, Maine-connected artists. During the course of each conversation I made an abstract drawing. My conferees were offered the opportunity to draw as well, and 16 did so. Other than the fading memories of the participants, the drawings are the only record of these conversations.

The first batch of invitations was sent out via e-mail at the end of February 2012 to a list of 30 artists compiled off the top of my head.  Thereafter, additional invitations were made by e-mail, in person at art events, and in several cases, upon chance encounters in the street.  A handful of people declined for various reasons, a few did not respond, and in one or two cases it just wasn’t possible to arrange a meeting.  Most of the meetings took place in studios, theirs or mine, and others in homes, coffee shops, and in the garden behind the Longfellow House (there would have been more in this delightful urban oasis, but it was a rainy spring in Portland).

James Chute, talking & drawing with Lauren Fensterstock, 8×8” inks on paper, 2012

Conversations varied in length from 30 minutes to 2 hours, most in the 45-90 minute range. All conversations were begun with the same question, but they were not conducted as interviews. I did not start drawing immediately, but let the conversation develop first. Sometimes I had no idea what i might draw, other times I had something in mind based on my knowledge of the other person and her work. I think the earliest I made a mark was 7 minutes in; often 15 or 20 minutes would pass before I started drawing. I used the timer on my phone so that I wouldn’t forget that I was supposed to start making marks. Conferees were invited to make their own drawing during the conversation, and about 30% chose to do so and contribute that piece to the project.  Some later said “I wish I had drawn”. Conversations would slow down a bit while I was drawing, or if both of us were drawing, but not cease.

I learned a lot about art and its making, the lives of women artists, the art of conversation, and about myself.

In addition to being an altered re-performance of Lozano’s Dialogue Piece, it also constitutes an unwinding of her General Strike Piece  (withdrawal from the New York art scene) and her Boycott Piece (refusing to speak with other women) because it had the effect of deepening my connections with the art world and engaging in dialogues with only women. (For further information on Lee Lozano, see H. Molesworth, “Tune in, Turn on, Drop out: the Rejection of Lee Lozano”, Art Journal,  vol. 61, # 4, Winter 2002.)

The entire suite of 69 drawings was shown at Rose Contemporary in Portland during November 2012. An excerpt, consisting of 16 of my drawings and 9 by my collaborators was shown at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell in 2014.

My experience (or I should say the collective experiences of myself and 53 other artists) with talking & drawing had one disappointing aspect: only about one third of my collaborators took the opportunity to draw during the conversation. Hence, in considering the structure for the next project, I decided that drawing would be mandatory and that talking would be optional.

James Chute, Rhombi drawing with James Marshall, 8×8” inks on paper, 2014

In the second project, the Rhombi (2013-2014), my collaborators were required to draw but had the option to remain silent. The Rhombi generated 59 drawings over the span of 11 months.

This is how it worked: we met somewhere, usually studios, homes, and coffee shops, occasionally bars and public parks. We both drew on the same 8″ square piece of paper, initially oriented so that each of us is facing a corner rather than an edge. We both used identical drawing tools, provided by me (there were two exceptions to this rule). The other person had to make at least one mark. The duration of the drawing session, within the limits of 1 minute and 1 hour, was chosen by my collaborator, who also chose whether we drew simultaneously or took turns, and had the option of choosing to talk or remain silent, and to specify other ground rules if he or she thought that would be conducive to the process.  The shortest times were 5 minutes, the longest 59 (in silence) and 60 minutes. In most instances my collaborators chose to talk, sometimes with interesting limitations: “procedural talking only”, “no talking about the drawing”, “if you want to say something, you have to address the dog”. The first of 59 drawings was made on 28 April 2013, the last on 19 March 2014.

James Chute, the Rhombi as installed at PhoPa 2016

Over the course of the project I came to believe that the most interesting drawings were created when we took turns drawing. On several occasions the resulting drawing revealed a composite style that was unlike the individual mark-making habits of either of us. On the other hand, when two of us drew at the same time we tended to each have our own territory within the sheet of paper and work in our accustomed styles. The Rhombi was shown at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell in 2014,  at PhoPa in Portland, and at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth in 2016.

In the process of recruiting collaborators for the Rhombi, I found that a number of potential partners begged off citing lack of time. So, for the third project, I decided that I should devise a structure that required very little time for the execution of each component. This was blind eye contact contour (2014).  Myself and another artist would draw on the same 7”x5” piece of paper for 60 seconds while maintaining eye contact. BECC generated 63 drawings over the span of 11 months, beginning in January 2014.

As before, meetings took place in studios, homes, coffee joints, etc, preferably a quiet place with a table.  The 7×5″ paper was oriented so that each of us was facing a short edge. I used fountain pens, my collaborators could use any drawing tool they chose from their own supply or from a box of colored markers that I brought along. We signed our names near the edge of the paper closest to us. My initial concept was that we would draw in silence for one minute while maintaining eye contact, making allowance for normal involuntary blinking of course. There were no restrictions on what either of us could draw, but our intent was to keep our drawing tools moving for 60 seconds. Early on I found that some of my partners found the experience sufficiently strange that they could not resist commenting on it, so the requirement of silence was dropped. I usually tried to draw a portrait of the other person, but since one cannot look into another person’s eyes and also at that person’s eyes at the same time, this attempt was usually abandoned in favor of abstract mark-making. A few of my collaborators produced reasonably accurate portraits of me (perhaps they cheated). BECC was shown as a work in progress at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell in 2014.

The fourth project, talking & drawing 2, was executed in 2015. It returned to the format of talking & drawing, but in this iteration my collaborators were all male artists. There were 20 conversations from February thru December. We used 9”x8.5” sheets of toned paper, tan for my drawings, gray for those of my collaborators. Sixteen of my conferees chose to draw. Talking & drawing 2 has not been exhibited.

James Chute laying out BECC, photo by Mitchell Rasor at his studio

I had custom clamshell boxes made for each project, to protect the drawings and to present an attractive object for display. The boxes for the two iterations of talking & drawing were made by Crystal Cawley, the other two by Mullenberg Designs.

James Chute, Freeport, Maine 2018

UMVA Lewiston / Auburn Chapter Report

eARTh Day 2018

Was a great success with many groups all over Lewiston and Auburn giving back to the earth and cleaning up the city as well as beautifying by installing new public art projects.  Our public art projects are growing and evolving our wonderful community in so many ways.

 

I Am Tree

UMVA-LA assisted Tree Street Youth  (a program that serves and supports the immigrant and refugee youth of our community) with their annual fundraiser by arranging a call to artists, collecting and setting up art for the fundraiser, advocating for artists getting a commission for the works of art as well as recognition for participating.  The event was well attended.  We hope to collaborate in future projects, introducing them to many forms of art.  If you would like to be a part of this contact us at umvalewistonauburn@gmail.com

June Meeting Artist Talk was with Kate Katomski

Katomski is a multi-media artist based in Portland, ME, whose recent work (sculpture and printed works on paper) focuses on the post-industrial landscape, including the history and culture surrounding marble quarries in the US.  She is interested in the stories of the quarry workers and their families, European immigrants and African-Americans, and how their labor was the foundation of an industry that provided raw and finished materials for many of our country’s architectural masterpieces.  http://www.katekatomski.com/

GoFundMe Page for Two Story Mural by Jeanelle Demers

We have a gofund page up. Trying to raise money to pay local artist Jeanelle Demers to paint a mural on the Isaacson & Raymond building on Park Street. FMI or to make a donation  https://www.gofundme.com/lewiston-mural-fund

Wheat Paste Project with Build Maine

The UMVA-LA is working with Build Maine on their 5th conference in LA. We are also working with Kerstin Gilg from Artdogs in Gardiner to do education and installation on a wheat paste project to be installed for Build Maine.

Closing Reception for The Body Show Benefiting Amy Stacey Curtis

The Hive Artisan Co-op located at 178 Lisbon st (second floor) had a closing reception the body show benefiting Amy Stacey Curtis.

FMI  https://www.facebook.com/events/868099256725902/

Sunday Indie Market

Many UMVA-LA members create an outdoor indie marketplace featuring: artists, live music, vintage dealers, handmade artisans, food trucks, music, beer, and much, much more! The Sunday Indie Market happens on the third Sunday of every month from 12-4pm at Dufresne Plaza located on Lisbon Street across from the Lewiston District Court.

https://www.facebook.com/SundayindiemarketLewiston/

Instagram: @sundayindiemarket

A Walk In the Garden At Wicked Illustrations

The summer exhibition at Wicked Illustrations Studio and Gallery located at 140 Canal St Lewiston is entitled, “A Walk in the Garden, ” features our newest UMVA – LA member Jelisa Hamilton along with five other artists; Mae Billington, DuForge Studio, and UMVA – LA members Kate Cargile, Melanie Therrien and Corinna Tancrede. Enjoy beautiful garden-themed art from local artists: paintings, sculpture, origami, interactive art, assemblage art and glow in the dark art.

Work will be up June-August. All exhibitions are free and open to the public. Free on site parking.  FMI  https://www.facebook.com/events/329904864205817/

Public Arts Project

UMVA-LA member Melanie Therrien of Wicked Illustrations Studio and Gallery helped to kick off our spring Public Art Initiative and our Annual Earth Day event with a painted Fire Hydrant by the Public Theatre in Lewiston. (Photo Attached) Photo Credit Gary Stallsworth.  If you are interested in submitting a creative crosswalk idea, or inspired to work with our community murals project or even painting a fire hydrant or large city electrical box contact umvalewistonauburn@gmail.com

LA Marketplace

UMVA-LA along with the Downtown Lewiston Art District and Artists from Wicked Illustrations was represented at the LA Metro Marketplace on Thursday, June 7 from 9:30-6:30 at the Bates Mill on Canal St. in Lewiston. The Marketplace highlights our region and all it has to offer.

FMI https://www.facebook.com/events/1965358650380489/

Beacons of Light for the Dempsey Center

A private fund-raising effort for the Dempsey Center by twenty local Maine artists. This is not a UMVA-LA specific event but we know and appreciate the efforts these incredible artists are sharing and are in full support of our community of artists doing good things!  Each artist created a stained glass lamp and donated their creation to a silent auction, all proceeds of which will go to the Center, an amazing support system for people whose lives have been touched by cancer. All twenty can be viewed on line at www.32auctions.com/BeaconsOfLightForDempseyCenter  or at Maine Art Glass Studio 51 Main Street Lisbon Falls. The artists ask that you share this link with anyone you think would appreciate the uniqueness of this project. This is actually a tremendous opportunity to bid on valuable functional art at steeply discounted prices.

 

Beth Wittenberg – State of the Studio

Ever since I graduated with my Bachelor of FIne Arts in 1991, I have said to myself that if I am to refer to myself as an artist, then I better be doing what artists do. Artists make art. So, I make art every day.

I create. I make. I consider. I react. I respond. I collaborate. I experiment. I begin again. Everyday I try new things and new approaches and I keep making art no matter what –especially on the days I doubt myself and even when I do not have a permanent studio.

In February of 2016 I packed up my belongings and left my 15’ x 22’ studio space at Wrong Brain Headquarters (WBHQ) in Dover, New Hampshire. WBHQ served as my studio ever since Wrong Brain, a non-profit alternative arts collective, opened the space to artists. Even though I had been very involved in the organization, including the honor of being one of its original studiomates, I let my space go after one year. The problem was that I was having a difficult time being in the space. There was just too much happening. With six other artists, as well as community events like music gigs, poetry readings, and lectures, the environment wasn’t allowing me to work off my own energy.

It has been over a year now — I am back to creating art outside of a traditional studio. I live on the New Hampshire seacoast in a humble, 6 room Cape Cod I share with my wife Sheri, my 18 year old cousin, Tal, Penny my 10 pound pomapoo, and our two cats. There are some artists who are fortunate enough to have a specific place in which to create. Of the 6 rooms in my house, I create art in my kitchen, living room, office, our three- season room, the garage, and the backyard. I live with art media in every corner amidst the scraps of found objects, the canvases, the works on paper, my soft sculpture, piles of cardboard, and pages of writing.

Beth Wittenberg, (detail) “Athena was Born”, Mixed on 300# Arches, 30″ x 22″, 2018

I try to begin the day by drawing. Like a meditation, I wake up early, before anyone else, and head into my office where I have been squirreling away all the packaging materials I consume. For nearly a year and a half, I have been working on my consumerism project, “Throw Away People”. I have acquired mounds of cardboard boxes, inserts, and packaging paper which I am repurposing as art. I now have piles of different size boxes, even boxes inside boxes. When I started out, I tried to keep up with all the packaging I consumed on a daily basis. While there are now hundreds of drawings done on post consumer boxes, I still cannot keep up with the consumables.

Beth Wittenberg, “THROW AWAY PEOPLE”, (partial installation view) Assemblages and drawings, 24″ x 36″, 2018

 “Throw Away People” began as a series of paper sculptures I exhibited at Wrong Brain Headquarters in the summer 2016. The sculptures were made primarily with paper but also included rubber tires, burlap, plaster, ashes, tape, string, found objects and wire. The sculptures were roughly fashioned together with basic technology.  For example, if i wanted to connect one part to another part, I would simply tape it in a very haphazard way, or wrap some string around one end of a thing and then wrap the other end around whatever i wanted to fasten it to. This process was very liberating. Low-Fi Technology. The sculptures then took on a new meaning for me because I was creating figurative sculpture with tossed out items, scraps, and bits of things. The pieces were much more than their parts. I began thinking about all of the people in society that we throw away. All the mentally ill, the homeless, the single mothers, people living with AIDS or MRSA, all the marginalized populations, the Queers, Transkids, Black/Brown/Red people. All the voices … all the people that do not matter … these are the people society throws away.

The project speaks to two ideas. One: LOOK at everything I have consumed – all the food, all the paper packaging – look at what we are generating – the recyclable paper products, more and more – it is never ending. I am just one person keeping track of everything my family consumes. What about this type of consumption on a local level like my neighborhood? What about the global neighborhood? WHY DO WE NEED ALL THIS PACKAGING? It’s advertising; they are selling us pretty pictures and we eat it up. Consumption.

Beth Wittenberg, “Silence Fell”, Mixed on post consumer packaging and Post-it notes,10″ x 6″ and 4″ x 4″, 2017

The other idea I’m exploring is about the content of the drawings. So far I have well over 400 drawings on the back of cardboard boxes. I began noticing similar images appearing. I began drawing a lot of skulls, a lot of intestines, eyes, and teeth. All my figures, part beast part human, had severed appendages. Figures unable to help themselves, figures without hands. Heads without bodies. I use text as a part of my process and words were reappearing. I was creating not only poems but phrases that revealed an inner truth, leading me to the next drawing. The word “lies” was popping up very often. I use what I call “automatic writing” to discover what is going on inside me, right under the surface. I simply listen, and open my mind up to the stream of consciousness.  Thoughts come into my mind, and I just put the pen to paper. I do not censor my writing. Sometimes I hear the words being spoken in my head. Sometimes as I am writing a word, my mind will skip a beat and change that thought ever so slightly. I remember specifically writing the word “tycoon” thinking about President Trump and the word changed to “typhoon”, and then I thought about this America where people are thrown away. Everything comes without planning or forethought.

Beth Wittenberg, “Beasts, Buildings, and Storms” (partial installation view), 120″ x 240″, 2015-16

I began thinking about the world where my “throw away people” exist. This world. I was feeling a sense of desperation, the zeitgeist of the times, the apathy, a doom and gloom mentality. I feel like I am speaking for those disillusioned by the status quo. I’m giving voice to the existential crisis I see happening. An entire generation disillusioned. My art is not pretty, my art is hard to look at. It’s part street art, it feels like graffitti to me. It’s subversive, confrontational, and difficult to understand because there are so many things going on in the picture plane. I leave it to the viewer to make sense of it. I love what I’m doing and occasionally I meet others who seem to jive with it, but,  I”ve had people return artwork they have bought from me because they said they couldn’t live with it. Maybe the best compliment ever – “I love your work, but here, take it back please, it’s too scary”. I smiled a little before my heart sunk.

Beth Wittenberg, Installation View Courtesy of Rochester Museum of Fine Arts, Spray paint and housepaint on unstretched canvas, 72″ x 60″ each canvas, 2016

My drawings are a chaotic two-dimensional realization of a multi-layered existence between forces seen and unseen. Chaos fills the picture plane. Figures are both part of the landscape and part of other figures. The layers of reality bleed into each other. I ask enigmatic questions. I have been limiting and changing up my pallet. Sometimes I use a black, pink, and white palette (I love the softness of pink with the horrors of black/white). Other times I use red, white, and blue. I have also been drawn to yellow – a color I never favored.

