UMVA Portland Chapter Report

Portland UMVA has had a great summer of gallery shows including its 2018 summer members’ show in July, painter/mixed media artist Matt Demers’ fabulous exhibition of new abstract paintings titled “Everybody’s Talkin’ at Me” in August, and the always engaging Addison Woolley collective of visual artists in September.

In October, artist and curator Janice L. Moore will present a juried show of various media titled “Some Reliable Truths About Chairs.” Robyn Holman, retired art curator, Atrium Art Gallery at USM’s Lewiston Campus will assist Janice as a guest juror. The exhibit promises to be a provocative encounter with “chairs” on many levels. It opens October 5th and runs through November 3rd. The artists’ reception will be Friday, October 5th, 5-8 p.m.

The “UMVA Fall Members’ Open Exhibition” opens on Friday, November 9th, with an artists’ reception at 5-7 p.m. The show runs through Friday, December 7th, with a closing artists’ reception at 5-8 p.m. All UMVA members are encouraged to participate by sending jpeg images to studiomuseo7@gmail.com by midnight October 21st. Curator Gregg Harper notes that “Artworks in most media (except performance and installation) will be accepted. Though there is room in the front window to exhibit 2 or 3-free-standing sculptures (enter early), because of Fire Code regulations at the Portland Media Center, sculpture will have to be wall-mounted or small enough to be exhibited on a plinth against the gallery wall (bring your own plinth if you can). Artists may submit one 2D piece 16”x 20” or larger or up to two 2D pieces that are each smaller than 16”x 20”.” With submissions provide Title, Date, Medium, Size and Selling Price (if applicable). Also, on the drop-off day (Saturday, November 3, Noon – 4 p.m.) bring an Artist Statement and/or Bio that includes an image of your submitted work, which will  be included in the exhibition deskbook.

The UMVA 2018 Holiday Art Sale will be held 11 a.m – 5 p.m. on December 15th and 16th at the UMVA Gallery at Portland Media Center. All members are welcome to apply for participation, though there is limited space. More information will be emailed to UMVA members several weeks prior to the show. Participation will based on the order in which application requests are made and will be open until the space is filled (there is room for approximately 15 members).

UMVA Portland has already accepted several shows for the upcoming 2019 year. These include “Ours is a Life of Lights and Shadows,” organized for March by Gregg Harper and William Hessian; “Go Figure,” a group show in July with painters Jen Joaquin, Roland Salazar Rose and Jim Kelly with photographer Dave Wade; an as yet untitled show by artist Julia Durgee in August; “Visible Discourse from Maine’s Western Foothills,” a group show of artists Schneider, Arcadipone, Best and Millonzi; and “Imposition & Yielding: Travail en Cire,” a group show with artists Ann Tracy, Anne Strout and Ann Deutsch in October. The two UMVA members’ exhibitions are planned for June and November with the Holiday Art Sale in December. Applications for other months are being accepted for consideration at the October UMVA Portland meeting on October 15th. All artists are welcome to apply by visiting the UMVA Portland webpage and downloading, preparing. and returning an application form. You can also contact Gregg Harper for an application at studiomuseo7@gmail.com

UMVA Portland Chapter meeting in-process planning.

Among other projects being considered by UMVA Portland include updating the website, possible collaboration with PMC on shows related to the gallery and painting the back wall of the gallery to bring attention to the back room.

 

ARRT! Artists’ Rapid Response Team! Update

The images created by ARRTists  become vibrant components of communities throughout the state and over time find many uses, often framing important messages and bringing groups together. 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. The photos featured below offer a glimpse into the vibrant lives the images live and what they offer to Maine citizens.

ARRT! banners, placards and props can often be found at  Whitefield Maine’s Fourth of July parade.

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

Friends School banner

 

LumenARRT! is a project of the Artists Rapid Response Team (ARRT!).  Working through the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA), LumenARRT! creates video projections illuminating messages, like electronic graffiti, to bring awareness to issues of social, political and environmental justice.

LumenARRT’s  projection on 6/29/18 was in front of Susan Collins’ office in support of the “Keep Families Together” rally the next day.

CLICK on the animation below to see a video of the actual projection:

LumenARRT! projection 6/29 was in front of Susan Collins’ office in support of the “Keep Families Together” rally the next day

Our  projection on Sept. 7th, Friday Art Walk in Portland, featured a Codfish Funeral with the IDEAL MAINE SOCIAL AID AND SANCTUARY BAND!  We started about 7:30 PM on Congress Street, using our new MOVING projection system,   in support of the global mobilization and Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice Rally the next day at Lincoln Park in Portland.

CLICK on image below to see a short video of the Codfish Funeral including dancing in the streets!

LumenARRT! First Friday projection 9/7/18.

For more information go to lumenarrt.org

 

UMVA-LA Chapter Report

UMVA-LA has had a wonderful summer season starting with our annual exhibit  “Pride:  What brings pride to your life?” at Kimball Street Studio. This exhibit included works from artists who take pride in what they do.

We also enjoyed sharing works with our community, through heading up and assisting Build Maine in having Internationally-recognized artist, Arlin Graff, create an amazingly beautiful huge mural of a zebra on the side of the Centerville Parking lot.  The meaning behind the Zebra is “Community”. Zebras are rarely alone and live and work in community.  It represents the coming together of the growing immigrant community with a community of mostly white natives.  It is the beginning of our hopes to have more large-scale displays of public art.

Arlin Graff, Zebra Mural

Our recent UMVA-LA meetings have had inspiring artist talks, Kate Katomski spoke about her current projects around historic mining, and Sheri Withers Hollenbeck about her  community arts projects. Grayling Cunningham hosted the last talk with an interactive discussion about balancing art, work, home, family, and life.  It was wonderful sharing with one another and all who attended  benefited from the open discussion.  We will be changing our meeting format to include important topics and conversation on a bi-monthly basis.  Our next meeting will be held at The Studio located at 291 Lisbon street where guest speaker Alex Hood will share her journey as an artist and programming and opportunities at Bates College’s Olin Arts Center.

The Sunday Indie Market, sponsored by the Downtown Lewiston Arts District and UMVA-LA., has been gathering artists, artisans, culinarians, musicians, and vintage dealers for the only market of its kind in the Lewiston-Auburn area. On the 3rd Sunday of every month, we are outdoors in Lewiston’s Dufresne Plaza, on downtown Lisbon Street across from the courthouse. November through April, we are indoors at The Curio Art & Alehouse, 110 Lisbon Streethttps://www.facebook.com/SundayindiemarketLewiston/

Upcoming Events: 3rd Annual Harvest Masquerade Ball is scheduled for Saturday October 20th 8pm-12am at the Agora Grand Event Center, formerly St. Patrick’s Church. This is our biggest fundraiser of the year that continues to grow and become something special.  We have DJ Alex Merrill again playing amazing tunes and we are hoping to add some live music, Halloween inspired art, tours of the crypt, a photo booth, costume contests (costume contest details are below) and a silent horror film on the giant projection screen.
FB Event Page   https://www.facebook.com/events/2221760614734719/

 

 

VOTE! 2018

Maine artists are participating  to help get out the vote in Maine’s 2018 election and the Maine Arts Journal is featuring their efforts here! Click on images below to see them larger.

Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE) and the League of Women Voters of Maine (LWVME) are non-partisan organizations working to engage, encourage and empower people to vote.  ARRT! (Artists’ Rapid Response Team), LumenARRT!, and The Maine Arts Journal: Union of Maine Visual Artists Quarterly are partnering with them to generate a ton of interest and energy in the upcoming election.

MCCE and LWVME decided to ask Maine artists to create t-shirt designs with a motivating pro-voting theme as an awesome and effective way to stimulate interest in the critically important midterm elections. Designs that could also be suitable for printing as a bumper sticker or button were also welcome. The focus is on energizing voters to get out and make their voices heard, not on specific issues, candidates, or political parties.

Leticia Plate, Your Vote Counts

From designs submitted MCCE and LWVME will select a couple  to print on t-shirts for sale with artists donating the use of the designs to them.

LumenARRT! will project them. This follows from Vote! A video projection by LumenARRT! (a previous collaboration with MCCE and LWVME) that took place on the Portland Public Library in Monument Square the day before the June primary election (link below). LumenARRT! Intends to project the most persuasive, clear, non-partisan, bold and effective images submitted before the upcoming election.
LumenARRT: https://www.facebook.com/ArtistsRapidResponseTeam/videos/vb.142581872576727/1020224201479152/?type=2&theater

Susan Cooney, Please Vote

 

UMVA Member Showcase — Diane Dahlke, Gregg Harper, CE Morse, Ragna Bruno-Torkanowsky, Anne Strout

Diane Dahlke

A dialogue with time

Diane Dahlke, “Two Cats, Man, Turban”, oil on panel, 8 x 8, Photo credit: Jay York

My dialogue is with art history, thinking about how my own sensibility intersects and is influenced by paintings of the past. One of my interests is Vanitas, the idea that the brevity of life should lead us away from materiality to more spiritual concerns.  Flowers are a traditional symbol of this because they have the fleeting, magnificent beauty of bloom and then fade and die.

Ars longa, vita brevis.

 


A Game and A Puzzle…To Start a Conversation – Gregg Harper

Gregg Harper, The Elder’s Puzzle,
Ephemera, Thread, on Acrylic on Canvas,
Metal Hooks, Inkjet Printed Paper on
Wood Frame, 17 ½” X 17 ½”, 2018

Recently I’ve begun to focus more intently on the power of images intertwined with words and concepts. My particular focus is the importance that we ascribe to these as we assess our present against our past and look to other means to guide us into the future in this liquid time. Concepts like “hope”, “will” and “oracle” are at the core of this exploration and The Philosopher’s Game and Elders Puzzle are two of my experiments.

Both pieces attempt to play the dual role of breaking down the perceived barrier between artwork and viewer while engaging in a conversation on the euro/anthro-centric nature of western philosophy (Philosopher’s Game) and the comparison to non-western philosophy and images (Elder’s Puzzle) where humans are generally part of, not separate from, nature. What words, images and artifacts might suggest a way to evaluate each mode of thinking to make it comprehensible to our own reality? And how do we conceive of the human place in all-encompassing life – parallel to nature, of nature, against nature? What are other “philosophical” perspectives on our existence beyond western thinking and image making? How applicable to our daily lives are the concepts that embody the thinking?

