above: Cynthia J. Ahlstrin, 38 Special – A Bullet Bra, Repurposed book pages, repurposed binder’s board, 6.5” x 38” x 11”
My most cohesive origin stories can be found within my artist’s books – in both the traditional book forms as well as in the altered books. My stories include lessons handed down from past generations, tales of memory, of love, of abuse, and of hope. They express views of childhood and the process of growing up and viewpoints based on life experience and maturity.
When I started making artist’s books, I found it very easy to begin by telling the stories of my forward-thinking, teetotaling English grandmother and the influence she lovingly placed on my young life. It started by growing up in a seemingly “proper” middle class home in Connecticut, the roof of which barely kept the lid on the three generations of independent individuals contained within. The youngest of the family, I found myself in need of an anchor. Fortunately, my grandmother scooped me up into her life and became my staunchest ally. Born into this world prior to 1900, she was from a distant generation that endured the many hardships of World Wars, deadly flu epidemics, and the Great Depression. But she also enjoyed women gaining the right to vote, the beginnings of women’s healthcare, and the ability of some women to start their own careers. She was always industrious with her thoughts and with her time.
One of the places she chose to teach life’s lessons was in the warmth of her kitchen where cooking was one of her grand talents. To her, food equated to love and happiness. My story starts here by investigating the age old tradition of cooks measuring out dry ingredients by their hand. Amounts were gauged and valued by how they looked and felt in the palm of the cook. Recipes were rarely written in full (if at all), adding to the mystery of cooking and to the guarding of “treasured” family recipes and secrets. To this day there are still a few recipes that even I guard, only to be passed on to those “within the family”. I collaged sugar, salt and flour sacks with recipe cards to detail the potential of sweet things to come. On the front side of my accordion book are the illustrations of the lessons of love, patience, meditation, healing remedies and self awareness – all of the life lessons passed on to me in-between the mechanics of making a great meal. Those keys to self-happiness are illuminated with colors as saturated as the memories and feelings they invoke inside of me.
Another story I tell involves the lessons learned about sewing. A professional seamstress, my grandmother had some very concrete ideas about how things were to be done. She created clothing for her regular clients and made costumes for actors on Hartford and New York City stages. My use of color speaks to the memories of our trips to the fabric store searching amongst bolts and bolts of beautiful fabrics to find the right cloth to make a creation sing. My story tells of the lessons of patience while laying and pinning pattern pieces so accurately that the leftover scrap cloth was miniscule. “Waste not, want not” was a common refrain. My grandmother worked her magic at the sewing machine in a beelike dance, moving back and forth from machine to table and back again. Her lessons of thrift, craftsmanship, energy and individual expression have swirled into memories of admiration for her mastery of the many parts of a woman’s life.
The last story of lessons learned while growing up materialized in a humorous piece titled Isn’t It Fitting? The happy recipient of lovely handmade bras, it was hard for me to wear commercially produced foundation ones, but once I decided that this was “what all the girls wear”, there was no turning back.
So my story here delves into the spreading of wings in an attempt to try something new, move away from an old tradition and perhaps take the first steps towards growing up. It is also a story about the ability to fail, admit a mistake and still be loved.
My story reveals that all the instructions and diagrams in the world were not going to correct the fit of ill made garments. Measurements and cups sizes were designed for the “average woman’s breast size”…and who has those? The beautiful bras I was searching for ended up being the ones made out of paper and ink. The craziness of the looping measuring tapes equates to my young self throwing up my hands in frustration and realizing that no matter how much we yank and we pull, those damn bras were just never meant to fit. And that some lessons you learn cannot be improved upon until we are ready to mature.
My approach to creating altered books originally began as a way to solve a creative challenge. I was given a stack of National Geographic magazines. Who doesn’t have difficulty parting with these? My task was to look through all of them, find a story that resonated with me and then make a piece in response to it. My found story was one that included luscious images of shoes throughout the history of humankind and what information could be gathered from them about the person who wore them. I was inspired to make my book based on the premise that every shoe really does have a story to tell about us. My shoe story investigates the use of color and the recycling of discarded objects. Through the placement of specific words and images, my book also tells a story to the viewer asking her to consider the impact of excesses of human choices and the use of genetically modified seeds on our environment.
As my experience in making altered books has grown, my approach to my story telling has changed as well. My newer work began to tell stories of a different part of my life, a crossing over from the lessons of childhood to those from a more mature perspective and garnered from some unfortunate personal experiences.