The best part about having a home studio is that I can optimize my creative spaces. I use our shed to hang up large canvases where I can use spray paint and do more action painting in the nicer weather. I also use my backyard as a place to invite other artists to collaborate. Collaboration has always been a practice of mine. I find I am easily stimulated by creating work with others. Just recently I have been collaborating with Andy Heck Boyd, an artist in Exeter, NH. Andy and I have been making art together over the last few years. Just recently Andy shared his studio apartment with me because I wanted to oil paint in his company. I am very stimulated by Andy’s art and  loved being in his apartment.. My whole body vibrated from just being in his space surrounded by all his art. Andy is the most prolific artist I have ever met. He makes me look lazy and I am constantly working. Our collaborations over this last month came in the way of conversations and storytelling. Lots of stories shared became the springboard from which my paintings were born. I created about 12 pieces that I call “Painting with Andy”. I have quite a collection of our collaborative work and eventually I’d love an opportunity to exhibit those works. I feel very creative when we work together.

Beth Wittenberg, “Magic Wish”, Acrylic and marker on plastic sheeting, 96″ x 60″, 2017

When I’m not making art I am regenerating my battery with stimuli to get ready to make art. As part of my daily art practice, I go on walks around the neighborhood and throughout my town. As I walk along I take pictures of things that interest me. I also pick up pieces of trash (or treasures?) along the route.

I usually begin to notice things and they start to make sense in my mind. As I’m walking I’m scanning the ground, the road, and my eye dances around to make connections. Sometimes I am drawn to colors and everything I bring home is orange. One day, I saw something half buried in the ground, I kicked it and noticed it had a pointy end. I dug it out of the ground and was thrilled by the object, an arrow-like black metal piece. I also happened to notice the smallest scrap of fabric, an embroidered eye (that’s a keeper). That day I also picked up rope and string and a blue plastic flag on the end of a rusty rod. Those pieces all came together to create a found object assemblage resembling a bird, the metal piece its beak.

Beth Wittenberg, “Untitled Assemblage #7″, found objects, glue, string, 14″ x 6.5”, 2018

When I come home from a walk I document all the old and thrown out bits I have gathered as individual items. I begin by laying out each thing I picked up. I photograph the items first, then as a group: “A walk.” My process is an intuitive one. These sculptures are part of the THROW AWAY PEOPLE series as well. The assemblages are all quite different, there are some made from organic materials like bark and fibers I find, others are rusty scraps of metal, and bits and pieces of plastic, glass, mirrors, ceramics, aluminum. Some of my favorite finds are scraps of toys.

THROW AWAY PEOPLE is what I am working on for the University of Maine Farmington Art Gallery this coming academic year. The gallery is a two story building, and I can’t wait to fill it up with drawings, paintings, and assemblages hung salon style floor to ceiling.

Beth Wittenberg, Installation view, Gallery East, Frederick, MD, 2018
(l) “Reclamation”, Mixed on Canvas, 40″ x 30″,2017
(c) “One Less Than Whole”, Mixed on Canvas, 40″ x 30″, 2017
(r) “Kissie Kiss”, Mixed on Canvas, 40″ x 30″, 2017

Part of being an artist is about finding creative solutions to problems. Being without a studio is a serious problem for any artist, but I am a studio artist who can’t afford a studio outside of my home. I would love to work large, 10 foot canvases – I would love to paint and draw, and contemplate, and hang up multiple pieces and look over my artwork. Most of my artwork is sitting in piles waiting for the space I need to hang it and see more than one piece at a time. Until then, I am tasked with one thing – make art. I am an artist. So, I create.

Beth Wittenberg, (Headshot), Courtesy of Nate Hastings Photography 4077

Beth WIttenberg

May 2018

Industrial Landscapes — A Curator’s Experience by Janice Moore

Industrial  Maine: Our Other Landscape opened at the University of Southern Maine – Lewiston/Auburn Atrium Gallery on March 12, 2018. The exhibition included 70 works of art from 27 artists from across the State of Maine working in a broad range of media. The exhibition was authorized by USM-LA Dean Joyce Gibson. Robyn Holman, the former curator of the Atrium Gallery, was instrumental in helping me create and stage the exhibition. Randy Estes, the facilities manager at USM-LA, oversaw installation. I was responsible for the concept and served as guest curator.

After initial promotion of the exhibition and the opening, during the last weekend of March, I was informed that the University had removed 3 paintings by Maine artist Bruce Habowski from the exhibition. Bruce’s paintings have appeared in a number of respected galleries and museums, including the Center for Maine Contemporary Art and the Portland Museum of Art. The paintings by Bruce submitted and selected for the Industrial Maine exhibition were Maine “urbanscapes”. The paintings were selected because of their strength and appropriateness to the theme.

I was not informed in advance or included in a dialogue about the decision to remove the art before the University took action. In the days and weeks that followed, I learned that the paintings were removed at the direction of University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings. My understanding is that President Cummings chose to remove the paintings based upon a complaint from a member of the community arising out of unlawful sexual contact for which the artist was convicted in 1999 and served a jail sentence. I do not know the specific nature of the complaint to the University, the relationship of the complaining party to the incident or the University, or what steps the University took to investigate and explore alternative courses of action before removing the art.

After speaking with President Cummings and communicating with Robyn Holman, the artist, members of the Union of Maine Visual Artists, and artists participating in the exhibition, I elected not to rehang the exhibit or try to fill the empty spaces where the paintings had hung. I understood that President Cummings had faced a really difficult decision, but felt that rehanging the exhibition would erase the University’s action. Instead, I installed a 3×5 placard in the empty spaces. The placard read:

This painting has been removed by order of the USM President.

-Janice L. Moore, Guest Curator, Industrial Maine: Our Other Landscape

On Sunday, May 6, 2018, the Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald ran a positive review of the exhibition by Maine art critic Dan Kany, with a companion article on the removal of the art by reporter Bob Keyes. I gave interviews for both the Kany review and the Keyes article, but declined to identify the artist out of respect for his privacy and concern for the victims. My understanding is that the paper identified and disclosed the name of the artist and the nature of the offense because the artist was easily identified from promotional materials for the exhibition and the criminal history was a matter of public record. My understanding is that President Cummings declined to give an interview for the Keyes article, but the University gave a brief statement explaining its action. The Keyes article appeared with a photo of the placard.

Almost immediately after the Kany review and Keyes article appeared in the Portland paper, I began receiving calls and emails from advocacy groups, reporters, attorneys and a number of others defying categorization. The National Coalition against Censorship released a statement opposing the University’s action as censorship. Trolls posted on my social media accounts. In the week that followed, President Cummings gave a number of media interviews defending his decision. He emphasized the nature of the artist’s offense and the University’s obligation to create a safe space for University students passing through the Atrium.

I declined all media requests after the interviews I gave to Dan Kany and Bob Keyes. In my view, the Keyes article had accurately reported the story and any further statements or interviews would only contribute to prolonging a news cycle that might be hurtful to victims, the artist, or the students.

I was unaware that, during this time, in the week following the publication of the Kany review and Keyes article in the Portland paper, the University removed the placards.

Throughout this entire episode, I have struggled with the appropriate, ethical response. While I strongly oppose the University’s unilateral decision to remove the paintings and subsequent removal of the placards without first engaging in any meaningful dialogue around alternatives, I am also very sensitive to the interests of victims, the artists, and the community. I have struggled with a number of questions. Was the victim ever consulted? What was the complaining party hoping to accomplish? What was the actual threat to student well-being? There was nothing on the face of the art that presented a “trigger.” Was the University concerned that a protest by the complaining parties might pose a threat to the emotional safety of University students? If so, was it possible to contain a protest or take other action to address the concerns of the complaining party? Didn’t the public controversy caused by the University’s unilateral removal of the art actually amplify the issue, putting the “triggering” conversation not just in front of all University students, but in front of an even wider audience? Was there a way the interests of the complaining party, the victim, the artist, and the University could be reconciled short of removing the art? Was removing art from a standing exhibition based upon a complaint arising out of the past conduct of the artist actually the best option?

I was confronted, too, with the issue of denying access to the art based on the past behavior of the artist. I wondered about the appropriateness of removing art due to an offense committed by the artist nearly 20 years ago. I am acutely aware of the interests of victims, but how as a society do we ask artists to engage with their communities after they have been convicted and served a sentence? Is it meaningful to talk about rehabilitation? Should artists require the permission and consent of victims to present their art? What about the art itself? Should the community be denied access to art based on the past behavior of artists?

This entire experience raised these and a host of other highly complex issues that extend well beyond this single art exhibition. What are the responsibilities of museums, galleries, and curators with regard to artists who may have engaged in misconduct? What are the responsibilities of critics and teachers? Should curators and gallery owners conduct criminal record checks? Should artists be asked to sign statements attesting to a “clean” history? What counts as an offense that warrants rejection or removal of art? Should we ban the movies of Woody Allen? Take down the Picassos?

I set out as a guest curator to create an exhibit that presented the works of artists who – like me—are making art inspired by Maine’s industrial landscape. In that I think I was successful. Ultimately, I was able to execute an idea and create an exhibition which presented a different view of Maine. Some artists created new work for the exhibition, which was immensely satisfying. I was able to meet and visit some of the artists I knew only by reputation and connect with them. I learned their processes and motivations. I met faculty, staff and students and was immensely grateful for their overwhelmingly positive support. Contemporary Maine art got to exist in a place of learning in a city where industry has been hugely significant for over a century.  That was positive.

Bruce Habowski, “Message”, New work in progress, oil on canvas, 30” x 40”, 2017, photo courtesy of the artist

Over the course of the exhibition, I was able to communicate with many of the artists and get their feedback. There was no consensus on the best course of action, but I was able to hear them and to listen. I was also able to turn to the Union of Maine Visual Artists as a valuable resource for advice, opinions, and ideas on individual and collective responses. Our Portland chapter met as a community and discussed many of the potential implications. We were able to do this with care and consideration from multiple perspectives. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t always agree on what an appropriate response should look like, but we were able to talk and explore ideas in real time sitting together around a table. When events seemed overwhelming and I needed help, the UMVA showed up both individually and collectively. This community supported me. I was profoundly moved by this and I am incredibly grateful for it. To be part of a community with a shared passion and to connect and support each other even when our opinions differed is a deeply important and meaningful thing.

In the course of creating an exhibition focused primarily on artistic merit and my own vision around a single theme, I found myself operating in unplanned and seemingly uncharted waters, far from what I wanted or ever set out to do.

I know I have learned from the experience. I hope we all have. I find myself, though, with many more questions than answers. The questions, I think, are ones we are confronting collectively. I’m optimistic, if we approach our challenges as opportunities for meaningful engagement and dialogue, we can work out better answers.

 

Michael Mansfield by Sarah Bouchard

Not all artists can afford a traditional, daily studio practice. For some, the studio is a state of mind entered into on the drive home after a long day packed with professional obligations. These artists make exceptional work while maintaining an alternate identity – be it teacher, parent, janitor, or doctor. For Michael Mansfield, that identity is Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.

Michael Mansfield, Hummingbird, moving image, continuous, 2008

Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to view Mansfield’s personal artwork – a series of small, intricate video pieces cleanly framed in white and hung on the wall. At first glance, one of the pieces appears to be looped, hand-drawn footage of a hummingbird, its underside exposed to the camera. In another work, a flock of birds fly in and out of a cluster of reeds. Their movement is hypnotic.

I sat down with Mansfield to discuss his work, his remarkable career history (which includes rebuilding Nam June Paik robots and hacking theme park software to run the technology behind the Smithsonian Museum of American Art), as well as his vision for the Ogunquit Museum. This is an excerpt from that interview, focused on Mansfield’s work as an artist. The full interview will appear in the July issue of The Bollard.

Were there any pivotal moments that pointed you toward the arts as a potential career path or passion?

I studied architecture and art history in my first year as an undergrad and quickly realized that the engineering side of architecture was less interesting to me. I was more interested in its visual presentation, mostly through photography, so I chose to study photography. Prior to that, I really didn’t have any exposure to art. I grew up in East Texas. Other than looking at occasional magazines with black-and-white photographs, I didn’t have any access to visual storytelling.

Michael Mansfield, Untitled (aerial view), c-print, 48 x 52 in., 2006

Did travel inform your way of being?

Yes. There is a great tradition in Texas of environmental photography and street photography, Gary Winogrand and George Krause. I was encouraged by the professors I had at the University of Houston to go out in the world with a camera, make images and bring them back to see if they worked. I received grants to travel domestically and abroad to make photographs. I also had a number of paying jobs to do editorial work, which made me better at composing an image. I was working in color photography and black-and-white photography and digital photography and then eventually in video and filmmaking all at once, so I made a pretty wide mess of work.

Were you showing that work?

I was. I had a number of little published projects. I was showing the work in galleries, little student-run spaces, and small community spaces.

Primarily that was street photography and landscape photography?

Yes. I was really focused on the changing nature of street photography, and just having a camera and being a part of something.

Michael Mansfield, Untitled (train car), gelatin silver print, 8×10 in., 2004

How did you move from street photography to your most recent body of work?

The program I was in for undergrad was photography and digital media. It was the first program of its kind, in the ‘90s, at the college level, that combined traditional photography and digital media. Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom, who ran it, were a collaborative called MANUAL. They produced a lot of work that married traditional and digital media and, as students, we had access to some pretty high-tech equipment. I began looking at digital images and how they were composed for computers using Photoshop and layers, and when I left college, that didn’t leave me. I kept working with it. I began working with desktop-publishing video programs. I was making films and then scanning them in and editing them digitally and I was also taking photographs and animating them through the same editing process.

Michael Mansfield, Re Gull, moving image, continuous, 2012

I realize you can’t break apart the technical from the conceptual, but that all sounds very technical.

It was more about trying to find a way to extend an image in time. The photograph was a finite moment. Working photographically, I was often looking at contact sheets. I would shoot 50 rolls of film and produce 50 contact sheets and then see those images in sequence and see how an event unfolded over time. I realized that there were really beautiful limitations to that single image I was trying to create, and once I arrived at that composition, I wanted to expand the image into time. It was a single photograph, but I wanted it to exist for a bit longer. I was really into the persistence of an image, or how one thing stays in your mind for a period of time, and how that informs your association with that object or that event, even though it’s only recognized as 1/25th of a second, or less. Taking that single instance, and then blowing it up and being able to examine it from multiple angles, seeing how I might elaborate on my understanding of what that image was. The work that I produce now is often created from parts of smaller images. It is very technical but my reasoning behind it is much more conceptual. The technology allows me to make the work. It enables me to extend that moment of a single image into something much longer.

Were there any specific concepts or questions you were pursuing that have found their way into your curatorial efforts?

Yes. I’ve always been interested in the artist’s relationship to their material and how that material provides both insight into the contemporary moment, and is also a testament to human ingenuity and creativity, that we can receive a bit of technology that was created for one purpose and then imagine something new from it. Artists have always engaged the latest technologies that are available to them – as painters and sculptors and artists working with more traditional media as equally as artists working with more contemporary media. The role that industry and technology and commerce played in early American modernism can be easily identified in the work you see from that period just by the composition. It is enlightening about what the moment really meant, both to them, then, and to us, now. In the work I’m making, I am seeing the same approach to technology resulting in works that open our eyes to something new, just as was happening 150 years ago.

Michael Mansfield, Prime Reeds (detail), moving image, continuous, 2012

You’re primarily using technology to focus, visually, on nature, which is interesting.

It’s true. I was working in an urban environment a lot, and I always found inspiration in the landscape. I suppose it’s not unlike artists who left the cities and urban areas in the 1880’s. I was encountering the wilderness in a different way and trying to find what that meant. I would take a single image of a rare bird in New Zealand, or in Utah, and then create a world around that single image so I could expand my one experience with that bird. I have a photograph of a North American Red-Headed Blackbird that I took just outside of Ogden, Utah, with a field of reeds in the background. I had a single instance of that bird, but it was not complete, he was hidden behind the reeds. I couldn’t really see him, so I did quite a bit of research into Red-Headed Blackbirds and images of Red-Headed Blackbirds. Then, I constructed him from information I was able to find online, digitally, and embedded him into an image that I could then expand in time into a virtual world. I could recreate his existence and allow him to live a fuller life, something more meaningful that would last longer and be more consequential than just a single photograph.