Gregg Harper, The Elder’s Puzzle Amulets (13)
Mixed Media, Cigar Box with Acrylic and Inkjet Printed Paper, 2018

The central form of each Board is the “Quaternio”, representing the cardinal directions. Etruscan Augurs used the Quaternio to divide the sky to search for portents delivered by the flight of birds. An archaeologist uses it as the core of a site’s organizing grid system. It is also used as an evaluative graphic by mathematicians, physicists and even psycho-analyst Carl Jung.

The words on each board are attributes that western and various non-western cultures assign to their view of the cardinal directions. The words are the four Greek Elements, four Medieval Humours and Carl Jung’s four Functions in the Philosopher’s Game. In the Elder’s Puzzle the four elements – Earth, Water, Fire and Wind – are shown as well as Native American and Asian human attributes. What do these essential descriptors in both western and non-western philosophy tell us about our consciousness…our perception and interaction with our reality?

Gregg Harper, The Philosopher’s Game Curios (13)
Mixed Media, Cigar Box with Acrylic and
Inkjet Printed Paper, 2018

Viewers can choose four Curios or Amulets and arrange them on the respective boards. The objects could be signs of ritual, remnants of a cabinet of curiosities, alchemical substances, body ornaments…perhaps the birds that fly across the Etruscan sky. And with the formula of four artifacts hung on hooks on the four corners of the board, there are 17,160 possible “compositions” or “oracles” for each artwork.

Gregg Harper, The Philosopher’s Game
Ephemera, Thread, on Acrylic on Canvas,
Metal Hooks, Inkjet Printed Paper on
Wood Frame. 17 ½” X 17 ½”, 2018

The over-arching idea is to spark a conversation within the viewer by direct interaction with the artwork in “analog” form without the use of technology. Like a double use of the metaphor “muscle memory”: to use physical interaction with an artwork to exercise the brain muscle…and, perhaps, the heart/empathy muscle.

 


 

C E Morse: Dialogue

C E Morse, Fijoles #41383, pigment on paper, archival inks, digital capture

My images are abstract details of found objects that beg the questions: “what is it?”

which starts a conversation/dialogue.  While grappling with identification one explores the subconscious emotional impact of the images as well as the relevance to previous experience.  This dialogue can be between the viewer and the piece or among viewers.

C E Morse, North Berwick #83, pigment on paper, archival inks, digital capture

I am always fascinated to hear what other people see in my work and their reaction when I identify the subject that I have photographed …. which then starts a whole new conversation.

C E Morse, Old Town #1983, pigment on paper, archival inks, digital capture

 


 

RAGNA BRUNO-TORKANOWSKY: “DIALOGUE,  A DANCE OF  OPPOSITES”

Ragna Bruno-Torkanowsky, “Reverberation”, ink on paper, 9.5X12.5

 

SPONTANEOUS DRAWINGS IN BLACK  AND YELLOW OCHRE INK,  WHERE

RANDOM THOUGHTS ARE INTERTWINED WITH COUNTERPOINT  RHYTHMS IN THE SEARCH  FOR A FLUID STRUCTURE.

 

 


Strout — Statement/Dialogue

For me, making art is definitely about dialogue. It starts with those conversations in my head, inspired by musicians, writers, and other artists. Inclusivity is an important theme in my life and in my art. The “Song of Woody Guthrie” was inspired by Woody Guthrie’s song “This Land is Your Land,” written in 1940. I am still deeply affected by it, especially in the current political climate.

Anne Strout, Song of Woody Guthrie

“Uncloudy Day,” a 1979 gospel song, speaks to me on several levels. I see America as a metaphor—a home “where no storm clouds rise,” depicted here with border crossings and little white crosses. Hopes and dreams, or sacrifice and despair? Let’s talk.

Anne Strout, Uncloudy Day

And what about “Together we make Stone Soup?” This is a very old folk tale about a hungry traveler with nothing but a stone in his pocket. When others contributed to the soup, they had a feast. Everyone brought something to the table—again, a metaphor for collaboration and sharing.

Anne Strout, Together We Make Stone Soup

And “The Potluck”: who doesn’t love and appreciate a potluck? Finally, I am proud to be part of UMVA, an art organization promoting diversity, inclusivity and dialogue in a positive framework. It is a safe and welcoming place to dialogue about art and issues.

Anne Strout, The Potluck

Abby Shahn and Mark Melnicove — Dialogue

Abby Shahn, Grudge-Holding Ghosts Have Traveled

 

Grudge-holding ghosts have traveled 

Grudge-holding ghosts have traveled great distances

to your funeral, but you were cremated years ago.

Why are they still obsessed with marking your death,

rubbing it in as if you were sand underfoot?

Have they no other grains to harvest?

They dress in red shifts to reinforce

their message that blood is meant to be drained,

and fire does not warm.

It burns.

Those clothes you left behind, which they weave

in and out of like moths, contain none of your wisdom,

none of our loss.

 

Abby Shahn, Wall Hangings Are Streaked

 

Wall hangings are streaked

 

Wall hangings are streaked with spirits not stuck

to threads so much as they are threads themselves.

Immune to spot removers, the pneumas

need not be scrubbed nor feared.

Without them life would untether from earth,

become just another fallen star.

With them in the warp and woof,

quintessence is grounded, not betrayed.

See their visions in every seam;

no need to doubt if they are true—

art reveals spirits on the move.

 

Abby Shahn, If Not For Time

 

If not for time

 

If not for time, everything would make sense.

We could speak into the void and not wait to hear

what we meant, nail down where we are and not be

flushed into oblivion, but fulfill our dreams and not want.

But that is not how it is.

Unfulfilled ghosts think we are lucky because we get

to experience impermanence, while they never pass away.

Dexterous inside black holes and the empty

spaces of atoms, those ghosts can never be destroyed.

They always are who they were, not knowing what it is like

to live in the present, cherish a swim, hear the call of the loon,

touch the side of a loved one as it is happening.

From their perspective, whatever was always is; they wish

it were not so; there is no relief from their suffering about this.

Not even the end of time would save them.

 

Statement by Abby Shahn (painter)

These 3 painting/poem collaborations come from a book of 31 paintings and poems to be published this fall in book form. The poems were written in response to the images. The word “ghost” is so loaded with multiple meanings for people. Each viewer adds his own meaning, his own ghosts. Mark’s poems add whole histories and layers of meaning to the pictures.

 

Statement by Mark Melnicove (poet)

When I first saw Abby Shahn’s paintings of ghosts, they seemed familiar, as if I had seen them before, or had always known them, both as images and spirits. As I sat with the paintings, words and narratives began forming in my mind, not through having to think them, but through the act of listening and recording. While the poems gestated, I happened to visit Native American pictograph sites and saw ghosts emerge from the eroded shapes in rock walls that bore uncanny resemblances to Abby’s paintings. No doubt ghosts are what they are without interpretation needed, but they also carry many meanings, some inherent, some that we project onto them. Ultimately, these meanings resolve themselves into contradictions, for as Whitman wrote of his poems, they contain multitudes.

 

Abby Shahn — Thoughts on Dialogue

I wonder if there is a common language among artists. I don’t mean a spoken or verbal language, but a purely visual one.

If I look at a painting and know that there is need for a certain mark, in a certain place, in a certain color, will another visual artist know just why I feel that need? For me, the impulse to collaborate is partly born of the desire to find a way to converse in that nonverbal realm and to see if we do indeed have a common visual language.

Abby Shahn and Gretchen Lucchesi, Book Collaboration
Abby Shahn, David Brooks Mask

Sitting in my studio thinking of all the collaborations in which I’ve partaken. A long time ago…The Ping Pong  … show. Lots of UMVA folks. I remember David Brooks and I were finding masks and sending them to each other. A couple are still attached to my studio walls. Fang and I were working on one of my folding books. It was all about cowboys and Indians as seen in the movies. I think Natasha and Mark did a funny serious dialogue which ended with Natasha sending some of her father’s ashes.
That was just one of many collaborative ventures.

Susan Smith — Dialogue: The Necessity of Agency

The bed was a vintage wrought iron frame. The trailer was for sale on Craigslist. Hundreds of second-hand shoes. These have become the materials of my art practice. In an age where people more and more talk past one another, living in the echo chamber of their own views, staring into the mirror of their phone’s screen, I have tried to foster socially engaged dialogue in my work. A bed where women created a quilt out of their experiences with sexual violence. A museum where the attendees brought the exhibits and could exchange theirs for those someone previously left. Dragging a net of shoes to the state capitol building.

Susan Smith, #safetywork (detail), site-specific installation, University of Maine 2017-18, photo credit: James Winters

My work depends not simply on the dialogue viewers might be engaged in with a piece. The pieces themselves emerge from the conversation I have with people before starting the work. Actually, the work begins with dialogue. For the bed project, I collected the statements of a hundred women survivors of gender-based abuse and screenprinted them on textiles, and then gathered with a group of women who also experienced these issues, and created a quilt. The quilt was then just one of the exhibits in which female-identifying artists created pieces that fell under the title #safetywork, a term coined from those activities females engage in everyday to navigate safely in the world. The bed with its quilt sat outside at the University of Maine throughout the winter, and I and student volunteers shoveled the snow from it after each storm. Although there were actual objects of art that were exhibited, what was important was the dialogue that was created throughout the process of the installation. Performances were held at the site of the bed, area advocacy organizations collaborated with artists, and eighty middle school girls created a wall piece for the exhibit.This exchange of information, the gatherings of women and their shared experiences and support, like the exchange of stories, was vital to the piece’s actualization.

Susan Smith, The Museum of What’s Left, mobile interactive museum multiple locations, spring 2015-winter 2016

In The Museum of What’s Left, a mobile museum created in a refurbished 1985 camper, the local community was asked to submit and curate the collection, bringing things “left behind.” There could be no actual art work without the direct participation of myriad individuals. Participants left their objects, but also told the story of how those pieces came to to be left behind: one was an unopened final letter from a former lover, another a pin for thirty-five years of service given to someone who had her position eliminated and was now unemployed. They then could exchange their left-behind burden for something someone else had left. In this way, the museum was constantly “in the make,” a continual process where the engagement was not solely with the objects, but directly with the lives of other people, creating a museum of open dialogue. The space became a place of shared narratives, people stopping by to check “what was new”, read and record stories, and share in real time. The museum became a meeting place.