I need a great deal of paper for each piece. I began sourcing book pages from discarded books and romance novels I found at the library or in the book box at the transfer station. I chose my materials randomly based on the weight, color and feel of the paper. During the process of cutting the pages from the book block, I naturally began to read passages from various pages of the found books. This is where I began to notice the large amount of violence perpetrated against one or more of the female characters within each novel. Often times, the violence was not even remotely connected to the main plot – basically it was just gratuitous. My thoughts on this unnerving occurrence demanded that the individual stories needed to be identified, those of verbal and physical abuse, prostitution, murder, rape and in some cases mutilation. My own personal experience with certain types of abuse causes me to empathize with all the female victims.
My stories have manifested themselves in the form of 1950’s women’s foundation wear and boudoir apparel. Style-wise they are beautiful as well as cage-like and constricting. This era of fashion is from a time when women in our society were dressed immaculately within the confines of society’s concept of perfection. Each piece invites the viewer to read selected sentences or word phrases which are meant to illuminate this troubling pattern of violence. My hope is that the beauty of the structures creates an interesting juxtaposition to the violence expressed in the printed words and causes the viewer to consider the stories that women continue to experience in our current society.
above: UMVA Lewiston/Auburn event; Gary Stallsworth photo
Public Art Informational was held on March 20th at the Lewiston Public Library with members of the Union of Maine Visual Artists- Lewiston/ Auburn Chapter and our Fall semester interns from Bates College. The students showed their presentation of what Lewiston already has for public art and talked about the website they created documenting their findings. We found out what projects are currently in the works and how we can help.
Do you have an idea but are not an artist? We can partner you up with an artist. All ideas must be voted on by the UMVA Lewiston Auburn to be considered for a space.
Our March 14th meeting at Kimball Street Studio was with Jonah Fertig- Burd founder of Local Sprouts Cooperative, Jonah is a man of many talents and is constantly involved in building community!
UMVA-Lewiston Auburn celebrated the language of love with our 3rd annual For the Love of Art event, inviting couples and loved ones to experience an afternoon of awakening all the senses with a walking tour of local studios and galleries that offered live music, edible art, body work, locally made products, as well as art of varying themes through out this journey.
Downtown Lewiston eARTh Day 2018
Sunday April 22 10am – 2pm. We are in the process of creating and organizing different work groups and business sponsors. Last year we had 4 different community groups working in various parts of Lewiston cleaning up litter and trash, restoring natural beauty. We also had many public art installations such as sidewalk murals, painted fire hydrants and our first creative crosswalk! Please check the Facebook event page often for updated info.
This year there will be several different area clean ups, painting of side walk murals, fire hydrants, studio & public art tours, local music and a buy local cash mob.
I Am Tree Fundraiser for Tree Street Youth Program
Tree Street Youth serves 120-150 at-risk and immigrant refugee youth everyday at its center in downtown Lewiston. Programs include after school enrichment classes, academic tutoring, leadership development, college prep, and workforce development. Each year, Tree Street holds a fundraiser called I am Tree. This year’s theme is “I am the Future.” UMVA-LA will be assisting in putting out a call for artists to create a piece of art (in whatever medium they like to work in) to reflect their interpretation of the theme. We would like these pieces to be donated to Tree Street Youth so that we can auction them off at the fundraiser on April 26, 2018 at the Bates Mill Atrium. Artists will receive a 50% commission from the sale of any work. We also anticipate displaying the art before and after the event at public spaces such as L/A Arts, the Lewiston Public Library and/or USM. Artists will be given the opportunity to be on site at the fundraising event to meet the (250+) guests . The art will also be featured in the evening’s Commemorative Playbill and on theTree Street website. If you are interested in submitting work to the I Am Tree Event, email UMVAlewistonauburn@gmail.com for more details.
Our UMVA-LA meetings are held on the first Wednesday of the month from 7-9pm. The location of the meetings change from month to month. If you would like to be added to our email list email UMVAlewistonauburn@gmail.com
above: Christopher Cart, “I Fear What You Fear”, oil on canvas, 24” x 30”, 2018
Throughout the month of February Camden Public Library and the Jonathan Frost Gallery presented a large joint art show titled People on the Move – A Human Crisis: Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and the Internally Displaced.
The artwork varied widely. It included portraits, scenes of fleeing refugees, scenes of repression and brutality, symbolic evocations of displacement, detainment, and death, and symbolic evocations of the ideals of ethnic and political harmony.
The show was organized by Kit Harrison, Jonathan Frost, and Susan Beebe in concert with Cayla Miller, of the Camden Library. The purpose was to bring attention in our local community to the fact that across the world over 65 million people are on the move, driven from their homes by political repression, war, famine, and environmental devastation.