Michael Mansfield, Prime Reeds, moving image, continuous, 2012

Does your experience as an artist impact your work as a curator and museum director?

I hope it does. I like to think that my experience as an artist makes me more sensitive to the struggles artists go through, especially when I’m in a position to support their work. I know how hard it is to carve out a living as an artist and how much sacrifice and determination and willpower and luck it requires. I hope this informs my conversations with artists. I hope it makes me a better listener and a better champion for the work they’re doing.

What about exhibition design?

I rely quite a bit on my experience as an artist. Helping an artist realize their vision in space within the confines of the gallery is not an easy task and the work that an artist is doing in the studio doesn’t always translate to a gallery space very simply.

You stopped showing your work in 2009 to avoid conflicts within your professional career. To me, that carries a hint of tragedy, but I can see the upside if this decision resulted in a kind of openness to explore concepts and make work without the pressure of the public eye.

It’s true. I have to admit that in  one sense, it’s a huge relief that I’m not under the same scrutiny as an artist, that I’m not at risk in the same way as an artist. I’m able to let go of that work, and I don’t have to take the risk of putting it in front of people. I like the privacy this affords me. I get to work out of the spotlight without any of the competition or conflicts or consequence of rejection. But, what I miss the most is the feedback … making work and having a conversation about it. The discourse around what’s important, what’s meaningful, and relevant.

 

Studio and Stagecraft, James Hope’s Watkins Glen Art Gallery 1872-1892 by Jane Bianco

Perhaps Maine artists want to look back to Hope’s time when viewing art in a gallery was sometimes more of an ‘event’, like going to a theater. Linking studio practice and tourism is very much what we do here during Maine summers.

                                                                            Jane Bianco, Curator at the Farnsworth

 

James Hope (1818/19-1892) was a respected contemporary of painters Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), and others who aggrandized expansive vistas of the American landscape.  From 1852, Hope was established as a portraitist and landscape painter with studios in New York City and Castleton, Vermont. Twenty years later he relocated to Watkins Glen, New York, after completing a lucrative painting commission at the popular tourist destination.  Its central appeal, a shalestone and sandstone canyon featuring stepped waterfalls and pothole pools was a geologic wonder carved from the wilderness. It drew thousands of visitors after opening as a public attraction in 1863, and also became the inspiration for many of Hope’s paintings during the last two decades of his career.

Hope’s Glen Art Gallery
Gallery Card
Image courtesy of NPS, Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland

This natural spectacle was described exuberantly as a place “in whose marvelous gorges and splendid cliffs man may read, as scarce anywhere else, the world’s age…pages of history-in-rock, clothed in rare and exquisite ferns and orchids….”[1]  In 1872 Hope strategically located his gallery near the entrance to the glen and charged visitors a fee to view his gallery, which he also stocked with souvenirs and stereoptic cards of scenes from the glen made by his photographer son. His account of the gallery included encouragement to linger, as noted in the Descriptive Guide Book of the Watkins Glen:

HOPE’S ART GALLERY

This gallery, built by Captain J. Hope, late of 82 Fifth Avenue, New York, is beautifully lighted and contains a superb collection of more than one hundred of his finest paintings. Here can be seen the leading scenes in Watkins Glen, and its surroundings; also scenes in New England, Virginia, California, Europe, Sic., chief among which are, his celebrated picture of

RAINBOW FALLS;

also his great historical painting of the

ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,

and many others well known in former New York exhibitions.

Guests can spend many a pleasant hour here, and no visitor to the Glen should fail to see this splendid collection. There is an admission fee of 25 cents to this gallery, as it does not belong to the Glen. A short distance beyond the Gallery is a convenient platform, erected for the use of picnic parties.

By 1882 Hope was supplementing his studio practice, managing “seasonal repairs and ornamental structures of the Glen,” and capitalizing further on this attraction by collaborating with the souvenir business operated by the Glen Mountain House hotel, perched above one of the ravines.[2]

The Hope gallery of idyllic landscape paintings, as introduction to the splendid glen with its steep pathways along and across deep pools and gorges, drew many visitors. They came on foot to experience the slightly dangerous, sublime beauty of the Glen, but unexpectedly would have confronted drama of a different sort upon entering the gallery. Hope’s other spectacle was his series of six-by-twelve-foot panoramas depicting the September 17, 1862 Civil War battles of Antietam. Painted in Hope’s last decade, these sweeping, large-scale views depict with immediacy some of the bloodiest Civil War battles between Union and Confederate forces, showing troop movement and death.[3] His firsthand observations of the battles as a member of the 2nd Vermont Regiment were the essence of a number of smaller paintings as well, including one in the Farnsworth Museum collection, currently on exhibit in Rockland, Maine.[4] It is a reduced-scale version of his panorama aptly named Wasted Gallantry, and depicts the 7th Maine Infantry charging into the line of fire in a futile attempt to eliminate Confederate sharp-shooters.  It has been noted that certain of the painter’s graphic details seen in the foreground in this and others of the series correlate with Alexander Gardner’s Civil War photographs documenting combat’s horrific aftermath, namely, the shocking display of soldiers’  mangled corpses.[5]

James Hope (1818/19 -1892)
Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862 7th Maine Attacking over the Sunken Road through the Piper Cornfield, after 1862
Oil on canvas
18 7/8 x 35 7/8 inches
Farnsworth Art Museum; Gift of Alice Bingham Gorman, 1997.16

The incongruous display of death and beauty within the gallery would have intensified the visitor experience. Twelve years after Hope’s death, a 1904 auction catalogue listing eighty-three of his paintings quoted artists Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt, and Civil War veterans, all who attested to the sensitivity and veracity of Hope’s compositions and their ability to transport:

it is not canvas, but the place itself I see![6]

Hope’s example of making his studio gallery part of an expanded sensation, in particular by way of his commemorative, even confrontational, exhibit, would have incited reaction—provoking, it might be argued, transference of heightened awareness to the landscape on an even grander scale, to be experienced just outside the studio.

******************************************************************************

[1] The Famous Hope Canvases, Fifth Avenue Art Galleries, preface to auction catalogue, January 22-23, 1904, unpaginated. The catalogue lists 83 canvases, including Hope’s six panoramas (at5 ½  x 12 feet) focusing upon the September 1862 Civil War battles of Antietam.

[2] Elizabeth Theriault Strum, James Hope: Nineteenth Century American Painter, Masters Thesis, Syracuse University, 1984, (courtesy National Park Service, Antietam National Battlefield), 15-23. The Glen Mountain House, a resort replete with paths along the gorge and bridges spanning its rivers, with vista of cascades, had been opened to upwards of 10,000 tourists during the summer and autumn of 1863 by local newspaper owner Morvalden Ells and landowner, George Freer.

[3] The panoramas have been conserved by the National Park Service, and are on view at Antietam National Battlefield headquarters’ James Hope Gallery, in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

[4] Dates of the smaller paintings of battle scenes have not been fixed; Hope may have produced these prior to his large-scale panoramas.

[5] See Philip Whitman, Long After Battle: James Hope’s ‘Authentic’ Commemoration of Antietam’s Bloody Lane, Masters Thesis, Skidmore College, 2017.

[6] The Famous Hope Canvases.

The Privilege of Studio Visits by Edgar Allen Beem

For 40 years now (1978-2018), I have been writing about art in Maine. Over that time I have been privileged to visit several hundred artists in their studios. Not only did I learn most of what I know about contemporary art from studio visits, but I have come to regard an artist’s studio as a special kind of space, a place of creation, reflection, learning, expression, contemplation and spiritual renewal.

Artists’ studios are among the most human of places I know. I find myself feeling safe and relaxed in these industrious spaces the same way I do in churches, cemeteries, libraries, bookstores and museums. In all these places, one is in touch with generations of living. In a studio, one is also in touch with the immediate, the moment, even the moment before creation.

In the following paragraphs, I propose to reflect on a few of the artist studios that have made an impression on me and to consider some of the things I have learned there.

Studio as time travel

Alfred Chadbourn self-portrait at the easel in his Yarmouth studio

The first studio I visited regularly was Alfred “Chip” Chadbourn’s sky-lit and woodstove-heated space above his garage in Yarmouth. Up the wooden stairs and under the eaves was a little world away from suburbia, a cheerfully cluttered atelier where Chip painted and taught, read, smoked, dreamed and thought. In his “blue de travail” French worker’s jacket, Chip cut a rakish figure as he stood working at his easel, brushing buckets of color and Mediterranean light onto otherwise Maine landscapes.

With his handlebar mustache and European mien, Chip was Central Castings’ vision of an artist. His absorption of the history of art was such that I understood that when he was in his studio he was as much in the company of Bonnard and Vuillard as he was of the occasional visitor from the present.

That was the 1970s. I got this same sense of time travel in 1985 when I visited portrait painters Claude Montgomery and Gardner Cox in their respective studios. Portraiture was a conservative genre even then, so the sense of stepping into the past seemed fitting.

Claude Montgomery’s Georgetown studio was a rustic, smoky space. “Ash and burnt logs spill from the great stone hearth,” I wrote in a Maine Times group portrait of portrait painters. “The walls are cluttered with portraits of friends and family. Books mount to the ceiling a dizzying height away. North light skylight, ocean view picture window. A grand piano and a grand array of artistic impediments – a bouquet of brushes here, Winslow Homer’s old easel there – command the floor.” I’m sure I must have meant “implements” rather than “impediments.”

Gardner Cox was “a portrait artist’s dream.”

“Wavy white hair beneath a blue wool slouch hat, wild, bushy eyebrows above gold-rimmed glasses. Jaunty green bowtie, fire-engine red suspenders, yellow and black checked sports jacket with a red bandanna stuffed casually in the breast pocket. Brooks Brothers bohemian, Boston Brahmin deshabille, an artist and gentleman.”

The colorful Mr. Cox, a North Haven summer resident, painted in a line of descent from John Singer Sargent. His studio was a dingy, cluttered space in Boston’s Fenway Studios, a brick block of 48 studios that is “the oldest continuous artist building in the nation.”

“Thin, gray light streams through the towering windows that overlook the expressway. At either end of the big room stand commissions in progress – a portrait of Tufts University president Jean Mayer and a portrait of Harvard Law School professor Louis Loss. The portraits seem less in the Sargent society tradition than in the more expressionistic vein of Graham Sutherland, one of the last of the great English portraitists.”

Studio as real estate

Fenway Studios was built in 1905 to house artists displaced when another studio building burned. The venerable Copley Society and St. Botolph Club contributed to the civic effort to aid Boston artists. It is rare to find purpose-built art studios these days.

Artists are ever in need of ample and affordable space in which to work. I have often said, only half facetiously, that art in Maine is all about real estate. The first artists came looking for landscapes to paint. Subsequent generations came to escape the city summers and to find cheap places to live and work. As such, all manner of warehouse, office, factory, farm and educational buildings have been repurposed as studio space.

Charlie Hewitt in his Portland studio in the Bakery Studio

One of the most industrious studio buildings in Portland began life as the Calderwood Bakery on Pleasant St. First, Maine College of Art converted it to a printmaking studio and then artists Alison Hildreth and Katarina Weslien purchased it in 1996. Today, the Bakery Studios house the studios not only of Wooly Hildreth and Katarina Weslien, but also those of the Peregrine Press, White Dog Arts and Wolfe Editions, as well an individual artists such as Richard Wilson and Charlie Hewitt.

At one time it seemed to me that Charlie Hewitt had studios up and down the Eastern Seabord from Vinalhaven to Maryland. These days his primary work spaces are in the Bakery Studios in Portland and in a converted garage in Jersey City, New Jersey. Charlie, the most productive artist I know, creates paintings, prints, ceramics and sculpture, all featuring his distinctive expressionist vocabulary inspired by French-Canadian Catholic roots.

One of the things that amazes me about Charlie’s productivity is that he manages to create a large body of work while also managing his real estate holdings in New Jersey. When I first met Charlie in the 1980s, he was living and working in a third-floor loft on the Bowery in New York, derelicts asleep in the doorway, addicts shooting up in the park out back. By the time he left the city some 20 years later, his building housed rock stars and movie directors, and hipster moms had commandeered the park.

That’s the power artists have to transform undesirable neighborhoods, make them desirable and, thus, price themselves out of the market. As Soho became too expensive for all but blue chip artists, working artists like Charlie moved on to Chelsea, Brooklyn and Jersey City. Charlie’s investment in Jersey real estate not only provides some income, it also plays a strategic role in his art career.

“The work gets made in different places and assembles itself here for the New York market,” Charlie said in a phone call from Jersey City. “If I had just the studio in Maine, it would be difficult.”

Studio as mirror of the soul

Over the years I have been impressed by how an artist’s studio often mirrors his/her own persona. Whether Carlo Pittore’s converted chicken barn in Bowdoinham, Richard Estes’ immaculate ballroom studio in Northeast Harbor, Robert Indiana’s Odd Fellows Hall museum of self on Vinalhaven or Neil Welliver’s great barn in Lincolnville, it’s not just the art but the studio that reflects who an artist is.

Wally Warren’s Ripley home and studio is a local landmark

The wondrous home and studio of Wally Warren in rural Ripley, like Bernard “Blackie” Langlais’ art farm in Cushing back in the day, is a total expression of the artist. The yard of this roadside attraction is filled with whirligigs, totems, small boats, arches, and satellite dishes painted like ornamental shields, all in Warren’s palette of bright colors. Inside the home studio there is Warren’s “Cities of Dreams,” miniature urban landscape dioramas fashioned from recycled electronic parts.

Eccentric and exuberant, Wally Warren’s world is a Central Maine landmark.

“It’s kind of the folk art idea of surrounding yourself with color because of the starkness of the environment we live in,” says Wally Warren of his gaudy assemblages of debris. “It’s the joy of just doing it.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum is painter Grace DeGennaro’s fastidious studio in the loft of a post-and-beam barn attached to her Yarmouth home. The divine geometry of DeGennaro’s art is all about order, as is her studio. When I stopped by recently, Grace was in the midst of a work-in-progress series inspired by Platonic solids. Her paints were all laid out in chromatic order, surf clam shells for paint containers. I told her I hoped she hadn’t bother to clean up the studio just because I was coming for a visit.

Grace DeGennaro and friend in her Yarmouth studio

“Oh, no, it’s always like this,” Grace assured me. “I can’t work unless everything is in its place.”

Prior to moving into her barn studio five years ago, Grace worked in an even larger space in Brunswick’s Fort Andross Mill Complex on the banks of the Androscoggin River.

Grace DeGennaro’s art – and her studio – are all about order

“I loved working there, but I don’t miss it,” she said. “Working at home, I can climb up here any time of the day or night. My work is closer to me.”

Grace said the only thing she misses about not being in the mill is the sense of community, the sharing of resources and ideas that can take place when artists are housed in the same space.

Studio as the best place to see art

Fort Andross, also known locally as the Cabot Mill, is a 495,000 square foot brick mill complex that at various times manufactured textiles, shoes and brushes. Today, it is lively warren of offices, shops, restaurants and long, sterile hallways that lead to colorful artists’ studios. Among the artists working there most recently are Nick Benfey, John Bisbee, Brad Borthwick, Jim Creighton, John Coleman, Andrew Estey, Tom Flanagan, Cassie Jones, Richard Keen, Josh Mannahan, Elijah Ober, Tessa G. O’Brien, Bronwyn Sale, Emilie Stark-Mennig, Andrea Sulzer and Ian Trask.

Cassie Jones in her studio in the Fort Andross Mill Complex in Brunswick

Cassie Jones’ studio is a long, narrow space with high windows overlooking the Androscoggin. One wall is hung with dozens of recent paintings and constructions in which color, pattern and form seem to work out their own equilibrium. As a young mother of two, Cassie finds she must husband her time in the studio more carefully these days.

“I’m so lucky to get here two and a half days a week,” said Cassie. “It’s a great balance for me. I’m amazed how efficient I can be. I now do in two and a half days what I used to do in four.”

When I tracked down sculptor John Bisbee, he and two studio assistants were busy in the riverside basement hot shop bending his signature nails into a myriad of forms and letters, working feverishly to meet the deadline for his American Steel exhibition at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland this summer.   The most important thing I have learned from years of studio visits is that a studio is the best place to see art, right there where it’s created.

John Bisbee and assistants in the hot shop of his Brunswick studio

American Steel, Bisbee’s response to Trump’s America, was an exhibition-in-progress when I visited, some elements completed, others roughed out, the rest to come. As pieces were finished in the basement forge, they were carted in an industrial elevator to the cavernous space Bisbee maintains on an upper floor, a space he shares with several younger artists.