Susan Smith, #nothere:no place to land, socially engaged performance, documentary film, Augusta Maine Statehouse, 2016
Susan Smith, #nothere:no place to land,
socially engaged performance,
documentary film, Augusta Maine
Statehouse, 2016

A young refugee boy had drowned on a beach. The shoes—hundreds of them—were donated by Lamey Wellehan. A Turkish colleague and filmmaker suggested we do a collaboration on the crisis that haunted the news, and a group of artists created #nothere: no place to land, where the public participated in dragging a fishing net of 500 pairs of shoes to the Maine State House. These shoes were then part of a multimedia exhibit, including voice recordings of refugees traveling across Europe, in their original languages, hoping to extend the dialogue about the crisis as far as possible. Social media was an integral tool in this, as it is in all of these projects, as well as a letter campaign where participants at the exhibitions created letters that were sent to our collaborating refugee camps in Europe.

The ideas come out of dialogue with others, the process itself is socially engaged, and the final exhibit is a documentation of the event, not only so that viewers can see what was accomplished, but also to offer the opportunity for them to see art as a mode of dialogue in which they can participate.

Susan Smith, #nothere: no place to land: Echoes, 360 video installation, 2017

The sharing of meaning can be as simple as taking some sourdough starter and creating a hundred little containers to disseminate, knowing that those starters can then be shared and spread in a dialogue without words. A dialogue can be beyond our own times, or with the land itself: I created a series of vestiges, prints taken directly from the fallow fields of an abandoned Maine farm and a series of paintings, after following immigrant farm laborers through the blueberry barrens. In another venue, the mobile unit traveled to Black Mountain College, transformed into a mobile print lab, where the participants produced plates for printing with a DIY hack on a printing press, a water-filled lawn roller. The plates were reprinted later in the studio and became a book for the museum in Asheville. Many times my work as an artist, or an educator is not as the central figure, but as just one of the many people who are bringing the art into the light. Dialogue is that act of bringing to light shared meanings.

Susan Smith, Vestige, Eco-print on handmade paper, silk, wool, Site-specific installation and exhibition with Maine Farmland Trust, 2017

Art, for me, needs to be something beyond a piece that hangs in a gallery or museum and which people move past so the next person can have a glimpse. In a world such as ours, that often seems on the brink of not being a world at all, more is needed, and it has brought a sense of urgency to the way I work. Art needs to be removed from its climate-controlled case and handed around. It needs to be something that is carried amidst the people who make and who need the art. It needs to be a dialogue where the piece itself is only as good as the community it creates, not the community that has access to it.

Susan Smith, #uprooted:Black Mountain, Mobile printmaking lab, Black Mountain College

The Appearance of Things: Jocelyn Lee Dreams a World of Women — Edgar Allen Beem

One of the clichés of art appreciation is that a work of art must speak for itself, but that is only true to a point. The knowledge that we bring to a viewing greatly determines what the work of art says to us. The way an artist thinks about her work does not have to be controlling, but it is usually helpful and insightful. Just so a two hour conversation with Jocelyn Lee.

As a fine art photographer, art educator and proprietor of a not-for-profit gallery space, Jocelyn Lee has established herself as one of the most important photographers working in Maine in the 21st century. Though I had a chance to write about her body of work Portraits of Women and Girls briefly in Photo District News in 2014, I had been waiting for an opportunity to engage with the artist and her art in more depth and her major exhibition, The Appearance of Things, at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland (June 16-October 14) provided that opportunity for dialogue.

Jocelyn Lee at CMCA gallery talk with Edward Earle.

The Appearance of Things was a novel exhibition, or perhaps even a novel of an exhibition, featuring some 40 of Jocelyn Lee’s gorgeous chromogenic prints, saturated in color, full of images of flowers, fruit and females, all presented in constellations of prints hung against gallery walls as dark as the night sky and the unconscious mind. Though some of the images are drawn from Lee’s archive, the exhibition was not a retrospective, rather it was an edited selection of work old and new that amounted to a poetic, feminine narrative of the human life cycle, women and girls, flora and fruit in bud and bloom and decay.

“The show is not about individual identity but rather the shared material truth of all living things,” says Lee. “I tried to blend and overlap all the genres–portrait, still-life and landscape – to describe the continuum of the sensual world and our place, as human beings, in it. It’s about life cycles, the Buddhist concept of samsara: the unending cycles of birth, death and rebirth, that are almost like a dream. It is also about perception and our ability to know and make meaning of the world, based on our sensory apparatuses: eyes, skin, nose, ears, sense of touch and nervous system. We understand the world because we apprehend it through our senses. ”

Jocelyn Lee, from “The Appearance of Things”

The path to photography

I first saw a preview of The Appearance of Things at Speedwell Projects, Lee’s non-profit gallery in the Woodfords Corner section of Portland, and it was there that I got to sit down with her for a few hours in August.

Jocelyn Lee, 56, carries herself with the grace of an athlete though her dark-rimmed glasses can give her an academic look. Indeed, she is an artist, an athlete, an activist and an academic. Born in 1962 in Naples, Italy, where her father was employed at the time, she grew up in Larchmont, New York. She comes by her athleticism as a birthright, her father having been an All-American basketball player at Yale, one good enough to be drafted by the New York Knicks and to make the cover of Sports Illustrated. She comes by her activist streak by way of her mother, a pioneer in the hospice movement as well as in promoting the Equal Rights Amendment.

Lee came by her devotion to art, however, only by overcoming parental resistance to such an impractical calling. Though she first discovered and fell in love with photography at Mamaroneck High School, she was recruited to Colgate University as a diver. It didn’t take long, however, before Lee realized she was more interested in creating than in competing.

After dropping out of Colgate, Lee took a year off to redirect and focus on art making and dance. She took photography courses at the State University of New York in Purchase for a year before enrolling at Yale to study philosophy and studio art. As an undergraduate at Yale, she managed to sit in on graduate courses and crits, the Yale MFA program being one of the country’s premier photography programs.

“I sat in on all the graduate photography critiques, all the sculpture critiques and the painting critiques,” recalls Lee. “Yale gave me a chance to meet people who had made the decision to commit their life’s work to being an artist. I did not come from a family where this was even in our vocabulary.”

In addition to photography, Lee studied modern dance at Yale and, after graduation in 1986, she moved to New York City where she studied with pioneering choreographer Erick Hawkins, who danced with and was briefly married to Martha Graham.

“Being a dancer and a diver is about one’s body and space, and understanding living form,” says Lee. “My photography work is so sculptural and form-based that, although no one ever makes this connection, I think it is deeply rooted in my history with dance and diving.”

Lee had progressed to the point where she might have become a member of a dance company when she had an epiphany that propelled her in a different direction.

“A turning point for me was one day while I was walking the street of New York City,” she explains, “and it occurred to me that as a dancer I would be the tool for someone else’s creativity. As much as I loved the Hawkins’ technique as a dance form and practice, I didn’t love his choreography. It was a pivotal realization. I made the decision right then to go back to school for an MFA.”

Because she was working in New York as an assistant to British artist, writer and photographer John Coplans, a founding editor of Artforum, and because she had already experienced Yale, Lee enrolled in the MFA program at Hunter College, which at the time was under the influence of post-modernism groupthink, the new orthodoxy that valued ideas over images, concept over craft.

“If Hunter gave me one thing,” says Lee, “it made me clear about what I wanted to do because I had to defend myself every day. I became very strong, but it was a fight.”

Initially, Lee went down a documentary path, pursuing a self directed project on teen-age parents in Boston and Texas, which led to being invited by Harvard child psychiatrist Robert Coles to photograph teenagers for the book The Youngest Parents (1997).

“I’m really interested in people and making psychological portraits,” says Lee, “but after doing the teen parents photographs I realized I didn’t want to do documentary photography. I was more interested in the poetic than a rigorously truth-based genre. I also felt very restricted and responsible to the subjective truth of the subject – the story they wanted to tell was not the story I wanted to tell.”

The road to Maine

Having taken courses at the Maine Photographic Workshop and having been a summer visitor to Maine, Lee jumped at the chance to teach at Maine College of Art after she graduated from Hunter in 1992. What began as a one-year sabbatical replacement position turned into a nine-year stint at MECA (1993-2001) after which she taught at Princeton University (2003-2012).

In Maine, the landscapes became Lee’s studio and she made the switch from black and white to color. The colors in some of Lee’s photographs are so visceral and rich that they seem to bleed color. And in a digital age, she is still married to film. Though she owns a Leica digital camera, she primarily shoots with a medium-format Mamiya RB 67 and a Mamiya 7, creating images that she outputs on a large Epson printer at Speedwell projects.

“I don’t like the way it [the Leica] represents the world,” says Lee of her preference for film. “The world that I capture with my camera has been consistent, because the lens on the world has been consistent.”

Lee values the deliberate, laborious technology of film over the instant gratification of digital imagery.

“The thing that struck me about photography at 17 was that it was a way for me to slow the world down so I could think about the nature of the world,” she says. “The world just went too fast for my sensibility.”

When I tell Jocelyn Lee that I signed many copies of my 1990 book Maine Art Now with the words, “The work of art is the search for meaning,” she gets goosebumps. The only way I understand art is as a form of personal and philosophical inquiry, every bit as rigorous and fact-finding as science”. And that is how Lee practices her art.

“This is really about me trying to make sense of the world” Lee says. “I tell my students that art is how you make meaning in the world. It is an investigation. It’s about what matters to you, not about making pretty pictures.”

The mother of two, Lee lives in Cape Elizabeth with her husband Brian Urquhart. While she is privileged to show and sell her photographs at Pace/McGill Gallery in New York City and Flatland Gallery in Amsterdam, she is well aware that the vast majority of fine artists struggle to find a venue and an audience. It was for that reason that she and her husband purchased the large building at 630 Forest Avenue in Portland which had previously housed a stained glass studio and turned it into Speedwell projects.

Since Speedwell projects opened in 2016, the gallery has presented exhibitions and events related to such challenging topics as mental illness, gay love, our throw-away society, empowering women, the abstract interface of music and art, and a cadre of poets speaking and reading in response to the 2017 presidential inaugural.

“We created Speedwell Projects so we could show the work of artists who are under-represented,” Lee explains. “First we thought we would focus on later career artists, but now we feature emerging artists as well as mature artists and artists who have experimental bodies of work. We want to do whatever we can to help artists get to the next step.”

Jocelyn Lee, from “The Appearance of Things”

The Appearance of Things

Jocelyn Lee’s The Appearance of Things was exhibited at Huxley-Parlour Gallery in London in April and May and was previewed at Speedwell projects before its four-month run at CMCA. A catalogue with an essay by Bill Roorbach is in the works.

The preponderance of female figures young and old and the sumptuousness of the floral still-life photographs, some created by Lee floating her wedding bouquets in a tub of water, make it easy to overlook the fact that there are no male figures in the exhibition. When men do appear in Lee’s photographs they tend to be older males, often pot-bellied and bearded, men of an age to have dropped the macho armor to allow themselves to be sensitive and vulnerable. Lee’s penchant for older men may owe a bit of a debt to John Coplans, who is famous for photographing his own body as a study in aging.