“I was thinking, what can I do, as an artist? I had this nebulous idea that maybe we could do a show on refugees,” said Beebe. Then, running into Kit Harrison at Rock City Café one day last summer, she discovered that she and Kit shared the same dismay and vision.
Twenty-four artists eventually responded to their Call to Artists, and showed, in their work, what moved them about this human crisis.
Three of the artists included in the show are themselves newcomers to Maine. One, Titi de Baccarat, is from Gabon and has been working and making quite a name for himself as an artist since arriving here in Maine two years ago. He spoke eloquently at the Artists’ Talk about the importance of local Mainers opening their hearts to newcomers – the importance of trying to feel the loneliness of what it is like to be a displaced person, living here out of necessity.
Orson Horchler, another newcomer, who goes by his artist name Pigeon, described the challenges of trying to find community in a new land. Here for a number of years, he works long hours running a contracting business, while also pursuing his artwork. In addition, he travels the state, visiting in schools and other community centers to share his message of tolerance.
Veronica, the third immigrant artist in the show, is a very articulate fourteen year-old, who is a refugee from the DR Congo. One year ago she spoke no English. During the run of People on the Move she delivered two moving talks in English about her life as a refugee – a young, living reminder for those in attendance of human resilience.
There were three special events associated with the show: an opening reception at the Jonathan Frost Gallery where individual artists spoke briefly about their work; an Artists’ Talk at the Camden Public Library where Titi De Baccarat, Orson Horchler, Veronica Kaluta, and Wendy Newbold Patterson spoke about their work and experiences; a reception at the Camden Public Library timed to coincide with the Camden Conference. All the events were very well attended.
Asked to reflect on the show, Harrison said, “I’m really just hoping that people will look at others with new eyes.”
“It gives you encouragement to feel something about this and express it,” Beebe said. “I hope we start a conversation, and people will look and think and talk and act.”
Participating artists were Lois Anne, Susan Beebe, Christopher Cart, Gregory Chilenski, Clarity, Titi De Beccarat, Alan Fishman, Jonathan Frost, Nancy Glassman, Lucy Goulet, Nan Haid, Orson Horchler, Mwandja Kaluta, Salima Kalute, Veronica Kaluta, Renate Klein, Jeannette Martin, Cynthia McGuirl, James Murdock, Wendy Newbold Patterson, Emeline Russell, Marjorie Strauss, and Hannah Wells.
In April, the creative voices and talents of more than a dozen immigrant artists living in greater Portland will be exhibited at the Union of Maine Visual Artists Gallery. Seventeen artists collaborated with curators Kifah Abdulla (poet and painter from Iraq), Titi de Baccarat (sculptor and painter from Gabon) and John Ripton (photographer, writer and historian) to create work that expresses their experience as Maine immigrant artists. Each artist – painter, sculptor, photographer, poet and performance artist – will exhibit work that they have completed since arriving in Maine.
Greater Portland is home to thousands of immigrants whose life stories demonstrate the will to overcome lack of opportunity and education, political repression, violence and poverty. Some of the artists in the exhibit are fortunate to have escaped such violations of human rights and other artists have not. All of them have nevertheless distinguished themselves as artists and in many other endeavors. Their collective stories are part of the story of the United States. They inspire us in ways our great grandparents’ and their grandparents’ lives do.
As with earlier immigrants, the newer immigrants are building their lives here and revitalizing Greater Portland, its economy and its culture. The artists will share their desires and dreams as well as their reflections on how they arrived in Maine and the challenges they continue to face. The exhibition of their work will speak directly to the world in which we live, without the spin of manufactured news.
In a time when differences among peoples are being exploited at the highest levels of government, this creative project strives to cross the borders and walls separating brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. The exhibited work speaks to our common humanity. Guided tours of the exhibit for students and teachers of Portland area schools, colleges and universities are also planned.
my people dying
I’m feeling like a product of war
here I stand while they laugh
cause my people left poor
my childhood memories
had me begging for more
got away from the war
but now I’m worst than before
came here to represent for
my Africans all around the world
gotta stay on my grind though
like poverty right at my door
for all the people out in this world
that got no home
cause they families poor
for all the people
that will never know
what it feels like to be cared for
pray to god
and let it flow
it ain’t all about that money bro
now let us go
look at me
I represent like Rambo
how many people here gotta die
how many mothers here gotta cry
how much more do we sacrifice
before we get to see paradise
It is quiet in Darfur
by Ekhlas Ahmad
It’s quiet in Darfur. It’s not the silence of peace, but it’s the silence of death.
My homes that once carried histories of generations are now burned ashes on the
ground waiting for the wind to blow them to their final destination.