Bisbee’s studio is filled with the earlier work for which he is best known, elegant organic abstractions fashioned from welded nails. But American Steel is a different sort of beast, a kind of socio-political narrative of the decline of American manufacturing and the rise of a phony populism championed by a putative billionaire. The installation features realistic objects – a bathtub with oars, a pistol, a broom – combined with satirical text such as “This is such a witch hunt” and “This arrangement no longer works for us,” all made of nails.

American Steel will fill an entire gallery at CMCA. And when I asked John what having such an expansive studio space to work in meant to him, his terse answer was, “Everything.”

A few days later I got to see Kayla Mohammadi’s Caldbeck Gallery exhibition in its unedited form in the old Bristol schoolhouse where she maintains her Maine studio. Inspired by the title of the film “The Shape of Water,” the paintings take the artist’s distinctive pattern approach to bodies of water, abstracting the landscape through form and color.

Kayla Mohhamadi at work in her Maine studio, a former Bristol schoolhouse
Detail of crayons in Kayla Mohammadi’s studio

Kayla Mohammadi’s Boston studio is in the famed Fenway Studios, as is  that of her husband, painter John Walker. When Walker was chair of the graduate program in painting at Boston University, his studio was on the third floor of the former Fuller Cadillac building on Commonwealth Blvd. Since retiring from BU, Walker has spent more and more of his time in the couple’s South Bristol home and has acquired a collection of local buildings – a school, a store, a warehouse, and the former hall of the Improved Order of Red Men – as studio, storage and display space.

John, who was at work on paintings for exhibitions in England when I visited, is very attuned to the special power of an artist’s studio. In fact, photographs of studios figured in his decision to become an artist in the first place.

John Walker’s studio in the former Improved Order of Red Men’s Hall in Bristol

“The thing that did it for me was seeing pictures of artists’ studios, of people working, artists like Pollack and DeKooning working in their studios, all that activity,” said John. “I thought, ‘I want to do that.’”

John Walker agrees that the ideal place to see a painting is where it is created.

John Walker, former head of the painting department at Boston University) in his Maine studio

“I don’t like exhibitions,” he confided. “I feel sad for the pictures in those clean, neutral spaces. They look so lonely hanging there.”

John Walker’s advice to aspiring painters has always been simple and direct.

“You go away and paint some pictures no one has ever seen before,” he tells them, “and then the art world will find you.”

John Walker in his Maine a studio

The studio is central to the art making experience because it is where art is born and where it is most at home. For the artist, it is simultaneously a retreat from the world and the place where he/she engages it most intensely. It is a private place, a work space, a place of research, discovery and, for some, even worship. And that is why it has always seemed to me to be such a privilege to visit one, to get a preview of art-in-progress and of the place and process of creation.

(Edgar Allen Beem is a freelance art writer and political columnist who lives in Brunswick.)

Christian Barter Poetry — Introduction by Betsy Sholl

Christian Barter is an award-winning poet whose most recent book is Bye-Bye Land, winner of the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award.  Besides being a poet and teacher, he works on a trail crew planning and overseeing construction and rehabilitation of hiking trails on Mount Desert Island.  Christian combines a rich, vibrant intellectual capacity with deep knowledge and respect for physical labor and those who do it.  His work comes out of deep thought rooted in land and the people who work with it.   These two poems grow out of his work as Poet Laureate of Acadia National Park. “Ile des Monts Deserts” was first published on poets.org for The National Parks Project.  “The Venture” was published in The Friends of Acadia Journal.   There is a sense in these poems that knowing history  is part of how we can continually renew our vision and our commitment to honoring the world, natural and social.   Betsy Sholl

 

Île des Monts Déserts

Christian Barter

It is very high, and notched in places, so that there is the appearance to one at sea, as of seven or eight mountains extending along near each other. The summit of most of them is destitute of trees… I named it Île des Monts Déserts.

—Samuel de Champlain, 1604

1.
When Champlain sailed into Frenchman’s Bay
and saw this island’s evergreen mountains
blown clean back to ledge along their ridges,
this utterly foreign land,
an island foreign even to its coast—

it’s founded on a piece of Africa,
brought with us in the drift—

I know there were people living here but I’m thinking
of Champlain because he was coming from
a world not all that different from ours,
of crowded, elbowing streets and long-hour shifts,
a landscape cleared and plowed, and paved and built,
the power to change tight-fisted held by a few,
and grinding, messy wars that go on and on,
from which he had returned to make this voyage—

When Champlain sailed in here in one of those
square-rigged ships that can only follow the wind,
the whole crew thirsty, in clothes that must have been
putrid, having stared for months at nothing
but water, sliced at the world’s edge cleanly

and saw this place we still see from the ocean—

huge rock pushed through by a liquid fire
then sledged by mile-deep ice into a thing
of character, and then grown over
by the green that rules this world—

did he believe again, or for the first time,
in the holiness of the earth, the unassailable
authority of Earth, its calm command
beyond whatever temper tantrum Man
throws on its floor, or did he think

he’d simply entered heaven?

2.

This isn’t exactly the question I have in mind.
Perhaps it isn’t a question.
But I like thinking about Champlain catching sight
of this humped jungle, these long heads lifted
thoughtfully, then sailing closer
until it became a world—

thinking about his era’s view of the earth,
in which, wherever you sail, it just keeps
sending up mountains and lakes and beaches and forests,
how easy and right it must have seemed
to believe in a power far beyond ourselves,
in a kind of benevolent infinity…

I guess I am looking for my own direction
in the world such as it is—
like his, but lacking that one key hope:
that when this land is ash, there will always be another—

looking for my own way to think of Acadia,
this ever-more-precious island we’ve somehow kept
wooded, and rocky, and punctured through with clear lakes—
enough like it was that if you hold
your finger across the houses at its feet
you can still, sailing into Somes Sound,
see more or less the place that Champlain saw

and, also, know the place for the first time—

which is always the feeling of powerful beauty, isn’t it?—
that something has been here the whole time
and we are just now seeing it,
and must now reconsider all our theories
that there could be such a place—

or poem, or string quartet, or person?

3.

They come in droves now, a long string tugging them
ever across the land bridge to gaze down
from the steep western cliff of Cadillac
into the open eye of Eagle Lake,

the tree-massed mountains of Penobscot and Sargent
building up beyond it as if the land were still gaining power,
their sheer cliff walls like cities left by dreams,

and the ocean laid out flat, its moss-tuft islands’
miniatures of cliffs and beaches calm
as if you had imagined them—

Is it the kind of life you could live
that you see here?  At Champlain’s request,

French Jesuits came next, to bring around
the souls of those already here; they set up camp
at Fernald Point, and I wonder, too,
if they saw where they were—the cliff

of Saint Sauveur behind their shelters
standing up, god-like, its sheer rock plunging
straight down into water, down through murk
for leagues to find its ancient footing—

or just the prospect of some better place?

 

 

The Venture

Christian Barter

on the occasion of the centennial of Acadia National Park

May I, composed…
of eros and of dust…
Show an affirming flame.
—W.H. Auden

May we not trample this place.
May we be mindful—
truly mindful, like when you’re climbing something steep.
May we come here in love, the way pilgrims come
to certain tombs.
May we come here in hope, the kind of hope
that makes you courageous,
like Martin Luther King’s hope, or the first day
in a second career.
May we not bring our baggage with us.
I know we are always traveling,
but may we not bring our resentment,
or the sharp-edged pieces of our broken loves.

There is a theory that nature is perfect as it is;
may we at least look up from time to time,
as Whitman said, “in perfect wonder.”
May we wonder if what we’ve done so far is enough.
May we respect the land, which is to say, ourselves.
May we respect ourselves enough to be honest with ourselves—
to be honest about what this is, and isn’t.
It isn’t ours, for one thing.
Disneyland is ours.
Monticello is ours.
The Constitution is ours.

May we trust what we feel when we are here.
It is almost seditious, it runs so deep,
but may we trust it.
May we trust ourselves
against the common rhetoric that land is to be “used.”
That we, in the end, are primarily users.
You can’t crest Sargent from the East Cliffs’ clamor
to see that bay and islands, and Mansell Mountain
risen from its chair to face you
and think that’s what we are.

May we leave, eventually, as we all must—
after a long weekend
or a brief fifty years—
with this place inside us—
or rather, with this place firmly inside itself.

I know we are always traveling.

May we remember, today,
and also the today of tomorrow,
what it took to keep this place for us:
an athlete’s single-minded concentration
sustained for decades;
a number of fortunes;
luck;
the conviction
that what had been done so far—
and in 1916 it must have seemed like a lot
had been done: the war to restore the Union,
the railroads, Yellowstone, Yosemite—
was not enough,
that “enough” is a misnomer,
the kind of white lie you tell children—

and let us not forget luck—
that maybe one of a thousand of this kind of venture
actually succeeds
in the way that the venture
of Acadia National Park
has succeeded—

in going on being what it was;
in changing—I’m guessing nearly always for the better—
the lives of millions of people;
in showing us something that matters too deeply for words.

Which is a reminder that I have probably said enough,

except to add that the venture isn’t over—
that part really does belong to us
in the way of a family home,
or a promise made to a life-long friend,
or Monticello,
or The Constitution.

 

Dawn Potter Poetry — Introduction by Betsy Sholl

Dawn Potter’s new book, Chestnut Ridge, traces the history of her birthplace in western Pennsylvania through three centuries and various voices.  The poems change in style as the age changes, beginning with formal and moving toward free verse. These poems are a history lesson for us all, letting us overhear many voices from early missionaries when the area was the western front of the country, through the civil war and into the 21st century when men and women begin to shift roles.  Like Maine, areas of rural Pennsylvania have a distinct character that is slowly being eroded by mass culture.  These poems remind us to look and honor the roots of where we come from. It is a feat of skill to move through so many shifts in form and voice.  Betsy Sholl

Dawn Potter is a poet, writer, blogger and teacher who recently moved from rural Maine to Portland.

Laurel Caverns

               1802

In this year
two men were lost in the caverns for three days.

When found,
they were locked in each other’s arms
waiting for the end—

two travelers, eyes wide in the blackness,
ears pinned to the whisper of wings,
the seep of water.

When found, they were locked in each other’s arms.
Breath by shallow breath,
they had fabricated life.

Blind touch bound them.
They stole heat from the brush of a cheek,
the cup of a calloused hand.

And so they survived the ordeal
of never embracing again.

 

Standards of the Pennsylvania State Board of Censors

           1914

“Nothing is censored in Pennsylvania but the poor mans amusement, Why?”
                                             —Anti-censorship banner, Pittsburgh Screen Club

The Board will condemn
any motion picture portraying
prostitutes, houses of ill-fame

a girl’s seduction, her confinement
for immoral purposes, or assaults upon women,
with lewd intent. Refrain from showing

childbed scenes and subtitles that describe them.
Pictures revealing the modus operandi of criminals
are suggestive and incite the weak to evil action.

We disapprove all murder, poisoning,
house-breaking, safe-robbery, pocket-picking,
the lighting and throwing of bombs,

the use of chloroform to render men
and women unconscious, also binding and gagging.
Do not illustrate the traffic in cocaine.

Gruesome and distressing scenes
are likewise forbidden. These include shootings,
stabbings, profuse bleeding, prolonged views

of corpses, lashings and whippings,
lynchings, electrocutions, surgical operations,
and views of persons in delirium.

Avoid scenes in which the human form
is shown in the nude. Do not undertake
the topics of abortion or malpractice,

eugenics, birth control, or race suicide.
The materialization of the figure of Christ
may be disapproved. We forbid

the brutal treatment of animals,
and objectionable language in subtitles.
Depictions of burning and wrecking

may degrade the morals of the young.
Gross and offensive drunkenness,
will never be tolerated

if women are present.
Do not exhibit pictures which deal at length
with gun play, and the use of knives,

and are set in the underworld.
Vulgarities of a gross kind,
such as often appear in slapstick

and may burlesque morgues, funerals,
hospitals, or insane asylums,
are disapproved, as are sensual kissing

and other indelicate situations.
Bathing scenes may pass the limits of propriety.
Avoid immodest dancing

and the needless exhibition
of women in their night dresses.
Do not show women in suggestive positions

while smoking. The argument that your story
is adapted from the finest literature or art
is not a sufficient reason for approval.

 

The Miner Who Loved Dante

           1924

But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
Vested already with that planet’s rays
Which leadeth others right by every road.
                –Dante, the inferno, translated by H. W. Longfellow

 

I haven’t wandered your way lately, Nell,
not since the police clapped me up
and I lost my shift at Number 2.

But I remember the porch of our borrowed house
and the pigeons that fluttered up from the roof
when the old lady banged her pail.

And Sue . . .  remember Sue, who sang alto to your mezzo?
In those ragged evenings, how stillness would sift
over the men, old and young, listening from their steps

or squatting outside the canteen, half-full bottles of wine
balanced on the ground between their knees.
Night opened her arms to us like a favorite aunt,

like Lena—plump, smiling, one hand at rest on my damp hair
as a hundred pigeons dipped over the river.
And all the while, Nell, you and Sue sang

of hearts, of summer, of fleeting secrets,
and we listeners believed that the songs were ours.
For no one, no one in the world, was as alive then as we were.

 

The Husbands

                2004

Their work boots were filmed with grease,
and their faces were weary.
They never showed up till the fourth inning.
Knees spread, they let themselves rest
on chairs beside the gravel-pocked ball field;
and when the women hollered, “Good eye, honey!”
at a tearful, trembling batter,
the men smiled like gentle but distracted strangers.

In their houses, a drawer slammed,
a kettle boiled, a hound twitched on the mat.
Televisions gabbled,
and the husbands pined for a secret world.
One drove six hours in dense fog
to a motel in Mississauga
instead of sitting down to supper.
Another stayed up till dawn
picking out “Night of the Johnstown Flood”
on his mother-in-law’s old guitar.

They fumbled with their sadness,
but nothing changed.
Women still clustered along the ball field
sharing packs of licorice, cat-calling the ump,
cheering at bloop singles and horrible throws to first.
The women behaved as if they had front-row tickets
to something magnificent and vital,
but the husbands couldn’t see, couldn’t quite see.

They raised their eyes toward the blackening sky
where swallows wheeled among the mosquitoes.
A child hacked at a pitch,
and the men’s thoughts clung to emptiness.
No one cried, “Cross out this life
that batters you down, and down, and down!”
Like chairs left in the rain for twenty years,
they sat.
Then one day their knees snapped
and they toppled into the flood.

 

ARRT! Artists’ Rapid Response Team! Update

As a project of the UMVA, ARRT! creates images for progressive non-profits throughout the state, and on occasion, for special requests for out-of-Maine organizations. ARRT! provides a visual voice for groups which need assistance getting their messages out. Much of ARRT!’s work consists of large original hand-painted banners, but new media and applications are popping up all the time. All of ARRT’s work is done in collaboration, with the belief and proven practice, that our best work emerges through our shared skills, ideas and the lively process of group critique we have developed. See more at www.arrteam.org

During Spring ARRT! sessions the following images were produced:

We Won’t Be Silent Anymore, for the Maine Poor People’s Campaign

Vote, for Maine Citizens for Clean Elections and League of Women Voters, and new project, PollFest

Recovery, for a Community Recovery group in York County

No Single Use Plastic Banner: the organization kNOw SUP in Damariscotta for their campaign to ban single use plastic.

Ad Box Signs for Brooklyn ad boxes on sides of bus kiosks

Maine Inside Out Banner:  members of the group joined us to paint . These artists facilitate theater workshops with people who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated to create and perform original theater.

Maine TransNet Banner: Their mission is: “Supporting and empowering trans people to create a world where they can thrive.”

ARRT! members gathered to create the placards below in support of the national immigration events held on June 30. They will be used in the Augusta rally that day and also at the Whitefield Independence Day Parade.

 

LumenARRT! is a project of the Artists Rapid Response Team (ARRT!).  We work through the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA) to advocate for artists and further the work of progressive non-profits in the state of Maine.  Our video projections create a visual voice for these organizations and like electronic graffiti, bring awareness to issues of social, political and environmental justice.

We are proud to announce that our Artists’ Collective LumenARRT! (a project of the Union of Maine Visual Artists) has been selected to create a site-specific installation for the CMCA 2018 Biennial Exhibition, which will be on view at CMCA from November 2018 – February 2019. We are honored to be exhibiting in the good company of many Maine artists who have shown on the pages of this journal.