Jocelyn Lee belongs to a new wave of photographers, in particular women artists, who are redefining and challenging cultural norms about the lives of women. Her images of women and girls are part of a contemporary photo-dialogue that includes the work of artists such as Sally Mann, Katy Grannan, Justine Kurland and Catherine Opie. Lee’s photographs of Rubenesque women and older women subvert conventional notions of female beauty.

“I think they are beautiful in the deepest sense,” says Lee of the women she chooses to photograph. “If there is anything political in my work it is showing all body types, people who are at peace with their bodies and who have a real connection to the earth. It’s a radical acceptance of the human condition, a radical empathy.”

The male gaze is lustful, seeing the female body as a thing of sexual pleasure. The female gaze is more respectful, able to see the female body as sensual without reducing it to a sexual object.

The Appearance of Things then was a sensory experience of the feminine imagination, images untitled and unnumbered free floating in the dark space of Jocelyn Lee’s subconscious. Though she prescribed no sequence to the images, now one way of seeing, Lee herself knew where the exhibition beings and ends.

Jocelyn Lee, from “The Appearance of Things”

“It ends with an image of my mother with her eyes closed,” she says, referring to a photograph of her late mother sitting, eyes closed, against a simple landscape horizon, her body against the green earth, her head in the milky white sky, “almost as though she has dreamt this world.”

No, exactly as if she had dreamt this world.

(Edgar Allen Beem is a freelance writer in Brunswick. He has been writing about the Maine art scene since 1978.)

Birds of a Feather — Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman

Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman discuss the beginnings of their collaboration and their dialogue with the history of museums

One of us was born in Buenos Aires, the other in Detroit, but the art collective now known by the name of Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman, which unites both of us in a creative dialogue, was born in Hinckley, Maine, at the L. C. Bates Museum.

L. C. Bates Museum, Hinckley, Maine, photo: Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman.

This is the story of how that collaborative relationship came about.

The actors in the story: two professors of Art History. One of us (Véronique Plesch, the one from Buenos Aires) teaches at Colby College, the other (Louis Alexander Waldman) at the University of Texas in Austin. Both of them, before becoming art historians, had studied drawing, painting, sculpture, and printmaking. Some of the many artworks on display in Véronique’s office at Colby attest to her early efforts, and Louis has continued to draw over the years with varying degrees of quirky commitment.

The story unfolds in a remarkable place: the L. C. Bates Museum, dating from 1903, part of the campus of Good Will-Hinckley, a charitable organization founded in 1889. Over a century after its founding, the L. C. Bates Museum is still housed in an imposing red-brick Victorian Romanesque pile overlooking Route 201 in Hinckley. It takes about two hours to hike there from our house in North Fairfield, through cow pastures, following woodland paths, passing by ponds, little swamps, and tree-lined cliffs. It is our favorite walk in the entire world.

The L. C. Bates Museum is the type of highly eclectic museum that was once quite common, though few examples survive today. It is a teaching collection that combines beautiful dioramas and displays of natural history specimens—everything from seashells to bears—along with man-made, cultural artifacts. Modern visitors may be surprised to see a plaster bust of President Grant, cases of Chinese porcelain and pre-Columbian figurines displayed right around the corner from insects, fossils, geological specimens, and a trophy marlin caught by Ernest Hemingway.

But heterogenous as this collection of diverse objects may seem, it is rooted in a tradition with a very long history. The L. C. Bates is, in fact, the early-twentieth-century descendant of the Renaissance Wunderkammer—a cabinet of curiosities, which would bring together artifacts of nature, science, and art.

16th-century Wunderkammer, engraving from Ferrante Imperato, Dell’historia naturale (Naples 1599).

These collections, which unlike today’s museums were private and not open to the public, functioned as tools for understanding the world and, in the process, inspiring curiosity. Like those early cabinets of curiosities, the L. C. Bates Museum represents and models the epistemic values of its own time: an inquiring, positivistic age that valued the encyclopedic amassing and classification of knowledge.

Since 2010 Véronique Plesch has supervised a program that trains Colby College students in museum skills by allowing them to curate the L. C. Bates Museum’s summer art exhibition. Working over several months, the students get to experience every aspect of the process of curating an exhibition: selecting the artists and contacting them, choosing the works and finally installing the artworks, along with a myriad of other tasks, such as filling out insurance forms, printing and mounting labels, writing press releases, and organizing workshops with featured artists. Each exhibition focuses on an aspect of the natural world of Maine, dovetailing with the museum’s collections and teaching mission. Recent shows have explored the Maine landscape through the seasons or considered the debt this land owes to the glaciers that have shaped it; others have looked up to the sky or contemplated humanity’s place in the natural environment. The show two years ago was entitled Open Spaces: Reimagining Pastoral Maine; last year’s exhibition, Maine Wood(s), moved from those wide-open fields to the inner reaches of the forests, and also shed light on how Maine’s arboreal environment provides a material—wood—that is important for the actual making of art. Whatever the theme, all these shows share a remarkable feature: the works by contemporary artists are interspersed throughout the galleries containing the L. C. Bates’s permanent collections, creating a dialogue with the museum’s historic core holdings.

Poster for On and Off the Wire: Birds in Urban and Natural Landscapes, L. C. Bates Museum summer exhibition, 11 May–15 October 2018. Designed by Emily S. Carter and Yuzhou Cen with art by Kathy Weinberg.

In May 2018, the opening of a new summer show, On and Off the Wire: Birds in Urban and Natural Landscapes, was fast approaching, Véronique enlisted Louis to help her and her students with the installation. The exhibition was already coming together: most of the art was hung, everyone was editing and printing labels, but in the midst of all our momentum we suddenly realized that we had a bit of a situation—literally right at our doorstep.

Upon entering the galleries, the first sight that greeted the visitor’s eye was a painting—part of the temporary exhibition—hanging above a large oak display case filled with poisonous Amazonian toads and toxic arrows dipped in venom. Even though the summer show is installed amidst the museum’s permanent collections, that particular vitrine struck everyone as a confusing distraction right there at the entrance to the galleries. It was too big to ignore and it was guaranteed to set visitors up with the wrong expectations. Birds were the theme of this year’s show. And poisonous toads are not birds.

What were we to do?

Exhibition Design to the Rescue

It was time to put our heads together and think like exhibition designers. With the blessing of museum director Deborah Staber, we came up with a simple, straightforward solution in order to bring the incongruous vitrine in line with the exhibition’s ornithological theme. Our idea was to replace the vitrine’s contents—and the threat of cognitive dissonance they posed—with a small collection of taxidermied birds drawn from the museum’s collection. Lining the case’s glass shelves with some natural materials would provide these specimens with a natural environment resembling the dioramas of the L. C. Bates Museum.

To realize this initial plan, everything needed was available at our home in North Fairfield. Some birds’ nests—random finds while walking around—gave a sense of the birds’ lives in nature, but also served as examples of their own patient, brittle artistry. During the preceding winter, snow had broken a limb of a centuries-old pine tree beside our house. That loss provided materials—boughs, needles, and pinecones—to suggest a native habitat for our birds. Moss and rocks from the garden would help us set the stage with realistic detail and texture.

However, as we were busy collecting these natural materials, we kept thinking…

Nothing exists without a context, and inevitably we mulled the question of how our installation would enter into a dialogue both with the contemporary works from the summer show and with the permanent collections of the L. C. Bates. Instead of merely displaying a few random birds, we asked ourselves, how could we create something that would actually engage in a dialogue with the exhibition and the museum itself? We came to realize that, rather than limiting ourselves to trying to mimic the L.C. Bates’s natural history dioramas and display cases, it would be exciting to include other types of objects that might provoke reflections about the very history of the museum and the intellectual genealogy that had shaped its heterogeneous, encyclopedic character.

The idea of adding other objects, and specifically man-made ones, was inspired by the concept of the Wunderkammer. We already had naturalia—natural history specimens—and it was in keeping with historical tradition for us to think of adding artificialia—the products of human creativity, artistic and scientific. Our display case was itself becoming a museum in microcosm, and one that reflected the early cabinets of curiosity that had led to the development of the modern museum.

From Wunderkammer to Vanitas: Evolution of an Idea

Soon enough, a second guiding concept emerged. As we moved ahead with our plan to amass a miniature collection of natural and artificial objects, the individual items we were choosing began to resonate with us. We are scholars of Renaissance art, after all, and people in that period were accustomed to assigning symbolic meanings and allusions—often multiple, sometimes even contradictory ones—to more or less everything in their world. These hidden messages were meant to be more or less transparent to anybody with the cultural preparation to interpret them. In literature, in sermons, and in art, even the humblest objects of the everyday environment became laden with meaning. The meanings of these symbols could be profane, related to the vagaries of everyday life, but often they carried a moralizing, philosophical, or theological significance.

What brought these reflections to our minds was an object that would have been powerfully symbolic to a Renaissance viewer. It was a skull.

The skull of a beaver, to be precise.

Detail of Sic Transeunt Aves Mundi, L. C. Bates Museum, Hinckley, Maine, 2018, photo: Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman.
The beaver skull, now transformed into a symbol of mortality, finds pride of place at the heart of our installation.

The beaver it belonged to must have spent its working life in Martin Stream right behind our house. But for us, art historians, a skull is never just a skull: we realized that the object we had casually thrown into our baskets of materials for our installation was an age-old symbol that echoes throughout the history of art. A human skull, in particular, is often found at the center of Renaissance and Baroque paintings devoted to the theme of Vanitas (the vanity of worldly things), where it stands for impermanence and mortality.

Franciscus Gijsbrechts, Vanitas, oil on canvas, 45.2 x 52.7 inches, second half of the 17th century, Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Images of Vanitas comment upon the transitory nature of earthly life by juxtaposing the skull with objects that people value, things that symbolize human desires and aspirations (such as wealth, fame, knowledge, power, etc.). The presence of the skull affirms how vain and unwise it is to be attached to worldly things when faced with the inevitability of death.

The beaver skull proved to be a pivotal element for us, because it reoriented our thinking about the meaning of our assemblage of found objects. When we came to think of it not merely as a natural artifact but as a symbol, a link in a historical chain of signification, the aims of our project shifted. We moved beyond the literal imitation of historic natural history museum displays (themselves imitating nature), to a type of installation that is by definition anti-naturalistic. We would include things never actually found in nature, since our goal now was to marry or to warp together (in dialogue) two opposing representational systems.