My mothers that were once Leaders of their communities are now used as war
My sisters that once had chances to be future leaders are now afraid to see the sun.
So I speak for them.
I speak for the thousand mothers who have been speaking forever but there is no-one
I speak for the thousand girls who want to speak but don’t have a voice.
I speak for the thousand children of Darfur because they can only speak in silence.
I speak so they can be heard.
Because I feel their pain.
When I was a little girl I used to cry
but only in silence
never showing my parents my tears
not even my siblings, or peers
because they told us if you showed people your tears, it meant you were afraid
it meant you were weak, it meant you were powerless
Yes I was young, but I knew I wasn’t weak, and I knew I wasn’t powerless
I had and still have a weapon
A voice that once it’s heard, demands attention
A voice that doesn’t only speak, but repeats
So I will speak so they can be heard.
Titi de Baccarat
Titi de Baccarat is a painter, sculptor, clothing designer, jeweler, and writer. Dedicated to justice in a hostile political context, he was forced to flee his country, Gabon, with only the wealth of his artistic ability. He has lived in Portland since February 2015, where he works through his African identity and artistic expertise to contribute to the culture of the city. He believes that art rehabilitates love, bringing together people of all countries, backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities.
Kifah Abdulla is an artist, poet, writer, teacher and activist, born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. The real beginning for Abdulla as an artist started after he returned from eight years as a prisoner of war in Iran from1982-1991. Art became his main professional career. He worked to express his experience of time spent in prison, a theme that is still present in his work. In his current work started in Portland, he uses abstract Arabic letters as an essential element in his work. He is developing his style in the vast space of contemporary art in America. Abdulla has exhibited in Iraq, Jordan, Holland, and Portland, where he lives and works.. He published his first book of poetry in 2016.
List of Participating Artists*
Kifah Abdulla (Iraq) Poet & Painter
Titi De Baccarat (Gabon) Sculptor & Poet
Anna Mikuskova (Czech Republic) Photographer
Afshin Mahmoudi (Iran) Photographer & Musician
Ekhlas Ismail Ahmad (Darfur, Sudan) Poet
African Dundada (South Sudan) Musician & Composer
Mei Selvage (China) Painter
Burcin Kirik (Turkey) Painter
Akad Hamed (Iraq) Painter
Sofia Aldinio (Argentina) Photographer
Ebenezer Akakpo (Ghana) Jeweler/Designer
Christian Muhunde (Rwanda) Painter
Makumbundo Franciso (Congo) Painter
Edward Mbikiayi (DRC) Painter
Rabee Kiwan (Lebanon) Painter
Yelena Fiske (Russia) Painter
Sahro Abrahim (Somalia) Designer
Damir Porobic (Former Yugoslavia) Interdisciplinary Artist
Jean Medard Zulu (Congo) Painter
Aymen Khaleel (Iraq) Painter
Performing Artists at April 6th OPENING/Artists’ Reception
Ekhlas Ismail Ahmad (Darfur, Sudan) Poet
Kifah Abdulla (Iraq) Poet
AFRiCAN DUNDADA (South Sudan) Rap Musician/Composer
Jawad Alfatlawi (Iraq) Musician
Mei Selvage (China) Traditional Chinese Ink Block Brushwork
Yves Karubu (Burundi) Drummers/Dancers
Community Resource Leaders Represented
Zoe Sahloul (Lebanon) Activist/Organizer N.E. Arab American Organization
Bereket Bairu (Eritrea) Emergency Teacher/Tutor
above: Banner created in March for use during the school walkout for gun control and the March 24th rallies in Brunswick and Augusta.
The Artists Rapid Response Team! is a project of the Union of Maine Visual Artists. Members of ARRT! are UMVA members and activist artists who work to provide visuals for progressive groups throughout Maine, seeking to add a visual voice to help carry their messages far and wide. The following images are recently completed banners. Click on them to expand images.
The Banner below is for Earth Day in Bangor: a “Transportation for All” bus which will be completed by children adding their faces in the windows during the event.
January ARRT! session
Anita gave us a lesson on how to use Tagtools on our IPads and we also made wonderful animated electronic graffiti for LumenARRT! projections for the MLK dinner in Portland.
Special thanks to Anita and Geoff for prepping and hanging about 9 banners for the MLK dinner, plus creating a GIANT animation/projection for the outdoor wall of the Holiday Inn, with LumenARRT!, plus creating electronic graffiti animation/projections inside, just before the dinner.