LumenARRT! crew at work projecting on the State Capital.

Vote! A video projection in collaboration with the Maine League of Women Voters and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections on the Portland Public Library in Monument Square on Monday night, 6/12 at 8:30 PM to call attention to the election the next day to educate the public on ranked choice voting.

Click on image below to see a video of the 6/12/18 projection:

LumenARRT! worked with 90 students and staff at King Middle School in April to compose and create 4 large banners for their Four Freedoms Project.

Our projection on 5/24 called attention to the Biddeford March for Justice and Inclusion on 5/25/18.

RED FLAG Projection: In conjunction with the national student walkout on 4/20/18, LumenARRT! created a projection for the Maine State Capitol. The video highlights the Maine legislature’s inability to act on anti-gun violence legislation, including the one bill before them: a “red-flag” bill that would keep guns out of the hands of people who want to harm others or themselves. #NationalStudentWalkout

Water is Life and Knowledge is Power Insight / Incite Feature by Krisanne Baker

Two months ago I found myself waking up, in what I thought was a National Geographic magazine spread, at the top of a rainforest mountain in Malawi, Africa. Passion can take you on some funny paths. Ten years ago I could easily have imagined a safari in Africa, but not for the reason that got me there in April 2018 with my teaching colleague, Melissa Barbour, who had invited me to collaborate with her. My reason for embarking was water, the rains of Africa, and the passion to make and empower change.

Water quality microscope workshop, Krisanne Baker photo

My day job for the past twenty-five years has been as a crazy high school art teacher. I get a kick out of working with hormonal teenagers getting ready to jump into life. When people find out that I teach at the local high school, they say, “Oh, thank you!” They can’t imagine why I’d be crazy enough to want to spend all day with their kids, but they are grateful.

Teaching also funds my main job – I mean the one in my head and my heart – being a painter; and all the expensive art supplies that go along with it. Once my son was old enough, I finally had the opportunity to work on a MFA. I didn’t do it to become a better teacher, although it did make me that, but to get deeper into my own work. You see, I’d always felt like there was something missing.

One of the hardest and yet simplest things to put together as a research thesis in grad school was what I was passionate about. I knew it was water. But where to go from there? Twelve years ago, there were no front page headlines about climate change, Flint, Michigan, Nestlé Corporation, or drought. Why water? I’d spent years making paintings of its many moods and atmospheres. But the reveries just weren’t enough. What it came down to is that I CARE about water. And when you look at the myriad ways in which it touches our lives and makes our lives possible, I thought, well, EVERYBODY should care about water!!

Principal Mirrium painting, Krisanne Baker photo

My research led me down a road I never thought possible – one that scared the pants off of me – ACTIVISM. “Oh, no, I can’t do that! I don’t know the first thing about it. . .  what would I say? What could I possibly do? Does that mean I have to give a performance or something? Wait, no, I can’t do that, I’M AN INTROVERT!”

All I can say, is introvert or extrovert, if you are passionate about something, you find a way to share it with people. The hardest thing I found was to stay positive and not blame or make people feel bad about all the difficult water situations. I found the most meaningful way to bring about a change is to educate people. With knowledge comes the care and the desire to do positive helpful things. Actions start small and grow bigger, bolder, and louder.

Water is Life, Mpamila, Malawi, Krisanne Baker photo

First I did my work in true introvert style. I made short videos, using myself as a model, superimposed upon various water situations that need our attention. That way I could perform, but didn’t have to come eye to eye with an audience. But after my short films, I began having to do Question and Answer talks, or tell stories . . . or give a gallery talk about series of paintings I made to raise awareness of water quality, chemical infiltration, and women’s body burdens.

Five years ago, I began incorporating my water awareness work into my classroom teaching. I developed the Gulf of Maine: Endangered Ocean Creatures curriculum, and Gulf of Maine: Dare to Care. Students wholeheartedly engaged. When I was presented with the idea of interdisciplinary teaching in Africa to teachers in a remote area, the first thing I looked up was their connection to water. My first thoughts were the Darfur droughts and water wars between Israel and Palestine. The area where I was to go was water rich in comparison. Malawi, if you don’t know where it is – I didn’t – is just inland from the Eastern shores of Africa, and is home to one of the largest bodies of fresh water on the continent, Lake Malawi. It’s just above Mozambique.

Mural planning, Krisanne Baker photo

My mission was to incorporate art and the local rainforest ecology in a teachable curriculum for the Ntchisi district teachers, in the hopes that they would implement local ecological stewardship through art and action. When we think of rainforests, we usually think ‘rich in resources,’ which they are. Rainforests currently face major deforestation problems, not only due to removal of rare and beautiful woods, but also through exponentially increasing populations – a global problem. I hired a forest ranger to guide twelve teachers and me through the Ntchisi rainforest. We learned about the water system, in concert with the plants and animals, and how everything is connected through water. Back in a classroom, I drew global water systems on a chalkboard. I talked about how much the ocean covers the planet, and how we need to care for all waters, as they continually circulate from oceans to clouds to mountains to rainforests, etc. There were looks of amazement, and lightbulbs glowing in the minds of these remote educators. I was amazed that this was new knowledge to them, but in a landlocked very remote area, what else should I expect? I was grateful that they were receptive and completely engaged and passionate.

Nearing the top of the rainforest mountain, Krisanne Baker photo

We discussed the water sources that humans use, the mountain rainforest, and how people cutting down trees for cooking fuel would eventually collapse the water system. Malawi is the world’s second poorest country. This mountaintop population of about 40 small villages has no running water and no electricity, no fuel other than wood. When I say poor, I mean to write on a piece of paper, a teacher would first divide it into four quarters before handing it out, if they had any. Children walking with me on the road between the school and the Go! Malawi compound would ask for a sweet. If I didn’t have any, they would ask me for a pencil. They are hungry to learn. Books are a rarity. A current fundraising project begun by an 8th grade student in Maine through the Go! Malawi non-profit will build the first mountain library in the Ntchisi region, hopefully in 2020. (See the link below if you are interested in making a donation.)

Team Blessings’ Water is Life mural complete, Krisanne Baker photo

I led the teachers to incorporate their drawing (images from our rainforest walks, talks, and microscope viewings) into plans for three large painted murals. Each mural showed the place, the cycles of water, plants, trees, animals, people, fish, phytoplankton and zooplankton. (I brought a digital microscope, which we plugged into a solar inverter at the Go! Malawi compound.) Each told a visual story of how we are all connected through water and how we must care for this place to protect the water. Each mural had the simple words: Water is Life / Madzi ndi Moyo.

Krisanne Baker, Wash Day Plus Needs Notes, watercolor

At the end of two weeks, my teachers had become new water art activists. They had a plan to circulate the murals amongst several schools, with thought-provoking questions to spark discussions with their students. We have future plans through Go! Malawi to underwrite tree planting workshops, and DIY solar cookers. Until my workshop, many of the teachers had not ever been in the rainforest at the top of the mountain. They thanked me for opening up that part of their world to them, along with the concept and practices of stewardship. I thanked them by asking them to engage their students, and left a suitcase of art supplies for them to make more murals in their classrooms as constant reminders of the importance of water to our lives. Someday I hope to meet up with one of those rainforest village children who has become a water activist.

Krisanne Baker, Ecoartist and Educator

http://go-malawi.org/donate-online/

 

Getting Maine Artists into the schools! UMVA Maine Masters’ Report

 by Richard Kane

Producing films on art and artists has been an ongoing dream fulfilled.  Good for me.  But what about for you?  What about for the school kids of Maine? Or the elderly?  So in the past two years I’ve devoted more of my studio time working on getting these films on Maine artists seen by a larger audience where they could actually have some impact.

Recently I was asked where our films could be seen and I said they’re often in film festivals, on Maine Public TV, in libraries and universities. And I said proudly, “We also have DVDs!” The response was devastating. “How quaint.” Arrgghhh!  Then I spoke with my friend Marianne New, a red jeep-driving nonagenarian (95!) who loves Ashley Bryan’s books and art.  But Marianne told me she couldn’t hear the DVD!  So we’re now getting the films closed-captioned. Next we opened an On Demand Vimeo portal starting with:

Ashley Bryan www.vimeo.com/ondemand/ashleybryan

David Driskell www.vimeo.com/ondemand/driskell

Jon Imber – Imber’s Left Hand www.vimeo.com/ondemand/imber and

M.C. Richards: The Fire Within www.vimeo.com/ondemand/mcrichards.

Just yesterday I was inspired by an email from France asking if we had our film on Carlo Pittore streaming yet.  So I spent a good part of the day posting that film:  www.vimeo.com/ondemand/Carlo

J. Fred Woell will be next.

Perhaps the most important impact we could have will be on the next generation.  With diminishing access to arts learning there is a need to enhance students’ capacity to think creatively and make connections — building blocks in a young person’s development. But our schools’ schedules are so tight they have no room for long form.  So I spoke with the recently retired principal Don Buckingham of Sedgwick who thought short films were a great way to allow for “immediate hands on time in class to create art.”   Would schools pay $1.99 to see these streaming films? Don replied: “I would turn handsprings down the hallway for the art teacher to tell me the cost would be $1.99.” So with Don’s encouragement, I’ve started raising money to edit each episode down to ten minutes.  Any financial help will be so appreciated.

I also had an “Ah ha!” moment while attending the Camden International Film Festival’s Points North Documentary Forum.  “Get a publicist!” the workshop leader said.  Easier said than done.  But through showing Imber’s Left Hand at 25 film festivals, I connected with a Boston Outreach and Audience Engagement Director who has made all the difference!  Marga Varea has opened the door to hundreds of organizations who are now booking screenings.  And I’ve been on several screening/speaking tours around the country with I Know a Man … Ashley Bryan and with our latest film J. Fred Woell: An American Vision.

But I haven’t stopped making films.  Our Yvonne Jacquette project is back on the table as is our project on Rob Shetterly and his Americans Who Tell the Truth. 

A big thanks to Maine’s artist community and the UMVA for all its support of the Maine Masters Project.

Patricia Wheeler—Art Matters

I feel that art can be active, holding real power, not just metaphoric meaning. My painting practice has always included an element of ritual and deep listening. It serves as a space through which encounters with personal and collective energies coalesce. Living in a culture that lacks personal passage rituals, I paint to affect the world.

Journal NOTES: October/ November 2017

RESTORATION ECOLOGY *: In troubled times how do we restore ourselves?  This is what I am thinking about.

Patricia Wheeler, “Untitled”, acrylic, photo transfers, cold wax on watercolor block, 8”x8”, 2018

Among my most favorite things are the lidded box filled with small paintings on watercolor blocks  (with cold wax and acrylic ) and some of my handmade books and journals. I make them for just myself to process my life and stories and the emotions they carry. Some of the paintings will be framed as is and others are studies for larger works. They are fresh, loose and spontaneous. Some contain photo transfers, painted into and sketched over in sharp thin charcoal lines that I smear with wax. They are yummy. Letters and numbers are stenciled in red and black over images, to begin a dialogue. I think this year’s  classes will begin with these small works as a way of loosening up. Later in the week we’ll go into the larger compositions. I borrow text, excerpted from my journals, and join these words with images to begin the forgetting and retranscriptions, to abstract the stories of my life unfolding. This retelling always reveals new meaning. It’s how I know where I am! Right now I see that I am in the process of restoration. I am once again so alive… sharing adventures and work and love letters, rowing boats, island walks, kayaking on the full tides, laughing together with my lover late into the night after a strenuous paddle and a good meal at the cabin. Laughing over the tantrums of his wildly expressive 3 year old granddaughter who screams for the sheer pleasure of it. Watching him take her on his back and run as fast as he can in circles around his house, the girl shrieking in delight.  These days I will remember love.

Patricia Wheeler, “Untitled”, acrylic, photo transfers, cold wax on watercolor block, 8”x8”, 2018

Sometimes when I cannot get into the studio or it’s full of clutter and I want to paint, I set myself up at my kitchen counter, get out the brushes and knives, paint and wax and work on small squares of heavy watercolor papers in blocks (to hold them flat). When I am traveling and away from my studio I pack a small box with supplies of good paper (cold press, print paper or  heavy weight watercolor), plus stencils, xerox copies, citrasolve, a small bottle and various drawing tools, and acrylic paints (in a zip lock plastic bag). I place this collection in a basket or canvas bag and I am off….. By air or rowboat, I am transported with my studio in a box/basket, to another place and time,  ripe for painting with all the distractions left at home. My new surroundings inform my choice of color and subject matter. Journals come along too. I scratch or write excerpts from the journals into painted surfaces. Acrylics dry quickly in the open air so layers can happen fast. I add and subtract, using cold wax mixed directly with the paint, then  knife it onto the surface.  Any sharp tool can be used to scrape or write. The process is important, it’s where I discover things.  I make a lot of pages and on subsequent days add new color combinations scratching the wet surface to reveal the color now buried in a palimpsest way.

Patricia Wheeler, “Untitled”, acrylic, photo transfers, cold wax on watercolor block, 8”x8”, 2018
Patricia Wheeler, “Untitled”, acrylic, photo transfers, cold wax on watercolor block, 8”x8”, 2018

So what am I interested in this season?  WORDS as always… resilience, restoration, emergence, (borrowed from a close friend who thinks this way too), some borrowed from a book I am reading: reciprocity, imbrication, juxtaposition, ecology, mythology.  What emerges from all of  this is a new body of work, unconsciously achieved through observation, mistakes,  abstraction , painting over the ugly stuff.  From all of my senses, I take in fog and seaweed, the muffled sounds, imposing rocks that appear and disappear. A picnic table can become a studio! I don’t have to be at an artists’ residency (though they are very conducive to this type of drifting).  I can paint anywhere, with just that small canvas basket filled with good supplies and QUIET../ SOLITUDE and TIME FOR DRIFTING.

Out of all of this drifting I find a new course description for my classes, at least the concept. Painting memory as a way of holding opposition energies, to restore us to balance in troubled times, to integrate dark/light, release, surrender, restore. What is stored in your emotional body that prevents you from living fully alive, being present to this moment? My friend from the drawing department  at OCAC (Oregon College of Arts and Crafts) asks:  “What is your growing edge in your studio practice? What is exciting to you  right now? Something about your little boxes as ‘containing’ feels fresh to me.” So my immediate answer is: “Islands, as gateways to enchanted states of consciousness.”

Restoring my soul through all the senses. Alive colors taken from the Maine landscape. Mixing the colors. Nature’s palette here in Maine, islands, seaweed. Transition states of consciousness:  “…. as I cross over, by land or sea, I feel the shift.” Integration.

Patricia Wheeler, “Untitled”, acrylic, photo transfers, cold wax on watercolor block, 8”x8”, 2018

*Art as a form of RESTORATION ECOLOGY, the term borrowed from Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass

 

Cynthia J. Ahlstrin — Origin Stories

above: Cynthia J. Ahlstrin,  38 Special – A Bullet Bra, Repurposed book pages, repurposed binder’s board, 6.5” x 38” x 11”

My most cohesive origin stories can be found within my artist’s books – in both the traditional book forms as well as in the altered books.  My stories include lessons handed down from past generations, tales of memory, of love, of abuse, and of hope. They express views of childhood and the process of growing up and viewpoints based on life experience and maturity.

When I started making artist’s books, I found it very easy to begin by telling the stories of my forward-thinking, teetotaling English grandmother and the influence she lovingly placed on my young life.  It started by growing up in a seemingly “proper” middle class home in Connecticut, the roof of which barely kept the lid on the three generations of independent individuals contained within. The youngest of the family, I found myself in need of an anchor. Fortunately, my grandmother scooped me up into her life and became my staunchest ally.  Born into this world prior to 1900, she was from a distant generation that endured the many hardships of World Wars, deadly flu epidemics, and the Great Depression. But she also enjoyed women gaining the right to vote, the beginnings of women’s healthcare, and the ability of some women to start their own careers.  She was always industrious with her thoughts and with her time.

Cynthia J. Ahlstrin, By the Measure of Her Hand, accordion book, Prisma Color pencil, collaged ingredient bags (paper), collaged repurposed recipe cards, 6” x 38”

One of the places she chose to teach life’s lessons was in the warmth of her kitchen where cooking was one of her grand talents.  To her, food equated to love and happiness.  My story starts here by investigating the age old tradition of cooks measuring out dry ingredients by their hand.  Amounts were gauged and valued by how they looked and felt in the palm of the cook.  Recipes were rarely written in full (if at all), adding to the mystery of cooking and to the guarding of “treasured” family recipes and secrets.  To this day there are still a few recipes that even I guard, only to be passed on to those “within the family”. I collaged sugar, salt and flour sacks with recipe cards to detail the potential of sweet things to come.  On the front side of my accordion book are the illustrations of the lessons of love, patience, meditation, healing remedies and self awareness – all of the life lessons passed on to me in-between the mechanics of making a great meal.  Those keys to self-happiness are illuminated with colors as saturated as the memories and feelings they invoke inside of me.