To the beaver skull we added other objects that admonished about the passage of time. Out of our kitchen cabinets and bureau drawers came an hourglass (formerly a mere adjunct to the cooking of soft-boiled eggs) and a pocket watch (long since stopped) on a rusty chain. Also in keeping with the traditional repertory of items included in Vanitas iconography, we added objects of human desire (such as a string of pearls) and the paraphernalia of human endeavors (tools and scholarly books). In the new context created by our modern interpretation of the Vanitas theme, the abandoned nests and stuffed birds also came to refer to the unavoidable demise of all things and the futility of all worldly pursuits.

Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman, detail of Sic Transeunt Aves Mundi, L. C. Bates Museum, Hinckley, Maine, 2018, photo: Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman.

We also included peacock feathers—at first glance a not very surprising choice for a display centered on birds—but a detail whose polyvalent symbolism we found particularly compelling. Although the contemporary viewer might be tempted to interpret the peacock feathers as symbols of worldly vanity, in Early Christian times the bird, whose flesh was thought not to decay after death, came to represent the opposite of Vanitas: eternal life.

Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman, detail of Sic Transeunt Aves Mundi, L. C. Bates Museum, Hinckley, Maine, 2018, photo: Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman.

We sat down and cogitated many of these deep thoughts at the Flatlanda Diner, just about four miles south of the L. C. Bates Museum on Route 201. Waldman-Plesch had the fried haddock special ($9.95) while Plesch-Waldman, in more of a breakfast mood, opted for a Mexican omelet with a side of baked beans and Texas toast ($6.95). At a table near a window, we set to work writing our piece’s explanatory exhibition label. By now it was clear, after all, that our vitrine was no longer a decorative accessory to the show, but had become an artwork in its own right.

The writing of the label forced us to confront the issue of the piece’s title. Plesch-Waldman, who took Latin in college (a long time ago), muttered an old saying about the vanity of worldly things: “Sic transit gloria mundi…” (“Thus, worldly glory passes away”). She looked up at Waldman-Plesch, who also took Latin in college (a long time ago), and said: “How about that, but with birds?”

Waldman-Plesch agreed.

And thus, the title for our installation was hatched: Sic Transeunt Aves Mundi. Which one could translate in a variety of slightly different ways, due to the polyvalence of the Latin language: “Thus, the birds of the world pass away.” Or even: “This way, the worldly birds pass.”

With the writing of the label text and the naming of the piece, our thought process and intentions came into focus. We discovered that something we had done rather playfully and spontaneously had a much deeper resonance than we initially bargained for. In hindsight, it hardly seems surprising that, as scholars of Renaissance art history, we would gravitate towards the idea of the Wunderkammer and consider its dialogue with the tradition of Vanitas images.

To celebrate this intersection between our art historical research and neonate artistic practice, we decided that alongside our collection of objects symbolizing the transience of worldly endeavor we would represent the ‘vanity’ of our scholarly practice by including pages from two of our own (individual) publications. One of us chose the first page of an article on Maine artist Maggie Libby, whose work was included in the L. C. Bates exhibition. The other chose an article on Italian Renaissance wood sculpture, and suggestively placed it next to our stuffed woodpecker.

Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman, detail of Sic Transeunt Aves Mundi, L. C. Bates Museum, Hinckley, Maine, 2018, photo: Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman

Since we were now turning the theme of the vanity of all human endeavor backwards, like a mirror, upon ourselves, we realized that these scholarly works needed to show the ineluctable passage of time—after all, will our work still be remembered after our demise? So, before we inserted our scholarly essays in the case as part of our installation, we burned the edges of the pages, soiled them, folded, spindled, and mutilated them—replicating time’s unavoidable assault on all that is created by man.

To reflect our burgeoning sense that the two of us had merged into a creative unit, we decided to exhibit our work under a collective name: Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman. For a long time before working on this installation, we had already taken to calling each other “Plesch-Waldman” and “Waldman-Plesch” for the simple reason that, even though we may argue a lot, we also tend to agree even more, and we generally do things and think so much alike that we often feel like halves of the same person. The order of names was a bit of mischievous fun: once we discovered the central, tongue-twisting alliteration of “Plesch-plus-Plesch,” we couldn’t resist using it.

Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman: Dialogue as Working Method

What had started as a spur-of-the-moment lighthearted desire to fill a vitrine opened up unexpected dialogues. Dialogue, as our collaboration on Sic Transeunt Aves Mundi highlighted for us, inevitably generates ideas and linkages. Our ongoing, part serious/part playful collaborative modus operandi led us from a place where we thought we were finished to another place where we realized we were only beginning.

Just as the writing of the descriptive label text gave us the occasion to reflect upon and articulate our message, the invitation to write this article has offered us a chance to further think about the nature of our collaboration. Dialogue, the topic of this special issue of the Maine Arts Journal, turned out to be a felicitous concept for us to think about further, because, as our story shows, it drove the thought process behind Sic Transeunt Aves Mundi. The dialogue by which we developed the concept, gathered the items, arranged them, and wrote about them, is only one of many dialogues at play in this installation.

Something that we were repeatedly made aware of during our work is the way the meaning of an individual object is transformed whenever it is juxtaposed with another: a dialogue results. Because our installation reflects the traditions of the Wunderkammer, the dialogue between objects could be thought of as multi-lingual, since it bridges the two realms of the natural (naturalia) and the man-made (artificialia). In a similar fashion, we experienced how words (like a gallery label) can inflect objects. And likewise, how coming up with a title for an artwork may lead to certain decisions and alter your thinking about it: once you settle on a title, the words of the title are constantly there, talking back to you.

In our play upon the conventions of the Wunderkammer, there is also a dialogue with the past. And that temporal conversation can be followed even in the very origins of the objects included in our installation: some found, others borrowed from the L. C. Bates, some owned by us, and some collected especially for the display.

As we realized at the outset, our work was going to create a dialogue with the L. C. Bates Museum’s summer exhibition—engaging with its ornithological theme—and also with the museum’s eclectic permanent collections. By appropriating a preexisting vitrine, borrowing specimens from the collection, and challenging visitors to think about the history of museum displays (while also tipping our hats to the history of the Wunderkammer and its role in the formation of modern museums), we became parties to a conversation that was already playing out on many simultaneous levels when we joined in.

Our serendipitous collaboration at the L. C. Bates turned out to be so fulfilling that we have continued to make art together as Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman. The staccato rhythms of that chiastic name would barely lead one to suspect the multi-dimensionality of dialogue involved in our working practice. Instead of merely connecting two individuals, a dialogue also connects our individual identities as art historians to our joint identity as the art collective Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman. Somewhere in the interstices, a new dialogue is beginning to unfold between the studying and the making of art, in which the practice of art underpins a meditation on the practice of art history, and the practice of art history provokes a critical reflection on the practice of art.

Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman, Sic Transeunt Aves Mundi: A Story by W-P+P-W, mixed media on paper, 14 x 17 inches, August 2018, photo: Waldman-Plesch+Plesch-Waldman.
Since collaborating on the L. C. Bates installation, the authors have developed a regular practice of collaborative (and indeed, dialogic) drawings of an intimate and diaristic nature.

On and Off the Wire: Birds in Urban and Natural Landscapes opened on May 11 and runs through October 15, 2018 at the L. C. Bates Museum, Good Will-Hinckley, Rt. 201.

 

In Conversation with the World: Alan Gussow’s Watercolors — Carl Little

The artist-activist Alan Gussow (1931-1997) carried on a conversation with his surroundings all his life, whether he was visiting Monhegan Island or running alongside the Hudson River. He managed to combine his environmentalism with his art. And he often turned to watercolor to convey his interactions with his surroundings.

Gussow discovered the medium as an undergraduate at Middlebury College in the early 1950s, training with Arthur K. D. Healy (1902-1978), professor of art and art history and an accomplished landscape painter and illustrator.

“As a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, I learned at least two things about art,” Gussow once recalled. “First, that art was magical. How I or any person could mix a little water with some paint and then make marks and shapes which look like parts of the world still remains a source of wonder.”

The other thing Gussow learned was that in order to make art, he had a wonderful excuse “to be out of doors and not at my desk.”

Alan Gussow, Monhegan Pine, 1962, Watercolor on paper, 11 ¼ x 16 ½, Collection of Mr. John M. Day, Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Gallery, New York City, and appears in Alan Gussow: A Painter’s Nature (2009) by Martica Sawin

Able to draw from an early age, Gussow embraced the medium that requires great discipline yet, paradoxically, must not seem over controlled. Watercolor offered avenues of improvisation and lyric invention. The medium became an essential outlet for his artistic vision even as it served as the foundation for his work in oil and pastel, lending energy to each.

Watercolor’s portability would prove to be a plus for a painter who was constantly going out into nature. Gussow would employ it as a means to render place and elements of nature. His wife Joan Gussow noted: “The thing about watercolors that was different from anything else: Alan did not do any other work out of doors. He did not do pastels out of doors or oil out of doors…. The watercolors were really the only thing he did en plein air.”

To fully appreciate Gussow’s watercolors, one must know something about the artist’s life in art. His early exposure to the dynamics of Abstract Expressionism was especially significant. The sense of action that he encountered in the work of Pollock, Kline, de Kooning and company while a student in New York City in the 1950s never left him. “At Cooper Union where I studied for one year after Middlebury,” Gussow recalled, “I learned that art was a form of energy.” However nature-centered his art became, he consistently practiced a highly expressive approach to subjects, often entering realms of abstraction.

Alan Gussow, Late November, 1977, Watercolor on paper, 12.25 x 16.25, Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Gallery, New York City, and appears in Alan Gussow: A Painter’s Nature (2009) by Martica Sawin

At the same time, the painter became an environmental activist, driven by intense personal passion for nature and by witnessing firsthand the degradation of the world around him. He fought against power plants and highways, and led people across the country and around the world in activities that highlighted the need for preservation, empathy and peace.

In many instances, such as his book A Sense of Place: The Artist and the American Land, 1971, Gussow connected art to the environment, underscoring that special relationship that exists between the individual and his or her surroundings. Among his own treasured places was Monhegan, “a Maine island,” he once wrote, “that rides on the ocean like a hulking, hump-backed whale.” He first stayed there in 1949; he went on to spend part of nearly every summer on this remote and remarkable island surrounded by a host of fellow artists, among them, Reuben Tam, Hans Moller, Elena Jahn, Frances Kornbluth, Michael Loew and Lawrence Goldsmith, all of whom shared his passion for the place.

Alan Gussow, Untitled – 8/13/88 (Skate Egg Case), 1988, Watercolor on paper, 7 x 10, Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Gallery, New York City, and appears in Alan Gussow: A Painter’s Nature (2009) by Martica Sawin

The painter once noted that over time his interest in Monhegan subject matter evolved from the picturesque to more elemental things: “Now the place the tides own fascinates me,” he wrote in A Sense of Place. A number of watercolors offer close-ups of the natural world discovered in explorations of the island. He made studies of a crab shell and a skate egg. Joan Gussow recalls her husband returning from his annual sojourns to Monhegan with watercolor sketchbooks filled with island studies. “He felt very attached to [Monhegan] and it’s a visual place, a place people consume with their eyes.”

Alan Gussow, Crab Shell, 1978, Watercolor on paper, 8 x 12.125, Private Collection, New York, Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Gallery, New York City, and appears in Alan Gussow: A Painter’s Nature (2009) by Martica Sawin

Gussow’s watercolors often have an experiential quality, as if he were channeling the energy of a phenomenon. A series titled “Sundrying” exemplifies this approach. Essentially abstract, these paintings nonetheless are responses to what is happening in front of the artist: sun appearing after rain, perhaps, turning the world into dazzling emanations of light, renewing the land, air, eye and spirit.

Alan Gussow, Sun Drying III, 1976, Watercolor on paper, 10 x 14.25, Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Gallery, New York City, and appears in Alan Gussow: A Painter’s Nature (2009) by Martica Sawin

In this regard Gussow’s work has ties to Karl Schrag, Arthur Dove and other artists who were able to represent nature’s energy, re-creating air and sky, trees and sun, as currents and vortices. In Nature in Abstraction (1958), John I.H. Baur described how such artists sought “a distillation of the character, mood or spirit of nature’s aspects.” Bauer linked this mission to a desire to intensify experience, both for the artist and the viewer. These artists produced visual excitement, he wrote, thanks to “an exceptional sensitivity to nature’s colors, forms and shifting patterns of motion.”

September Sun, dated 9/3/76, captures the particular radiance of early autumn sunlight. With its lively patterning, this watercolor might be a piece of aboriginal textile, an impression one comes away with after viewing a number of Gussow’s pure pattern paintings.

Alan Gussow, September Sun, 9/3/76, 1976, Watercolor on paper, 7.25 x 10.25, Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Gallery, New York City, and appears in Alan Gussow: A Painter’s Nature (2009) by Martica Sawin

Gussow often turned to watercolor to record his responses to working in the gardens that he and his wife tended in their homes in Congers and later Piermont, both towns close by the Hudson River north of New York City. The organic shapes in many of these paintings reflect his passion for the bounty and beauty of the harvest, of fresh vegetables and flowers leaning into the light. He even painted mulch, mesmerized by the intricate patterns of the ground cover that enriched the soil.

Alan Gussow, Mulch, 1978, Watercolor on paper, 12.25 x 16.25, Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Gallery, New York City, and appears in Alan Gussow: A Painter’s Nature (2009) by Martica Sawin

Many watercolors have a radiating structure, sometimes blossom-like, other times like a sunburst, waves and irregular rings of color divided by the white of the paper. One recalls Arthur Dove’s paintings of plant forms and phenomena of light. Dove always insisted he was extracting, not abstracting, from nature, a perspective Gussow embraced in his own celebratory way. What Gussow wrote about Dove in A Sense of Place might apply to his own work: “He painted intriguing and inventive works inspired by natural forms, works that revealed an authentic response to observed phenomena and a profound understanding of earth rhythms.”

 

Gussow was a serious runner, and a favorite route in Congers took him around nearby Rockland Lake, about a five-mile circuit. While running, he observed the life of the lake, including the mallard ducks paddling along the shores or sleeping with their heads turned around. From those impressions he started a series he called “The Mallard’s Dream,” which he produced in watercolor as well as in silkscreen prints and pastels.

Alan Gussow, The Mallard’s Dream, 12/29/76, Watercolor on paper, 9.5 x 12, Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Gallery, New York City, and appears in Alan Gussow: A Painter’s Nature (2009) by Martica Sawin

These paintings are among Gussow’s most brilliant watercolors, each a richly colored composition featuring broadly abstract interlocking shapes. The first of the series The Mallard’s Dream, dated 12/29/76, conjures a flurry of wings and water. The paintings in a related series, “Mallards Splashing,” also from 1977, are equally luminous and spirited.

These paintings extended Gussow’s connection to nature into new realms. As he told art historian Martica Sawin during a studio visit in 1977, “Prior to 1972 I was looking at scenery. Now I am in the environment, part of it…. I have stepped through the scene to go inside it and that has made all the difference.” Painter Ibram Lassaw expressed a similar perspective in Baur’s Nature in Abstraction: “Man is part and parcel of the total ecology of the universe and fulfills his function…along with plants, animals, stars and galaxies. I am nature.”

One also thinks of Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), whose watercolors of Horn Island, one of a group of barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi, represented a similar immersion in the natural world. As Gussow wrote in the introduction to A Sense of Place, “The artists who paint nature today are also moved, as were their predecessors, by the sheer physical delight of being outdoors.”

In all his watercolors Gussow allows the paper to show through the pigment, which lends an underlying luminosity to the colors. “[Alan] knew how to hold out the whites; I mean it was really fun to watch him,” Joan Gussow recounted. “He really knew what he was doing. And watercolor is such a spontaneous painting. You can’t rethink it.”

In some cases the white of the paper appears as pinpricks of light. In one of a handful of city-inspired pieces, Berkeley/Light and Rooftops, 1980, the watercolor paper that has been left unpainted serves to demark the geometric shapes of buildings.

Alan Gussow, Berkeley/Light and Rooftops, 1980, Watercolor on paper, 4.75 x 6.5, Private Collection, Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Gallery, New York City, and appears in Alan Gussow: A Painter’s Nature (2009) by Martica Sawin

At the same time Gussow understood how colors could evoke moods and emotions even as they often served as a direct means to express his intimate vision of his surroundings. His most abstract compositions are like jazz, the notes of color in sync with one another yet tuned to the rhythms of the outer world.

Gussow’s watercolors also manifest his unfaltering environmental ethic borne of a deep respect for nature—the same abiding concern that led him to fight industrial blight and send personal letters on noticeably recycled paper. His watercolors are political in that respect: As he wrote in the introduction to his second book, The Artist as Native: Reinventing Regionalism (1992),

“The only weapon artists possess to express rage against environmental destruction is their ability to make visible what they experience and what they value.”

Through his watercolors, Gussow identified himself with the natural world, from rocky outcroppings on Monhegan to the dreams of a wild creature with which he felt a special affinity. In many ways, these paintings represent his truest self, a fact Gussow underscored in A Sense of Place: “Any artist,…no matter how objectively he may try to delineate his subject, always paints himself as well.”

David Etnier, Alan Gussow on his Porch, Maine, black-and-white photograph, 1993
Courtesy Joan Gussow

Carl Little’s most recent books are Philip Frey: Here and Now, Nature Observed: The Landscapes of Joseph Fiore and Paintings of Portland, co-written with David Little.

 

Sources: Martica Sawin, Alan Gussow: A Painter’s Nature, Hudson Hills Press, 2009; Joan Gussow; Alan Gussow, “Moving Toward the Center of Life,” In Context: A Quarterly of Humane Sustainable Culture, Spring 1984.

MOTHER TONGUE — Mary Bernstein

MOTHER TONGUE

Real dialogue is where two or more people become willing to suspend their certainty in each other’s presence.’   David Bohm

Mother Tongue is a community visual Dialogue which I started with a partner Terry Rumble in the early nineties. This visual dialogue was inspired and based on the work of physicist and philosopher David Bohm.  Bohm’s work on Dialogue grew out of conversations with Krishnamurti who was a spiritual leader deeply knowledgeable in Eastern philosophy. Bohm went on to develop and implement experiments in verbal dialogue groups that were replicated all over the world, many of which continue to this day. I was inspired by David Bohm’s work and wanted to try applying some of his dialogue ideas in a visual way. In the 1990’s I started to work with an artist friend to experiment with the technique, working in relationship together, to apply some of Bohm’s ideas to the visual realm.

Terry Rumble, “In The Cupboard”, 1’x 4’
Mary Bernstein, “Myopic Wisdom”, 1’ x 4’

We are all linked by a fabric of unseen connections. This fabric is constantly changing and evolving. “

David Bohm

Mary Bernstein, “Papyrus”, 1’x4’,
Terry Rumble, “Bull with Slides”, 1’x4’

As Terry and I continued to meet on a regular basis, we developed a “call and response” way of reacting to each other’s creations. Realizing that we needed consistent structure, we decided to limit ourselves to a single format. In referencing Bohm’s verbal dialogue process, we chose a long narrow shape which alluded to the imagery of Persian manuscripts and implied the structure of word, sentence, paragraph.

After a year of working together in this way, we began to invite others to join the conversation. This invitation required each prospective participant to first observe and consider the existing images before creating their own response to the ongoing conversation. Over time an inventory of images emerged and the imagery and subject matter began to branch into many directions

Students Springfield Technical College

“Consider, for example, the work of an artist. Can it properly be said that the artist is expressing himself, i.e., literally “pushing outward” something that is already formed inside of him? Such a description is not in fact generally accurate or adequate. Rather, what usually happens is that the first thing the artist does is only similar in certain ways to what he may have in mind. As in a conversation between two people, he sees the similarity and the difference, and from this perception something further emerges in his next action. Thus, something new is continually created that is common to the artist and the material on which he is working.”

David Bohm

Sarah Pulz, “Life Is so Fragile”, 1’x4’
Erin Lonegan, “Woman With Gears”, 1x 4’
Mary Bernstein, “Modern Woman”, 1’x 4’
Tara Verheide, “Finger of Fate”, 1’X 4’
Natasha Mayers, “Pianohands”, 1’X4’

“In nature nothing remains constant. Everything is in a perpetual state of transformation, motion, and change. However, we discover that nothing simply surges up out of nothing without having antecedents that existed before. Likewise, nothing ever disappears without a trace, in the sense that it gives rise to absolutely nothing existing in later times.” David Bohm

Terry Rumble, “Woven Fishes”, 1’x 4’
Mary Bernstein, “The Long Road Home”,1’x4’
Drew Galaski, “Everything is Hopeless: Nothing Is Serious”, 1’x 4’
Tara Verheide, “Love’s Dark Faith”, 1’x 4’

The Mother Tongue project went on to travel to many sites and eventually grew to more than 250 panels created by various groups of artists, students and community members. Over the 20 years that the project was active the visual conversation was in constant flux. It reflected the many interpretations creative impulses and individual skills and interests of the participants as well the concerns of the communities it visited. In turn the accumulation of images added to the richness and variety of the dialogue. The Mother Tongue dynamic web page can be viewed at  <mothertongue.co>

Jabaouloni Thompson, “Untitled”,
Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning,
Queens, NYC

“One prerequisite for originality is clearly that a person shall not be inclined to impose his preconceptions on the fact as he sees it. Rather, he must be able to learn something new, even if this means that the ideas and notions that are comfortable or dear to him may be overturned. No really creative transformation can possibly be effected by human beings, either in nature or in society, unless they are in the creative state of mind that is generally sensitive to the differences that always exist between the observed fact and any preconceived ideas, however noble, beautiful, and magnificent they may seem to be.”