Cynthia J. Ahlstrin, Oh to Bee Sew Busy, accordion book, Prisma Color, acrylic, Ball Point Pen, collaged antique pattern tissue, collaged antique sewing pattern schematics, ribbons, metal key, 5.5” x 42”

Another story I tell involves the lessons learned about sewing.  A professional seamstress, my grandmother had some very concrete ideas about how things were to be done. She created clothing for her regular clients and made costumes for actors on  Hartford and New York City stages. My use of color speaks to the memories of our trips to the fabric store searching amongst bolts and bolts of beautiful fabrics to find the right cloth to make a creation sing.  My story tells of the lessons of patience while laying and pinning pattern pieces so accurately that the leftover scrap cloth was miniscule. “Waste not, want not” was a common refrain. My grandmother worked her magic at the sewing machine in a beelike dance, moving back and forth from machine to table and back again. Her lessons of thrift, craftsmanship, energy and individual expression have swirled into memories of admiration for her mastery of the many parts of a woman’s life.

Cynthia J. Ahlstrin, Isn’t It Fitting, artist’s star book, India Inks, Prisma Color, hand-cut Canson Mi-Teintes paper, embroidery floss, 6” x 26” x 6”

The last story of lessons learned while growing up materialized in a humorous piece titled Isn’t It Fitting? The happy recipient of lovely handmade bras, it was hard for me to wear commercially produced foundation ones, but once I decided that this was “what all the girls wear”, there was no turning back.

Cynthia J. Ahlstrin, Isn’t It Fitting, artist’s star book, India Inks, Prisma Color, hand-cut Canson Mi-Teintes paper, embroidery floss, 6” x 12” x 12” in star position

So my story here delves into the spreading of wings in an attempt to try something new, move away from an old tradition and perhaps take the first steps towards growing up.  It is also a story about the ability to fail, admit a mistake and still be loved.

 

 

My story reveals that all the instructions and diagrams in the world were not going to correct the fit of ill made garments. Measurements and cups sizes were designed for the “average woman’s breast size”…and who has those?  The beautiful bras I was searching for ended up being the ones made out of paper and ink. The craziness of the looping measuring tapes equates to my young self throwing up my hands in frustration and realizing that no matter how much we yank and we pull, those damn bras were just never meant to fit.  And that some lessons you learn cannot be improved upon until we are ready to mature.

Cynthia J. Ahlstrin, Every Shoe Tells a Story, altered book, Repurposed National Geographic magazines, plaster, wired ribbon, 10” x 12” x 4”

My approach to creating altered books originally began as a way to solve a creative challenge.  I was given a stack of National Geographic magazines. Who doesn’t have difficulty parting with these? My task was to look through all of them, find a story that resonated with me and then make a piece in response to it.  My found story was one that included luscious images of shoes throughout the history of humankind and what information could be gathered from them about the person who wore them.  I was inspired to make my book based on the premise that every shoe really does have a story to tell about us.  My shoe story investigates the use of color and the recycling of discarded objects.  Through the placement of specific words and images, my book also tells a story to the viewer asking her to consider the impact of excesses of human choices and the use of genetically modified seeds on our environment.

Cynthia J. Ahlstrin, Without Consent, artist’s star book, Repurposed book pages, acrylic, repurposed binder’s board, Canson Mi-Teintes paper, card stock, 3” x 9” x 3” (note: measurement is for shoes only)

As my experience in making altered books has grown, my approach to my story telling has changed as well.  My newer work began to tell stories of a different part of my life,  a crossing over from the lessons of childhood to those from a more mature perspective and garnered from some unfortunate personal experiences.

Cynthia J. Ahlstrin, Repurposed Romance, altered book, Repurposed romance novel book pages, repurposed binder’s board, 25” x 14.5” x 11.5

I need a great deal of paper for each piece.  I began sourcing book pages from discarded books and romance novels I found at the library or in the book box at the transfer station.  I chose my materials randomly based on the weight, color and feel of the paper.  During the process of cutting the pages from the book block, I naturally began to read passages from various pages of the found books.  This is where I began to notice the large amount of violence perpetrated against one or more of the female characters within each novel.  Often times, the violence was not even remotely connected to the main plot – basically it was just gratuitous.  My thoughts on this unnerving occurrence demanded that the individual stories needed to be identified, those of verbal and physical abuse, prostitution, murder, rape and in some cases mutilation. My own personal experience with certain types of abuse causes me to empathize with all the female victims.

Cynthia J. Ahlstrin, Silk Stockings, altered book, Repurposed book pages, acrylic, archival tracing paper, Canson Mi-Teintes paper, card stock, 7.5” x 34” x 1.5 (note: stockings only)
Cynthia J. Ahlstrin, Something Blue, altered book, Repurposed book pages, acrylic, lace paper, elastic sewing material, 7” x 9” x 2” (for larger garter), 4” x 6” x 2” (for smaller garter), Two detail (A & B) views provided

My stories have manifested themselves in the form of 1950’s women’s foundation wear and boudoir apparel. Style-wise they are beautiful as well as cage-like and constricting.  This era of fashion is from a time when women in our society were dressed immaculately within the confines of society’s concept of perfection.  Each piece invites the viewer to read selected sentences or word phrases which are meant to illuminate this troubling pattern of violence.  My hope is that the beauty of the structures creates an interesting juxtaposition to the violence expressed in the printed words and causes the viewer to consider the stories that women continue to experience in our current society.

UMVA Lewiston / Auburn Chapter Report

above: UMVA Lewiston/Auburn event; Gary Stallsworth photo

Public Art Informational was held on March 20th at the Lewiston Public Library with members of the Union of Maine Visual Artists- Lewiston/ Auburn Chapter and our Fall semester interns from Bates College. The students showed their presentation of what Lewiston already has for public art and talked about the website they created documenting their findings. We found out what projects are currently in the works and how we can help.

Do you have an idea but are not an artist? We can partner you up with an artist. All ideas must be voted on by the UMVA Lewiston Auburn to be considered for a space.

Invite your friends!

https://www.facebook.com/events/217655392132452/

Our March 14th meeting at Kimball Street Studio was with Jonah Fertig- Burd founder of Local Sprouts Cooperative,  Jonah is a man of many talents and is constantly involved in building community!

UMVA Lewiston/Auburn event; Gary Stallsworth photo

UMVA-Lewiston Auburn celebrated the language of love with our 3rd annual For the Love of Art event, inviting couples and loved ones to experience an afternoon of awakening all the senses with a walking tour of local studios and galleries that offered live music, edible art, body work, locally made  products, as well as art of varying themes through out this journey.

Upcoming Events  

Downtown Lewiston eARTh Day 2018

Sunday April 22 10am – 2pm.  We are in the process of creating and organizing different work groups and business sponsors. Last year we had 4 different community groups working in various parts of Lewiston cleaning up litter and trash, restoring natural beauty.  We also had many public art installations such as sidewalk murals, painted fire hydrants and our first creative crosswalk! Please check the Facebook event page often for updated info.

This year there will be several different area clean ups, painting of side walk murals, fire hydrants, studio & public art tours, local music and a buy local cash mob.

https://www.facebook.com/events/217621542117081/

I Am Tree Fundraiser for Tree Street Youth Program

Tree Street Youth serves 120-150 at-risk and immigrant refugee youth everyday at its center in downtown Lewiston. Programs include after school enrichment classes, academic tutoring, leadership development, college prep, and workforce development.  Each year, Tree Street holds a fundraiser called I am Tree. This year’s theme is “I am the Future.” UMVA-LA will be assisting in putting out a call for artists to create a piece of art (in whatever medium they like to work in) to reflect their interpretation of the theme. We would like these pieces to be donated to Tree Street Youth so that we can auction them off at the fundraiser on April 26, 2018 at the Bates Mill Atrium.  Artists will receive a 50% commission from the sale of any work.  We also anticipate displaying the art before and after the event at public spaces such as L/A Arts, the Lewiston Public Library and/or USM. Artists will be given the opportunity to be on site at the fundraising event to meet the (250+) guests . The art will also be featured in the evening’s Commemorative Playbill and on theTree Street website. If you are interested in submitting work to the I Am Tree Event, email UMVAlewistonauburn@gmail.com for more details.

Our UMVA-LA meetings are held on the first Wednesday of the month from 7-9pm. The location of the meetings change from month to month.   If you would like to be added to our email list email UMVAlewistonauburn@gmail.com

Grayling Cunningham

Union of Maine Visual Artists Lewiston Auburn

UMVAlewistonauburn@gmail.com

 

People on the Move – A Human Crisis: Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and the Internally Displaced.

above: Christopher Cart, “I Fear What You Fear”, oil on canvas, 24” x 30”, 2018  

Throughout the month of February Camden Public Library and the Jonathan Frost Gallery presented a large joint art show titled People on the Move – A Human Crisis:  Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and the Internally Displaced.

The artwork varied widely.  It included portraits, scenes of fleeing refugees, scenes of repression and brutality, symbolic evocations of displacement, detainment, and death, and symbolic evocations of the ideals of ethnic and political harmony.

Susan Beebe, “Portrait of Safi”, oil on canvas, 20” x 24”, 2018

The show was organized by Kit Harrison, Jonathan Frost, and Susan Beebe in concert with Cayla Miller, of the Camden Library. The purpose was to bring attention in our local community to the fact that across the world over 65 million people are on the move, driven from their homes by political repression, war, famine, and environmental devastation.

“I was thinking, what can I do, as an artist? I had this nebulous idea that maybe we could do a show on refugees,” said Beebe. Then, running into Kit Harrison at Rock City Café one day last summer, she discovered that she and Kit shared the same dismay and vision.

Twenty-four artists eventually responded to their Call to Artists, and showed, in their work, what moved them about this human crisis.

Titi de Baccarat, “Black White Yellow”, mixed media, 21” x 32”, 2017

Three of the artists included in the show are themselves newcomers to Maine. One, Titi de Baccarat, is from Gabon and has been working and making quite a name for himself as an artist since arriving here in Maine two years ago. He spoke eloquently at the Artists’ Talk about the importance of local Mainers opening their hearts to newcomers – the importance of trying to feel the loneliness of what it is like to be a displaced person, living here out of necessity.

Orson Horchler, “Mainer Project 10”, charcoal, pen, 16” x 16”, 2016

Orson Horchler, another newcomer, who goes by his artist name Pigeon, described the challenges of trying to find community in a new land. Here for a number of years, he works long hours running a contracting business, while also pursuing his artwork. In addition, he travels the state, visiting in schools and other community centers to share his message of tolerance.

Veronica Kaluta, “Self-Portrait” collage, 11” x 14”, 2018

Veronica, the third immigrant artist in the show, is a very articulate fourteen year-old, who is a refugee from the DR Congo. One year ago she spoke no English. During the run of People on the Move she delivered two moving talks in English about her life as a refugee – a young, living reminder for those in attendance of human resilience.

There were three special events associated with the show: an opening reception at the Jonathan Frost Gallery where individual artists spoke briefly about their work; an Artists’ Talk at the Camden Public Library where Titi De Baccarat, Orson Horchler, Veronica Kaluta, and Wendy Newbold Patterson spoke about their work and experiences; a reception at the Camden Public Library timed to coincide with the Camden Conference. All the events were very well attended.

Asked to reflect on the show, Harrison said, I’m really just hoping that people will look at others with new eyes.”

Jonathan Frost, “Portrait of Jordan”, oil on canvas , 20” x 24”, 2018

“It gives you encouragement to feel something about this and express it,” Beebe said. “I hope we start a conversation, and people will look and think and talk and act.”

James Murdock, “Open the Gate–Draco’s Gate”, mixed media, 32” x 40”, 2005

Participating artists were Lois Anne, Susan Beebe, Christopher Cart, Gregory Chilenski, Clarity, Titi De Beccarat, Alan Fishman, Jonathan Frost, Nancy Glassman, Lucy Goulet, Nan Haid, Orson Horchler, Mwandja Kaluta, Salima Kalute, Veronica Kaluta, Renate Klein, Jeannette Martin, Cynthia McGuirl, James Murdock, Wendy Newbold Patterson, Emeline Russell, Marjorie Strauss, and Hannah Wells.

Artists’ quotes courtesy of Courier Publications

MIGRATION EXPERIENCE — REFLECTIONS OF MAINE IMMIGRANT ARTISTS

UMVA Gallery at CTN (Portland Media Center)

April 2-27, 2018

In April, the creative voices and talents of more than a dozen immigrant artists living in greater Portland will be exhibited at the Union of Maine Visual Artists Gallery. Seventeen artists collaborated with curators Kifah Abdulla (poet and painter from Iraq), Titi de Baccarat (sculptor and painter from Gabon) and John Ripton (photographer, writer and historian) to create work that expresses their experience as Maine immigrant artists. Each artist – painter, sculptor, photographer, poet and performance artist – will exhibit work that they have completed since arriving in Maine.

Greater Portland is home to thousands of immigrants whose life stories demonstrate the will to overcome lack of opportunity and education, political repression, violence and poverty. Some of the artists in the exhibit are fortunate to have escaped such violations of human rights and other artists have not. All of them have nevertheless distinguished themselves as artists and in many other endeavors. Their collective stories are part of the story of the United States. They inspire us in ways our great grandparents’ and their grandparents’ lives do.

As with earlier immigrants, the newer immigrants are building their lives here and revitalizing Greater Portland, its economy and its culture. The artists will share their desires and dreams as well as their reflections on how they arrived in Maine and the challenges they continue to face. The exhibition of their work will speak directly to the world in which we live, without the spin of manufactured news.

In a time when differences among peoples are being exploited at the highest levels of government, this creative project strives to cross the borders and walls separating brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. The exhibited work speaks to our common humanity. Guided tours of the exhibit for students and teachers of Portland area schools, colleges and universities are also planned.

The Opening with Artists’ Reception is on First Friday’s Art Walk, April 6th (5-8 p.m.) at the UMVA Gallery in the Portland Media Center at 516 Congress Street in Portland.  (Click for e-invitation)
Poets and musicians will perform. It will be a celebration of Greater Portland’s immigrant communities, an exciting opportunity to reaffirm the enduring struggle to share this world and this city and state with each other. The public is enthusiastically welcome.

UMVA Gallery Hours:

Monday 12-5 / Tuesday-Thursday 10-5 / Friday & Sunday 1-4

Jean Medard Zulu, unnamed 2, Mixed Media, 20X30
Makumbundo Francisco, Baobab, Oil on Canvas, 24X48, 2015

MY PEOPLE DYING

(Song by AFRiCAN DUNDADA)

my people dying
I’m feeling like a product of war
here I stand while they laugh
cause my people left poor
my childhood memories
had me begging for more
got away from the war
but now I’m worst than before
came here to represent for
my Africans all around the world
gotta stay on my grind though
like poverty right at my door
for all the people out in this world
that got no home
cause they families poor
for all the people
that will never know
what it feels like to be cared for
pray to god
and let it flow
it ain’t all about that money bro
now let us go
look at me
I represent like Rambo
how many people here gotta die
how many mothers here gotta cry
how much more do we sacrifice
before we get to see paradise

 It is quiet in Darfur

by Ekhlas Ahmad

It’s quiet in Darfur. It’s not the silence of peace, but it’s the silence of death.
My homes that once carried histories of generations are now burned ashes on the
ground waiting for the wind to blow them to their final destination.
My mothers that were once Leaders of their communities are now used as war
weapons.
My sisters that once had chances to be future leaders are now afraid to see the sun.
So I speak for them.
I speak for the thousand mothers who have been speaking forever but there is no-one
to listen.
I speak for the thousand girls who want to speak but don’t have a voice.
I speak for the thousand children of Darfur because they can only speak in silence.
I speak so they can be heard.
Because I feel their pain.
When I was a little girl I used to cry
but only in silence
never showing my parents my tears
not even my siblings, or peers
because they told us if you showed people your tears, it meant you were afraid
it meant you were weak, it meant you were powerless
Yes I was young, but I knew I wasn’t weak, and I knew I wasn’t powerless
I had and still have a weapon
A Voice
A voice that once it’s heard, demands attention
A voice that doesn’t only speak, but repeats
So I will speak so they can be heard.