David Bohm

Sidney Feshbach, “The Anecdote of the Jar”, 1’x4’
Mary Bernstein, “When Is the landscape The Territory”, 1x 4’
Barry Steeves, “Landscape Rememberances”, 1’x4’

Margaret Yocom Poetry — Introduction by Betsy Sholl

In these poems, Margaret Yocom offers a new vision of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm’s controversial “Allerleirauh” (“All Kinds Of Fur”), a lesser-known version of “Cinderella” that opens with incest. Erasing the Grimms’ words to reveal a young woman’s story of her journey to a new, full life, Yocom asks, What would All Kinds Of Fur say if she could tell her own tale? In ALL KINDS OF FUR, the heroine’s words rise. This book is published by Deerbrook Editions.

Betsy Sholl

 

ALLERLEIRAUH

CINDERELLA

 

ALL KINDS OF FUR

Erasure Poems & New Translation of a tale from the Brothers Grimm

Margaret Yocom

About the Author

 

Margaret Yocom grew up in the Pennsylvania German farmland listen- ing to her grandparents’ stories. Her poetry has appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, the anthology The Folklore Muse: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Reflections by Folklorists, and elsewhere. She founded the Folklore Studies Program of George Mason University where she taught for 36 years; among her many courses, she offered “Living Words: Folklore and Creative Writing.” She has published on the Brothers Grimm, on the folk arts of political protest, on Inuit storytelling in northwest Alaska,on family folklore, and on the folk arts of Maine logging communities. Co-founder of the American Folklore Society’s Creative Writing and Storytelling Section, she holds a Ph.D. in English and folklore from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. A founding member of Western Maine Storytelling, she tells legendary tales of the seen—and the unseen. Co-organizer of the Hugh Ogden Memorial Evening of Poetry, she makes her home with her geologist husband, John Slack, in the western mountains of Maine. http://margaretyocom.com

Interpretation of an Artist Mother — Lisa Jahn-Clough

Life is a composite of many things—people, friends and family, pets and homes, music and food, sea and sky, ideas and art. Elena Jahn, my mother, had an overflowing abundance of all of these. She made herself a good life; a life that was full of art to the core. She died November, 2014 from the autoimmune disease Scleroderma. She was 76. She should have gone on making more art, becoming more eccentric, driving her children crazy, for another twenty years. Still, there is no one who knew her who can deny that Elena Jahn lived life with a fierce passion that took her along intriguing paths (often the more complicated path, but always the more interesting). She managed to live as well as she possibly could despite her illness and her last difficult years in and out of hospitals, in and out of crisis, in constant pain and anxiety. Her disease had aged her—when I was a teenager she was so youthful everyone mistook us for sisters. She traveled back and forth between her two island homes—Monhegan in the summer and Culebra, PR in the winter.

An unexpected phenomenon of death is that you don’t only remember the last few years of a person—you begin to recall all the years and places and events in which you knew them—and you begin to uncover things you never knew and people whom that person affected. You string these things together and the person’s life takes the shape of an amazing narrative. In death, a life becomes whole, with meaning and connections. And an artist leaves so much more—she leaves her vision in which the rest of us can continue to engage in dialogue.

I hear and speak to my mother every time I see her work.

Elena was born in Moscow Idaho, moved to Syracuse, NY. She knew she wanted to be an artist as a child even before her first trip to Monhegan, which was the summer of 1948 when she was 10. Her parents, Edwin and Helen Jahn, bought a house the next year and her fate as an artist was sealed. During those early years summering on Monhegan she was immersed in an atmosphere of creative energy that had a profound and lasting effect on her. Elena carried this energy with her during the winters in upstate New York and on to getting her BFA in art at Syracuse University and MFA in painting at Univ of Wisconsin, Madison. Then a Fulbright Scholarship took her to Paris and Italy and developed another ongoing love of hers—traveling.

Elena knew Monhegan Island and its artists from the 50’s right through her last summer there in 2014. Some of the artists she knew in the early days I’ve heard about all of my life: Rockwell Kent, Bill Hekking, Jim Fitzgerald, Murray Hautman, Mike Lowe, Sarah MacPherson, Alice Stoddard. Some in the later years I got to know myself: Herby and Henry Kallem, Hans Moller, Glenn Krause, Ted Davis, Reuben and Gerry Tam, Bill and Jan McCartin, Charlie and Florence Martin, Allan Gussow, Zero Mostel, Larry Goldsmith, Lynne Drexler, Yolanda Fusco, Don Stone, Arline Simon, Sylvia Alberts, Frances Kornbluth. They all helped shape my mother throughout her life as neighbors, friends, artists and role models.

Elena Jahn, ”Red,” Oil, 40 x 22, 1964

Elena married my father, Garrett Clough a zoologist who studied animal behavior in 1963. They lived in Norway, then Nova Scotia, where she started teaching. Finally they moved to a farm in RI where they raised goats and chickens and two children. She painted in all these places. She was an active feminist in the 70s and co-founded Hera Gallery, a women’s cooperative in Wakefield RI, still going strong today. Then a move to Brunswick, Maine, a divorce, and teaching at USM. All this time she summered on Monhegan—in fact she stretched out her summers there longer and longer—from May into October. I think she missed maybe four years in the past sixty-five, even with all her traveling.

All the while she painted steadily, her work constantly evolving. Her art went from realism, to abstraction and back, to black and white and massive color, from large scale to tiny, in all media. She started going to Puerto Rico in the late 80’s after my father died and her kids were grown, because poor circulation made it hard to stand the Maine winters. Her work shifted again as she fell in love with a new culture—one about as different from Monhegan as you can get. If her palette for Monhegan was primarily steel gray and sap green, then for Puerto Rico it was fluorescent orange and turquoise. Eventually the two cultures began to merge together in her art. For the past twenty-five years she lived on these two islands, Monhegan and Culebra, surrounded by water, sky and light.

Not only did my mother have a creative and eclectic life but she gave my brother, Eric, and me one as well.  For example: We lived in Lapland when we were toddlers in a hut with no running water, while my dad studied lemmings and my mother sketched and painted. She had us make potato prints, vegetable prints, monoprints and etchings in her studio.  She played the guitar and sang the songs of Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger and random ditties about people being turned into sausages in meat grinders.  After getting divorced she took us to Mexico for two weeks where we hitchhiked around the ruins of Palenque before they were uncovered–encountering rattlesnakes and cotomundis, and where we stayed in youth hostels, and snuck into resorts to swim in their luxury pools.  One time I came home from school to find a Buddhist monk staying with us. He walked on our backs. In junior high my sandwiches consisted of things like peanut butter and alfalfa sprouts on waffles left over from Sunday’s champagne brunch/wood-stacking party. Our door was always open. She rented out rooms to college students and odd people who became our close friends. She had wild parties and rolled back the rugs to dance. She taught me how to disco with the Bee-Gees blaring on the stereo.

There were times when I loved having such a wack-a-doo mom, and there were times I was thoroughly embarrassed and couldn’t wait to get away, but ultimately I am grateful for the life she gave me. I am who I am because of her. I am, by the way, a children’s book author and illustrator and professor of creative writing.

Elena probably developed her wretched illness much earlier than anyone knew, even her. I found some letters I wrote to her from college in the 80’s and almost all of them end with: “Sorry to hear you’re not feeling well,” or “I hope you get over that infection soon.” Interestingly the late 80’s – mid 90’s were very prolific years when her art became more wild and personal, deeper and darker than I’d ever seen before. Her work from the 70’s when I was young and she was a young mother and wife is much “happier” in color and subject.

Elena Jahn, “Night Visions Triptych” Oil and turpentine washes, oil pastel, graphite, 81 x 40, 1987-90

Along with constantly recording her life in sketchbooks, my mother also wrote lists and thoughts and doodles as part of her on-going search for meaning. In her Monhegan studio she wrote down random quotes she heard over the years on one of the walls. These quotes give a glimpse into Elena’s life and psyche so I thought I’d share a few (some were credited, others not):

Where there is no vision people perish.  – James Baldwin
The personal and the planetary are connected.

Art is the reason to get out of bed!

Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. – Samuel  Johnson.

Fan the flame of attention!

You’ll never go broke underestimating the taste of the American public. – H.L. Menken

One must attempt to do all things at all times.

Never count on your art to make your living. – Reuben Tam

There are only so many windows of opportunity.

It is fitting and delicious to lose everything. – Donald Hall, on aging.

Art is long and critics are the insects of the day.  – Randall Jarrell

Art is a wound turned to light. – George Braque

One of the last quotes written in her scratchy, barely legible handwriting that she developed last summer reads: “Is this all there is?”  signed E. Jahn.  This, along with a note to herself I found in her purse while in the hospital that read, “Peace of mind,” and “Now is time to let go,” makes me think she knew. She was done suffering.

People are one way on the surface, but they are often another way on the inside that no one else can ever tap into or truly know. But I think my mother managed to get some of that inside self out, onto her canvases, and in other ways. I think that’s why people were drawn to her and remember her. She made connections. The way she looked at things, the way she held a paintbrush and moved with her whole self expressing—stuff just poured out of her. I remember when she was painting her large paneled six foot tall screens, she stood on a stool with a fat oil stick in her hand and scribbled fast, long strokes, then blended it with turpentine, then scribbled more, and repeated until there were layers upon layers of color and marks that made something out of nothing. She managed to capture the essence of a figure in a quick 60 second pose, with such movement and expression. I think she was one of those rare people that managed to get some of that inside stuff out to the world. But not all of it, because she never stopped trying. She made art during her last summer on Monhegan when she could barely get out of the house. She was making collages using the inside of patterned envelopes, drawing into them a map of her life. She made her last piece, a portrait of her little dog, Cisco, in the hospital last fall.