Titi de Baccarat

Titi de Baccarat is a painter, sculptor, clothing designer, jeweler, and writer. Dedicated to justice in a hostile political context, he was forced to flee his country, Gabon, with only the wealth of his artistic ability. He has lived in Portland since February 2015, where he works through his African identity and artistic expertise to contribute to the culture of the city. He believes that art rehabilitates love, bringing together people of all countries, backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities.

Kifah Abdulla

Kifah Abdulla is an artist, poet, writer, teacher and activist, born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. The real  beginning for Abdulla as an artist started after he returned from eight years as a prisoner of war in Iran from1982-1991. Art became his main professional career. He worked to express his experience of time spent in prison, a theme that is still present in his work. In his current work started in Portland, he uses abstract Arabic letters as an essential element in his work. He is developing his style in the vast space of contemporary art in America. Abdulla has exhibited in Iraq, Jordan, Holland, and Portland, where he lives and works.. He published his first book of poetry in 2016.

List of Participating Artists*
Kifah Abdulla (Iraq) Poet & Painter
Titi De Baccarat (Gabon) Sculptor & Poet
Anna Mikuskova (Czech Republic) Photographer
Afshin Mahmoudi (Iran) Photographer & Musician
Ekhlas Ismail Ahmad (Darfur, Sudan) Poet
African Dundada (South Sudan) Musician & Composer
Mei Selvage (China) Painter
Burcin Kirik (Turkey) Painter
Akad Hamed (Iraq) Painter
Sofia Aldinio (Argentina) Photographer
Ebenezer Akakpo (Ghana) Jeweler/Designer
Christian Muhunde (Rwanda) Painter
Makumbundo Franciso (Congo) Painter
Edward Mbikiayi (DRC) Painter
Rabee Kiwan (Lebanon) Painter
Yelena Fiske (Russia) Painter
Sahro Abrahim (Somalia) Designer
Damir Porobic (Former Yugoslavia) Interdisciplinary Artist
Jean Medard Zulu (Congo) Painter
Aymen Khaleel (Iraq) Painter

Performing Artists at April 6th OPENING/Artists’ Reception
Ekhlas Ismail Ahmad (Darfur, Sudan) Poet
Kifah Abdulla (Iraq) Poet
AFRiCAN DUNDADA (South Sudan) Rap Musician/Composer
Jawad Alfatlawi (Iraq) Musician
Mei Selvage (China) Traditional Chinese Ink Block Brushwork
Yves Karubu (Burundi) Drummers/Dancers

Community Resource Leaders Represented
Zoe Sahloul (Lebanon) Activist/Organizer N.E. Arab American Organization
Bereket Bairu (Eritrea) Emergency Teacher/Tutor

ARRT! and LumenARRT! Updates

above: Banner created in March for use during the school walkout for gun control and the March 24th rallies in Brunswick and Augusta.

The Artists Rapid Response Team! is a project of the Union of Maine Visual Artists. Members of ARRT! are UMVA members and activist artists who work to provide visuals for progressive groups throughout Maine, seeking to add a visual voice to help carry their messages far and wide. The following images are recently completed banners. Click on them to expand images.

The Banner below is for Earth Day in Bangor:  a “Transportation for All” bus which will be completed by children adding their faces in the windows during the event.

January ARRT! session

Anita gave us a lesson on how to use Tagtools on our IPads and we also made wonderful animated electronic graffiti for LumenARRT! projections for the MLK dinner in Portland.
Special thanks to Anita and Geoff for prepping and hanging about 9 banners for the MLK dinner, plus creating a GIANT animation/projection for the outdoor wall of the Holiday Inn, with LumenARRT!, plus creating electronic graffiti animation/projections inside, just before the dinner.
Thank you Renu, Nancy, Anita, Chris, Suzanna, Justin, Jane, Beth, Julia, Susie, Lee, Doreen, Natasha and Ed

February ARRT! session

Thank you ARRTists  Nancy,  Chris, Jane, Nora, Deb and Natasha

March ARRT! session

Thank you to ARRTists Nancy, Chris, Anita, Nora, Geoffrey, Suzanna, Beth, Susie, Jean, Natasha and Lee.  And thank you to three Americorps volunteers (Alicia, Darcy, and Audrey) from Bangor (Maine Partnership for Environmental Stewardship) and Anna, a student from the Friends’ School, who helped paint.

We hope you’ll join us in April for our next ARRT! session, April 8th.  Check out images and information at arrteam.org

LumenARRT!

LumenARRT! is a project of the Artists Rapid Response Team (ARRT!).  We work through the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA) to advocate for artists and further the work of progressive non-profits in the state of Maine.  Our video projections create a visual voice for these organizations and like electronic graffiti, bring awareness to issues of social, political and environmental justice.

Our most recent projection calls attention to the millions of marchers on 3/24/18 who want common sense gun controls — and the inability of our Maine State Legislature to act.

LumenARRT! Projection on Maine State Capital
LumenARRT! Projection on Maine State Capital

On January 15th in Portland, we joined with the NAACP in celebrating Martin Luther King Day.  We also had an interactive projection in the lobby for attendees to write or draw their thoughts on freedom and racial justice.

For more information go to LumenARRT! on the web.

 

 

 

William Kienbusch and the Gift of Place

by Carl Little

above: Francis Hamabe
William Kienbusch Rowing, Stonington, late 1960s
Black-and-white photograph
Collection Little family

My uncle, the painter William Kienbusch (1914-1980) spent most his life in two places, New York City and Maine. Just about every May from the mid-1940s on, he would make his way north from the city. Late in life, he compared the stops he made to the stages in an ascent of Everest, his favorite mountain.

Bill’s relationship to Maine began in the 1930s when he attended Eliot O’Hara’s watercolor class at Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport. After serving in the Army during World War II, he returned to Maine, staying in Stonington where his hero John Marin had spent time in the 1920s. He was soon making annual seasonal pilgrimages, exploring the islands and developing a repertoire of coastal subjects.

For a number of years Bill’s base of Maine operations was Trevett near Boothbay Harbor where his friend and fellow painter Dorothy Andrews (1918-2008) and her family lived. After he bought a house on Great Cranberry Island, he became a part of a remarkable group of modern artists, among them, John Heliker, Dorothy Eisner, Gretna Campbell, Robert LaHotan, and Charles Wadsworth, who found their muse there.

Bill established personal connections with a number of individuals in the Maine art world. He visited fellow painter Reuben Tam and his wife, Gerry, on Monhegan. He went on painting trips with Leni Mancuso and Tom Barrett from Castine (their correspondence with him is in the Archives of American Art).

William Kienbusch , Rowboat to Island #2, 1973, Casein on paper, 32¼ x 40½, Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine; Museum Purchase, 1996.11

Francis Hamabe (1917-2002) was like a brother; he and his first wife Sidney would host Bill for weeks on end at their home in Blue Hill. From there, he would make excursions to Stonington where he kept his rowboat EPO BID. The boat—its prow—served as the model for several paintings. (The children’s book author Robert McCloskey once referred to Bill as “the rowingest man in Maine.”)

William Kienbusch, My Boat, 1972, Craypas on paper, 6 x 8, Collection Carl Little & Margaret Beaulac, photo credit, Ken Woisard

Bill also became friends with Vincent Hartgen (1914-2002), painter and bravado art professor at the University of Maine. Sometime in the 1960s Hartgen invited his friend to spend a semester at the university, teaching and painting. The Northeast Film Archives collection includes an interview with Kienbusch conducted by Hartgen for Maine Public Television.

Uncle Bill once stated, “When I arrive in Maine, I start seeing again.” What he saw were subjects and places that set him to painting. He explored Hurricane Island quarries, wandered among Cranberry Island gardens after everyone was gone for the summer and hired a lobsterman to circle a bell buoy while he took pictures with his Brownie camera.

William Kienbusch, Bell Buoy, 1976, Casein and charcoal on paper, 34 x 42, Collection Margaret Beaulac & Carl Little, photo credit, Ken Woisard

I was thinking of Bill’s love of buoys when I gave him a copy of W.S. Merwin’s book The Drunk in the Furnace for his birthday in 1978. As he had done with me, I marked several poems that I thought he’d especially like, including “Bell Buoy” with its stunning evocation of that sailor’s guide in fog and storm:

Clearer

The dreaming bronze clangs over the lifting

Swell, through the fog-drift, clangs, not

On the sea-stroke but on the fifth second clangs,

Recalling something, out of some absence

We cannot fathom, with itself communing.

William Kienbusch, Sea Gate and Goldenrod, 1963, Casein on paper, 32¼ x 45¼, Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine; Museum Purchase, 1994.9

Among Bill’s last great subjects was goldenrod, fitting image for the final years of his life. In an elegy inspired by the painting Sea Gate and Goldenrod, poet Rosanna Warren, who had visited Bill on Great Cranberry Island on several occasions, describes the painter lying in his bed with “a patchwork map spread out” over his “failed legs.” She references “our island” where “alders shimmied in sunlight, deer/browsed through cranberry bogs,” but concludes:

…there are

other islands, and already, while we sat

here with you chatting of ours with its goldenrod

what you heard

was the other islands.

William Kienbusch, (1914-1980), Sunflower, 1977, Craypas on paper 11 x 14, Collection Margaret Beaulac & Carl Little

When Bill died in 1980, he left his home on Great Cranberry Island to my brother David and me. This gift shifted both of our lives. Up to then we had been oriented toward New York City and the South Fork of Long Island. Our parents’ home in Water Mill had been our refuge and retreat, but the landscape was changing drastically. Maine was a new world, a place where we might start seeing again. And that is where we are today, writing and painting.

Reuben and Geraldine Tam, William Kienbusch on Monhegan, 1944, From 35mm color slide, Collection Carl Little

Uncle Bill made us Mainers; he left us his home, his friends and his favorite landscape—not to mention the poetry of Abbie Huston Evans. I’ve told this story many times, and apologize if you’ve heard it before. Bill is the talisman and touchstone of my creative life. I owe him big time.

 

Carl Little is co-author with his brother David of the forthcoming Paintings of Portland (Down East Books). He has also contributed to monographs on Philip Frey and Joseph Fiore. 

MAINE MASTERS REPORT — My Immigrant History

above: Jacob Kantrowitz

By Richard Kane,  Maine Masters Project Director

I think it’s important for any artist to figure out how to survive.  For my paternal grandfather Jacob Kantrowitz, a skilled tailor, he survived living in the Ukraine city of Kharkov by chopping off his large toe to avoid being sent to the front lines during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War.  The word had reached home from Jacob’s older brother in Manchuria that Tsar Nikolai II was sending Jews to the front lines only to be slaughtered.

Interestingly President Teddy Roosevelt mediated the negotiations that ended that war on September 5, 1905 in what became known as the Treaty of Portsmouth.  Sound familiar?  The talks were held at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine!  A few months later my grandfather Jacob emigrated to New York in 1906 with my grandmother Ida Wooten. They were 19.

Jacob went to work for a thriving dressmaking business on the Lower East Side  and later, in The Bronx started Mr. K’s, his own tailoring business. His son, my father Murray, was the first to attend college (NYU) in the family, and after graduating dental school in 1941 he was drafted into World War II.  Upon his return in 1945 he changed his name to Kane at a time when a great many American Jews were seeking to blend in and in a real sense hide from anti-Semitism.

Recall that President Franklin Roosevelt during WWII turned back ships filled with Jews fleeing the Nazis hoping to reach the safety of our shores.  They were all subsequently incinerated in the Holocaust.  Si Kahn memorialized that piece of history with his song Lady of the Harbor that I’ve long wanted to use in a film about those times.  The immigrant is what has made this country strong.

Jacob Kantrowitz and grandson, Richard Kane

 

When I started editing film in graduate school at Temple University in Philadelphia, I always felt I was following in my grandfather’s footsteps, cutting and trimming and sewing and creating a work of art.

 

 

So how have I learned to survive as a filmmaker in Maine while keeping all my fingers and toes?  Just as any artist, you have to get your work shown.  I learned a few years ago at the Points North Documentary Forum of the Camden International Film Festival that the key is through a publicist.  Easier said than done.  There are MANY more filmmakers than publicists.
But I did succeed in finding an extraordinary Outreach Director, Marga Varea, who has made all the difference in getting our last two films on Ashley Bryan and J. Fred Woell seen.  FYI March 29, 2018 we’re having a NYC Premiere of our latest film J. Fred Woell: An American Vision at the Museum of Arts and Design with a panel of icons of the American Crafts Movement.

Stay Tuned:

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There’s lots happening with the Maine Masters film series.  The BIG NEWS is that Geoffrey Leighton and Anita Clearfield have begun work on a docu-art film project about our own beloved Natasha Mayers: An Un-still Life.  Anita and Geoff thank the contributors to their successful Indiegogo campaign —  many of whom are UMVA members — and  hope to have the project completed by the end of the year.  Stay tuned for more Natasha magic in Maine!

Next Project:

Moving into the fundraising phase of a film Robert Shetterly: Americans Who Tell the Truth.  See the trailer:  https://vimeo.com/220552230

We are also creating a Vimeo portal to have all our Maine Masters available on Vimeo.com/ondemand  and am working with several teachers to create short versions that would be appropriate to use in schools and full length vimeos on demand for senior centers/retirement communities.

 

Members’ Voices

Excerpts from Journey Home

by Renu O’Connell

above: Renu O’Connell, Past and Present, casein, 26 x 34

This year I found myself coming home both to myself and to my ‘homes’ that hold my past and present.

I will begin by by describing the journey back to the place that never felt like home but now does. I was born In Detroit, Michigan, lived there in my formative days, then moved to the suburbs that did not feel like home.

Months before this visit I had been asking myself what mattered the most to me in the political climate of 2018. The issue of immigration is central to our country. I started to look for images of immigrant farmers to paint and found many who were urban farmers in Detroit. So, excitedly, I began to read that there was enough land to feed the whole city which was considered a realistic goal.

There is an intimacy between decay and life and there is a contrast between what seems gone and what is actually growing life. What I saw were 1400 farms, many that have community connection; centers for education, places to gather and eat, all contained in an area that could fit San Francisco, Boston, and the borough of Manhattan within the city limits. I began to paint Detroit farmers, many of whom had roots in the great migration from the South. Many of these people’s children and grandchildren are coming home to their innate sense of nurturance of the land. Farmers see themselves as makers of history.

Other immigrants, like my ancestors from Ireland, came to Michigan to farm as a result of the great potato famine. For the first time in my life I considered the pure hopelessness and destitution they had to face. When they arrived in their new home on Mackinac Island, they tried to farm but the soil was too rocky.

How does this journey take anyone back to self? First off I believe until we mourn our ancestors’ losses, we will never be whole in ourselves. This is why it seems valuable to fill in the “holes” in our ancestral backgrounds. As we come closer to understanding their lives, we can see our selves belonging to a universal family. It is a human need to want to experience the “Phoenix rising from the ashes”. It is human to seek newness and hope. It is in all of us that we wish to plant seeds that germinate and offer nourishment on so many levels.  For me there is something passionate within that wants to participate in the mending of this united fabric of states belonging to our immigrants and relatives and for this I give thanks to the pioneers past and present.

 

Excerpts from Origin Stories

by David Wade

David Wade, Seaweed Abstract, photograph, 15 x 20

For me, as with many artists, the sea is an inspiration, an eternal muse  … it’s a font of creativity… it’s a call to play and make art and discover… and a trip to the shore is like a return to my beginnings, both ancient and modern … like going back home again… and it’s no coincidence that all of us have in our veins the same percentage of salt in our blood that is in our oceans…and that salt is also in our blood, in our sweat, and in our tears… so whenever we go back to the sea, we are going back to our very origins, to the source from which we came… these origins go back to before the dawn of history, when the first life began to bubble up from the primordial soup, where our original ancestors took their first breath and Life itself began…

These Maine shores draw me like a tide, which I cannot resist. At the shore, I hear the ocean sing its siren song… it seduces my eyes and ears, and serenades my soul… the sea speaks to me… and I answer…  like a child, I put my ear up to a sea shell and listen…  and I hear the distant sound of eternity.. …  the sea’s cycles bring me back into tune with Mother Nature and the slow pulse of eternal time…    always the seaside sets my spirit free….…and it is where I am most like a child, filled with inspiration, awe, and endless wonder……

Humble Origins — How art can create identity

By Edgar Allen Beem

above: watercolor by Betty Beem

Our home is filled with fine and fun art, almost all of it created by friends and family. The art we live with has become an important part of my own identity and I trace this aesthetic definition of self back to my mother. Most of the art in our home is by artist friends, among them Susan Amons, Dozier Bell, Kathy Bradford, Alfred Chadbourn, Howard Clifford, Maury Colton, Matt Donahue, Charlie Hewitt, Alison Hildreth, Eric Hopkins, Frederick Lynch, William Manning, Mathew Pierce O’Donnell, Abby Shahn, Todd Watts and Mark Wethli. But the first things you see when you enter our house are the Twombly-esque scribblings all over the garage wall where I have invited our grandchildren to leave their marks and the big bold flowers I have slathered on the same wall with leftover house paint.