Elena Jahn, “Moon Over the Sea” Oil paint on tin, 24 x 7, 2001

On the wall of her hospital room there was a Grandma Moses print that she looked at every day in her final week. She gave anyone who would listen a lecture on Grandma Moses. I looked at the print every day myself and began to appreciate it in a new way. Finally it was Elena’s time to let go and she died with Grandma Moses at the foot of her bed, while I was in a cot next to her. This was a profound experience—we’d been so close when I was little, we used to share so much, so it was a gift to be able to care for her at the end. And Eric cared for her these last years, making it possible for her to live in her two homes. I am grateful to him for that. We are a small family, and with that comes a unique closeness of love, annoyance, and acceptance. Both Eric and I admired her and the way in which she, and my father, lived.

Elena affected and influenced everyone who knew her. And all of her energy, her spirit, curiosity, restlessness, pain, endurance, strength, love, anger, fear, laughter, stubbornness, confusion, suffering, and joy is visible in her lifetime of art.

I miss her, but I see her in all of her work and all over her island homes. I see her in myself. I see her in my own work. I see her in my brother. I see her in her dog. I see her in my dogs, both of whom she found for me as strays in Puerto Rico.  I see her when I sit in her Monhegan studio, now mine (thanks to my wonderful grandfather who bought that home in a time when a college professor could afford such a thing!),  and her art along with my art and my husband’s art hangs on the walls open to visitors. Not only do I see this art of hers that I have been going through for the past four years, but sometimes when I am in there all alone looking and looking I begin to hear it—some of her art screams to me, some of it whispers softly, At times some of it comforts me and other times some of it angers me. My mother always had a lot to say and she said it all with great passion. It is said that a person never really dies if they leave behind something that the world can love—something that speaks to us…

One and All | Collaboration as Dialogue — Bethany Engstrom

Ideas are not real estate. In collaboration one can accept the fact that someone else can be so sympathetic and in tune with what you’re doing, that through this they move into depths that might not be obvious if that person had been working alone in a studio with the door shut. 

-Robert Rauschenberg

We are influenced by everything and everyone around us, nothing happens in a vacuum. In my creative practice as an artist and work as a curator, I truly embrace those influences and welcome the dialogues that result from them. I have been working collaboratively for almost ten years while maintaining my individual practice as an artist. I first worked with a group of artists during a collaborative practices class while completing my MFA in Intermedia at the University of Maine, which then led me to pursue an interdisciplinary PhD in Intermedial Collaborative Practices with two of my collaborators. We refer to ourselves as the Core 5 Incident. We collaborated on all of the course work, the dissertation, and the creative work that resulted from our research. The constant conversation influenced my individual work, primarily installation, which I see as collaborative in nature, interactive with the audience. I seek out other artists and makers to collaborate with as well, to make work with different perspectives.

As a true introvert, I never believed I would embrace collaboration, but l saw what could be accomplished and actualized when everyone had a voice.

Materiality: The Matter of Matter at CMCA, exhibition view, 2017

I see curatorial work as a creative collaborative practice as well. As associate curator at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA), I am fortunate to interact directly with artists every day. CMCA was formed as a collective of artists coming together to show their work and in keeping with that, we emphasize the role the artist plays in what we do. There is constant dialogue with the artists in the development of our exhibitions and programming. For me, the exciting part of working on a show is when the artist takes an active role and the work and exhibition evolve out of our conversations. As an example, this is how last fall’s exhibition, Materiality: The Matter of Matter, developed and formed.

Materiality: The Matter of Matter at CMCA, exhibition view, 2017

Through studio visits and conversations, I saw artists who were exploring their materials in ways that gave them agency, finding a balance between the idea and what it is made of and communicating through the materials themselves. This led to the making of new work for the exhibition, and  exploring existing works that related to these ideas. Such discussions are always inspiring and I love doing studio visits because of that. At CMCA, it is fundamental for us to have these ongoing dialogues with artists, whether they are with artists we know or are meeting for the first time, to be able to have these conversations and see what work is being done now.

Another exciting aspect of Materiality were the dialogues that formed between the artists themselves. A number of the artists had not previously met and were able to connect through being a part of the exhibition. These connections are core to what we do at CMCA, engaging and facilitating the dialogue of contemporary artists in Maine.

Estha Weiner Poetry — Introduction by Betsy Sholl

Here are two poems by Estha Weiner, who grew up in Portland and Falmouth and now lives in New York City.  Her sense of irony and of how to create characters and a sense of dialogue through the briefest suggestion come in part from her training in the theater.  Estha loves Maine and returns whenever possible.      Betsy Sholl

 

“Lying about Sex” was first published in J Journal. Both of these poems will be in her forthcoming book from Salmon Press, titled “at the last minute. ”

 

Lying About Sex

“Elizabeth, I have confessed”

John Proctor, The Crucible, Arthur Miller

 

I thought I saw

my husband

 

What of Abigail Williams?

 

somewhat turning from

 

Goody Proctor

 

My husband is a good

and righteous

 

To your own knowledge,

has John Proctor

 

I came to think

he fancied

 

Your husband—

did he

 

My husband

is a goodly

 

Then he

did not

 

He is a goodly

 

Has John Proctor ever

committed the crime

 

He

 

Is your husband

a lecher?

 

No, sir.

 


 

Dialogue

 

Come,  dearest,  we’ll play

A little poker,

Stud and Draw,

The first game you taught me.

I’ll bring our plastic chips;

You’ll win.  I’ll take

Your hand.  I’ll take

You out of here.

Listen, I’m pretending

I can talk to you.

Pretend you can

Hear me.

Come,  dearest,

Come   back.

 

 

 

5 Tips for Creating, Sustaining, and Growing School Partnerships — Andrea L. Curtis, Farnsworth Art Museum

This fall, the Farnsworth Art Museum will begin its eighth year of the Stories of the Land and Its People program, a yearlong in-depth project-based learning experience that connects art and student curiosity to curricular learning in the classroom.

Since the program’s inception, we have had a variety of partners with whom we are in constant dialogue: funders, teachers, students, teaching artists, administrators, other non-profits, community members, museum staff, docents, and parents/families.  As the program continues to grow, I am often asked by other non-profits and teaching artists, many of whom juggle a variety of residencies throughout the year, “How have you been able to build and sustain long-term relationships with public schools?”  Funding issues and time constraints are usually cited first as obstacles, but even once those challenges are met, hopeful collaborators struggle to engage and sustain partnerships.

Based on my work and research over the years, I can share the following tips and best practices for creating, sustaining, and growing these relationships.

Tip 1: Listen

As we know, public school educators face many challenges, including time constraints, testing schedules, increased demands and expectations, and low resources.  My first tip is to simply listen.  One of the best things I did in formulating this program was to interview local educators to learn more about their challenges and aspirations.  After speaking to over 100 teachers and administrators, I learned that there was not a lack of well-wishing programs offering to engage schools, rather a lack of understanding for the support teachers needed to implement the learning they wished to do in the classroom.  These conversations helped me tailor our program to the specific needs and interests of our partners.

The Stories of the Land and Its People exhibition highlights the work of 4th and 7th grade students in the Farnsworth galleries throughout the summer season. Photo by Michael O’Neil

Tip 2: Be an Ambassador

As a museum employee, it is often odd for people to hear that I view myself as an advocate for teachers.  As someone who cares deeply about the benefits of arts-integration not only for the betterment of public school education, but also for humanity across the board, I have discovered that educators are my primary audience for growth in this philosophy.  If educators feel supported and inspired, then their students will be, and shortly after, I see more engagement with parents and the community.  If in the listening phase, a teacher identifies a struggle with school structure, I will speak to the administration to potentially re-structure.  Flexibility and accommodations are often made when someone else is the advocate.  Or when the museum has strict requirements and policies, I find ways to ease schools into the experience or provide additional support.  Let teachers know you are aware of what they are facing and that you will do your best across the board to support and advocate for them.

Tip 3: Listen, again

Student process work hangs in the central
hallway of the Farnsworth Art Museum,
highlighting student development in the yearlong
arts-integrated programs. Photo by Michael O’Neil

Inevitably as your program begins to steam along, you will encounter new (and old) challenges.  To not spiral too far down the wrong track, it is important to build in points of dialogue and accountability (for all partners).  In addition to program evaluations, each year we conduct a focus group with our educators to talk “freely” about what worked and what didn’t.  This dialogue provides rich feedback for how best to move forward and grow.   It keeps our program relevant in the real-world issues of public school education.

Tip 4: Quality

At the end of the day, everyone wants a quality experience.  Our data-driven society expects this accountability in the form of facts and figures.  If you lack the data team needed to code student outcomes, I recommend other forms of documentation.   A portfolio of student work remains the greatest asset to sharing and promoting student growth in our programs.  Our exhibitions document and honor process work alongside final works of art to help demonstrate to the visitor the levels of growth our students have achieved throughout the process.  For guidance, I reference the 2009, Harvard’s Project Zero publication The Qualities of Quality: Understanding Excellence in Arts Education, a report commissioned by The Wallace Foundation.  This resource is a helpful tool in guiding a quality arts-learning experience.

The Stories of the Land and Its People program education team consists of museum educators, classroom teachers, art teachers, teaching artists, and community members. Photo by Michael O’Neil

Tip 5: Make it visible

Communicate your successes!  In addition to making student learning visible through public exhibitions and presentations, it is equally important to honor your partners, funders, and collaborators.  It takes a village to guide a rich and in-depth learning experience.  Acknowledge everyone (educators, administrators, community partners, staff assistants, etc.) visibly and publicly.  For an additional touch, include personalized and private notes of gratitude, as well.  Everyone works hard.  Acknowledgement goes a long way to sustaining relationships with your team.

My concluding piece of advice is perhaps obvious, but it’s worth stating.   Have respect for public school educators and the members of your team.

Each person contributes to the process and provides valuable expertise that will enrich the overall collaboration.  Tapping into each other’s skills will enhance student outcomes and it is essential to developing long-term and in-depth partnerships.

 

Andrea L. Curtis

Andrea L. Curtis is the Education Program Manager and founder of the Arts in Education program at the Farnsworth Art Museum, a program dedicated to in-depth multi-visit learning experiences that connect inquiry-based visual learning to classroom education.  Curtis holds graduate degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Arts in Education and the University of Maine in Communication with a focus on visual representation, critique, museum studies, informal learning, and children’s literature.  She has lectured and instructed at Bates College and the University of Maine in rhetoric and communication and has received specialty training from Lincoln Center and Project Zero educators and artists.  Curtis, a writer and dancer, is also a published reviewer of children’s books and young adult novels.

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.