Betty Beem, watercolor

 

Easily overlooked in this cheerful graffiti is a small watercolor of an iris blossom that hangs on the little landing outside the door to the mudroom. Irises are my favorite flower. I kind of wish the artist hadn’t added the little blue butterfly that is virtually indistinguishable from the iris petals, but then you don’t criticize your mother.

 

 

My mother was the only artist I knew growing up. She was an enthusiastic amateur who studied and painted watercolors all her life.

Among my mother’s paintings hanging in our upstairs bedrooms are a sprig of blueberries, a still-life frieze of fruit, and my favorite, a flutter of white flowers, a sort of abstract floral fantasy. There are also a couple of my mother’s efforts in oil. The watercolors are often deft, but the oils – a cheerful pink conch shell and a rather Ryder-esque farmhouse landscape – show the effort involved.

Betty Beem

My mother came from humble origins. She was born Bertha Harrison in Bath in 1922, became Betty Gibson when she was adopted in 1926, and then Betty Beem when she married my father in 1948. All of her surnames were given to her by men, one she never really knew and two she loved very much. I’m not sure where my mother’s artistic interest came from. She studied early childhood education at Westbrook Junior College and Lesley College and taught nursery school as a young woman. All of my life she was a kitchen table painter and she took art classes wherever we lived.

When we lived in Groton, Massachusetts for a few years in the 1950s, my mother sent me to Saturday morning art classes at the Paint Bucket. Making clay pinch pots and paper mache animals was my first experience making art unless you count the elaborate battlefield drawings I made about the same time. It’s a boy thing I guess. So my exposure to art as a child was pretty much limited to calendars and her watercolors. On a couple of occasions, my maternal grandmother, a widow living alone on High St. in Portland, took me to the Portland Museum of Art, but all I remember about those visits were bands playing on the High St. steps under the Copper Beech and the smooth, cool deathly realism of Akers’ The Dead Pearl Diver at the foot of the circular stairs in the Sweat Galleries. I thus knew nothing at all about art until I got out of college in 1971. Then it took me a decade or more to understand that a true appreciation of art means unlearning the prejudices of art historical orthodoxy.

As a young man, just about the only work of art I owned was a gilt-framed reproduction of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic “Christina’s World.” I was a Maine boy and Christina was a Maine icon. I was so ignorant of the content of that painting and innocent of all the death, sex and violence in Wyeth World that I imagined Christina Olson as a lovely young farm girl sunbathing in the meadow. Who knew she was a crippled spinster dragging herself across the field? Apparently everyone but me.

Between about 1971 and 1978, I had something of an artistic awakening when my then-brother-in-law, a Jewish interior designer from New York, took it upon himself to educate me in fine art by exposing me to works of Leonard Baskin, Alfred Chadbourn and Ben Shahn. I started going to the few contemporary galleries there were in Maine and began looking at art in earnest, not as décor but as investigation, a search for meaning every bit as valuable as that of science or religion.

White Lillies, by DeWitt Hardy. Collection of the author.

By the time I started writing about art in Maine in 1978, I had somehow “learned” that my mother’s art was amateur stuff and that Wyeth’s art, while popular, famous and expensive, was considered reactionary and rear-guard by the art establishment, a romantic throwback no more a part of the ongoing 20th century artistic dialogue than my mother’s aqueous flora.

My function as a reporter and self-proclaimed art critic then, first for The Portland Independent and then for Maine Times, was to be judge, jury and executioner. It was my responsibility to separate the wheat from the chaff, the gold from the dross, the worthy from the rest. Never mind that I had no art education whatsoever, I had a good eye and a way with words. Art objects were open to interpretation and I was good at coming up with a plausible explanation. All art, I soon discovered, is a con job, in a good way of course. Perhaps confidence game is a better phrase. The artist, in collaboration with dealers, curators, and critics, must create confidence in collectors and the public that the useless objects s/he makes have value beyond utility, both intrinsic and extrinsic, critical and commercial.

I participated in this aesthetic conspiracy for a dozen years or more, merrily pronouncing this artist important, that artist not so, this work fine art, that applied, this piece a work of art, that a craft object, etc. Sort and dispose. It is not enough to know what you like, I reasoned. A viewer who could not distinguish between serious art and pretty pictures was as culturally impoverished as a reader who could not distinguish between great literature and chick lit, Romantic poetry and Harlequin Romances. The one was an act of engagement, the other an act of escapism.

Beem Family Interior

Of course, my idea of what constituted value in contemporary art was borrowed largely from New York and the slick art journals where a premium was placed on individuality and originality. Most, if not all of what I knew about the art enterprise I knew from talking to artists and observing them at work. Writing for publication gave me entrée to the studios of artists ranging from Neil Welliver, Alex Katz and Andrew Wyeth to Dozier Bell, Celeste Roberge and Abby Shahn.

I learned a great deal from talking to and observing dozens and dozens of artists in Maine, but it was an offhand remark by Abby Shahn that first threw a monkey wrench into the finely-tuned and well-oiled gears of my art critical machinery. I was visiting Abby at her home and studio in Solon, talking to her about her art and art in general while she transformed some frozen squash into one of best bowls of soup I ever ate, when I chanced to ask her opinion of an artist, perhaps Wyeth but definitely one problematic in terms of both content and style.  “Given a choice between bad art and no art,” said Abby, “I’ll take bad art.” That generous, open-minded comment made me start to question my whole judgmental approach to appreciating and writing about art. And once you get beyond seeing art through the distorted lens of quality, you start realizing all the other biases that operate on our perceptions of art, art history tending to be an exclusive Eurocentric male view.

Abby Shahn’s comment began a re-examination of my own elitist male prejudices about art that eventually led me to the realization that there really is no such thing as bad art.

I probably knew this a priori as a child, but it came as something of a revelation to the “sophisticate” I had become. On a moral scale of human activity from genocide at one end to sainthood at the other, all art making, whether that of children, amateurs, outsiders, fine artists or geniuses, is way up there at the divine end of the spectrum. It’s a good thing to do whether the art establishment or the art market values it or not.

My approach to writing about art has evolved such that I now attempt to see and accept all art for what it is and what I imagine it is trying to do. I endeavor to be the best audience an artist can have, someone who will look long enough to ask questions and think about what the artist is up to whether they are trying to save the world or just make it a little more beautiful. To the degree that I can help the average reader find ways to approach difficult art that is what I want to do as a writer. But you do have to know a little something about art history to understand why a rectangular block of rusty steel by Richard Serra or a compacted bale of tin cans by Adriane Herman, to name two of my favorite pieces of art in Maine, are important works of art. But that’s a story for another time.

My long-winded point here is that as I matured as a writer, I came to a renewed appreciation of my mother’s modest achievements as a watercolorist. Watercolor, except in the hands of a few painters such as Winslow Homer, John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe and Andrew Wyeth, tends to be seen as a lesser medium than oil, acrylic, casein or tempera. Watercolors are humble things, a little powdered pigment mixed with water, the stuff of school children, illustrators and amateurs.

Watercolor was my mother’s medium. Her wet-on-wet still-life, landscape and floral paintings were only seen in the homes of her family and friends and once a year at the holiday art show at her church. Something about watercolor spoke to my mother and now she speaks to me through it.

The last two paintings we acquired – a lily by DeWitt Hardy and a pair of dark, brooding views of the apple tree in his New Brunswick backyard by Stephen Scott – are watercolors. It was not until a visitor saw the Hardy painting and asked if it were by my mother that it dawned on me that a lot of the appeal of the lily and the apple trees is that they are fluent in the fluid language my mother tried to speak.

Betty Beem

During the last two years of their lives my parents’ world was reduced to a shared room in a nursing home. Other than family photographs, they took precious little with them when they could no longer live in their own home, but one of the few things my mother took were her watercolors. As she approached 90 and eternity in the nursing home, my mother created an identity for herself beyond that of old lady, invalid and patient. She painted small watercolors for staff members and fellow patients, taking special requests and sharing her time and talent right to the very end. Painting gave her an identity. Betty Beem was an artist. I know that now, but I didn’t always.

Alice Spencer

above: Alice Spencer, Kasaya#8, Hand printed paper/collage on board, 35×46, 2013, Jay York photo

I have always made things–paintings, drawings, things with clay. Making things as a child never seemed like something I did but something that was continuous with who I was. Looking back I think my early experience with art making was one of the reasons I grew to love ethnic textiles and to use them in my work.

Baby Carrier, Batik, Indigo dye, Miao Tribal People, Yunnan Province, China, Dimensions Variable, Bernard C. Meyers photo

In many traditional societies hand-made textiles are deeply tied to civic life. They are practical and useful but also function as a societal signal system. They create cohesion and provide a framework of shared values. In many of these communities, textiles hold an ethos, a spiritual center. They are an essential source of identity and connection.

Mirror Cover, Lakai Tribe, Afganistan, Cotton and cotton embroidery, 20th century, 18×18, Bernard C. Meyers Photo

Handmade work is not commodified, as in much Western art, but continuous with the natural and spiritual laws of the world, an agent of meaning that informs everyday life.

 

 

In traditional weaving communities girls and boys grow up in families with weaving almost written into their DNA, learning to incorporate mathematically dense and aesthetically rich patterns into warp and weft. Weavers are valued citizens and their work is vital to the well-being of the community.

I grew up in a world where, like most of us, textiles were machine made and bought already made into curtains or jackets. My mother didn’t sew, I didn’t sew, and the only weaving I did was to make potholders for Christmas presents. I attended an elite private school where Home Economics, which taught the skills of domesticity in public schools, was considered inferior to the life of the intellect.  In college I took studio art, visited museums and galleries, studied art history, never doubting I would be an artist. But at times I felt like an outlier, not tuned in to the ongoing debate about the -isms of art.  On visits to New York I began to seek out shows of folk art and a new genre known as “outsider art”.

Cradle Cover, Turkey, Silk embroidery on cotton, 20th century, 30×40
Headscarves, combs, Paduaung Tribal woman, Myanmar, Photo by author

 

About 40 years ago I went to Guatemala with my husband, Dick.  We fell in love with the women’s hand woven huipile blouses and learned that each village had its own unique colors and patterns.  At one point we spotted a gorgeous blouse, but someone was wearing it. The woman noticed us admiring it and disappeared behind a bush. When she emerged (wearing another) she offered it to us. A favorite first piece in our collection, it still smells faintly of smoke, sweat and goat dung.

 

 

From that time on we began to travel to countries where we could find handmade textiles. Seeking out workshops and weaving villages, often in remote places, became a way for us to experience each country at a deeper level than would otherwise have been possible.  In all these years we rarely have set foot in Europe, the place of my heritage. Its textile traditions are no longer alive; textiles are dusty artifacts in museums.

Kemba, Woman’s breast cloth, Three color batik, Java, Indonesia Photo Bernard C. Meyers

 

 

We have now acquired close to 80 textiles from about 20 countries, including Bhutan, India, China and Cambodia. We bought tube skirts while visiting our Peace Corps kids in East Timor. We found the embroidered tails of a ritual dancer’s skirt in Ecuador, an Akh-nif cape with its huge woven eye in Morocco, and ikat robes lined with Russian chintz in Uzbekistan. Someone gave us a burqua. and we discovered 3 gorgeous Korean bojagis (wrapping cloths) in a flea market in Seoul. I also attended an auction of Jack Leonard Larson’s collection of ethnic textiles in New York. Surrounded by eager collectors, I finally landed a mud cloth from Mali. Most of these pieces, with the exception of those that attract moths, are piled on a high kitchen shelf. The layers of bright cloth bring me pleasure and inspiration every day.

Over the years I also had the opportunity to teach printmaking in both Mongolia and Zanzibar (Tanzania), which opened another path of connection to other traditional arts-centered cultures. Art students in Mongolia, most now living in the city in Ulaanbaatar, revere their country’s nomadic past. The iconic horse of the steppe still is an important subject in their work.  In Zanzibar, the women I worked with learned henna body decoration in the traditional way: from their mothers or their aunts. While still practicing this ancient art for weddings and other celebrations, they have now learned to use their henna designs in brightly-colored acrylic paintings.

 

 

Alice Spencer, Crazy Quilt Improv#2, Hand printed paper/collage on board 16×16, 2016, Jay York photo

It was while traveling, teaching and collecting textiles abroad that the idea of re-imagining textiles in paintings emerged as a path for my work. While Matisse called his textile collection his “working library,” for me textiles offer a lexicon, not just of formal structures, but of conceptual associations that provide the content and language for my work. Fold, pleat, pattern, patch: these actions find new applications in paint or collage. Referencing the evolution of textile motifs that occur across cultures and through generations I use multiple stencils to create each pattern. Each pattern holds within itself a small sample of the sweep of history and time.

Recently, I have started making collages that are based on patchwork textiles. Combining craftsmanship with thrift, patchwork has brought vibrant beauty to clothing and other humble household necessities throughout history. The ancient tradition of recycling is now a focus in both contemporary art and daily life. In exploring this form I have been looking at quilts from the American South made from the clothing of deceased family members and at others where quilting norms are subverted and the music of the quilters’ African forbears can be tracked in the off-kilter arrangements of patched squares. I have also looked at Japanese fishermen’s coats, thickly layered with patches, and becoming increasingly warmer and more beautiful through time, as well as the kasayas of Tibetan monks who, vowing humility, follow an exacting protocol as they stitch together remnants of once fine brocades. These and other quilt traditions are the source of my recent work.

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Alice Spencer, Kasaya#3, Hand printed paper/collage on board, 48×63, 2013, Jay York photo

By borrowing from  an enduring cultural tradition, one in which art and daily life flow as one, I celebrate it and find a meaningful path for my work.

Alice Spencer, Kasaya#6, Hand printed paper/collage on board, 30×41, 2013, Jay York photo

Susan Drucker

above: Susan Drucker, “Benjamin Wood Fairbanks and Douc Langur. China. 1880.” Pencil, eraser. 2017

Susan Drucker, “Marianne Jones Fairbanks and Marmoset. India. 1882.” Pencil, eraser, ink. 2016.

These drawings are part of an on-going book project based on reimagined family photos. A “picture book for all ages”, it will track the lineage of my family over four generations along with their imagined animal companions. The book will resemble a photo album, with each image captioned by names, dates, places, and occasional notes.

Susan Drucker, “Gladys and Gorilla. Montclair, NJ. 1901.” Pencil, eraser. 2017

The focal point of the book will be my great-grandparents, Charlotte and Frank. I imagine Charlotte’s parents (Benjamin and Marianne) traveling internationally during the 1870’s, eventually bringing back the first generation of animal companions: a gorilla, two golden tamarins, a douc langur, a spider monkey, a secretary bird, and a giraffe.

Susan Drucker, “Frank and Spider Monkey. Montclair, NJ. 1908.” Pencil, eraser. 2016

Charlotte, and later Frank, will develop unique relationships with these animals, as will their children (Gladys and Jack), and their grandchildren (Nancy and Chips).

Susan Drucker, “Jack and Secretary Bird. Montclair, NJ. 1910.” Pencil, eraser. 2016
Susan Drucker, “Pop Dutch and Nana. Casanovia. NY. 1920.” Pencil, eraser. 2016

I hope that the eventual addition of names for each animal (which I have yet to pinpoint) will help illuminate their profound “humanity”, as well as make the details and longevity of the human/animal relationships more clear. I have taken great pleasure in portraying the amazing presence of animals — both real and imagined — in our collective lives.

Susan Drucker, “Frank, Charlotte, and Tamarin. Bay Head, NJ. 1931.” Pencil, eraser. 2018
Susan Drucker, “Nancy and Giraffe. Casanovia, NY. 1934.” Pencil, eraser, ink. 2017

Please note that all images are works in progress.

Susan Drucker