Thank you Renu, Nancy, Anita, Chris, Suzanna, Justin, Jane, Beth, Julia, Susie, Lee, Doreen, Natasha and Ed
February ARRT! session
Thank you ARRTists Nancy, Chris, Jane, Nora, Deb and Natasha
March ARRT! session
Thank you to ARRTists Nancy, Chris, Anita, Nora, Geoffrey, Suzanna, Beth, Susie, Jean, Natasha and Lee. And thank you to three Americorps volunteers (Alicia, Darcy, and Audrey) from Bangor (Maine Partnership for Environmental Stewardship) and Anna, a student from the Friends’ School, who helped paint.
We hope you’ll join us in April for our next ARRT! session, April 8th. Check out images and information at arrteam.org
LumenARRT! is a project of the Artists Rapid Response Team (ARRT!). We work through the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA) to advocate for artists and further the work of progressive non-profits in the state of Maine. Our video projections create a visual voice for these organizations and like electronic graffiti, bring awareness to issues of social, political and environmental justice.
Our most recent projection calls attention to the millions of marchers on 3/24/18 who want common sense gun controls — and the inability of our Maine State Legislature to act.
On January 15th in Portland, we joined with the NAACP in celebrating Martin Luther King Day. We also had an interactive projection in the lobby for attendees to write or draw their thoughts on freedom and racial justice.
above: Francis Hamabe William Kienbusch Rowing, Stonington, late 1960s Black-and-white photograph Collection Little family
My uncle, the painter William Kienbusch (1914-1980) spent most his life in two places, New York City and Maine. Just about every May from the mid-1940s on, he would make his way north from the city. Late in life, he compared the stops he made to the stages in an ascent of Everest, his favorite mountain.
Bill’s relationship to Maine began in the 1930s when he attended Eliot O’Hara’s watercolor class at Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport. After serving in the Army during World War II, he returned to Maine, staying in Stonington where his hero John Marin had spent time in the 1920s. He was soon making annual seasonal pilgrimages, exploring the islands and developing a repertoire of coastal subjects.
For a number of years Bill’s base of Maine operations was Trevett near Boothbay Harbor where his friend and fellow painter Dorothy Andrews (1918-2008) and her family lived. After he bought a house on Great Cranberry Island, he became a part of a remarkable group of modern artists, among them, John Heliker, Dorothy Eisner, Gretna Campbell, Robert LaHotan, and Charles Wadsworth, who found their muse there.
Bill established personal connections with a number of individuals in the Maine art world. He visited fellow painter Reuben Tam and his wife, Gerry, on Monhegan. He went on painting trips with Leni Mancuso and Tom Barrett from Castine (their correspondence with him is in the Archives of American Art).
Francis Hamabe (1917-2002) was like a brother; he and his first wife Sidney would host Bill for weeks on end at their home in Blue Hill. From there, he would make excursions to Stonington where he kept his rowboat EPO BID. The boat—its prow—served as the model for several paintings. (The children’s book author Robert McCloskey once referred to Bill as “the rowingest man in Maine.”)
Bill also became friends with Vincent Hartgen (1914-2002), painter and bravado art professor at the University of Maine. Sometime in the 1960s Hartgen invited his friend to spend a semester at the university, teaching and painting. The Northeast Film Archives collection includes an interview with Kienbusch conducted by Hartgen for Maine Public Television.
Uncle Bill once stated, “When I arrive in Maine, I start seeing again.” What he saw were subjects and places that set him to painting. He explored Hurricane Island quarries, wandered among Cranberry Island gardens after everyone was gone for the summer and hired a lobsterman to circle a bell buoy while he took pictures with his Brownie camera.
I was thinking of Bill’s love of buoys when I gave him a copy of W.S. Merwin’s book The Drunk in the Furnace for his birthday in 1978. As he had done with me, I marked several poems that I thought he’d especially like, including “Bell Buoy” with its stunning evocation of that sailor’s guide in fog and storm:
The dreaming bronze clangs over the lifting
Swell, through the fog-drift, clangs, not
On the sea-stroke but on the fifth second clangs,
Recalling something, out of some absence
We cannot fathom, with itself communing.
Among Bill’s last great subjects was goldenrod, fitting image for the final years of his life. In an elegy inspired by the painting Sea Gate and Goldenrod, poet Rosanna Warren, who had visited Bill on Great Cranberry Island on several occasions, describes the painter lying in his bed with “a patchwork map spread out” over his “failed legs.” She references “our island” where “alders shimmied in sunlight, deer/browsed through cranberry bogs,” but concludes:
other islands, and already, while we sat
here with you chatting of ours with its goldenrod
what you heard
was the other islands.
When Bill died in 1980, he left his home on Great Cranberry Island to my brother David and me. This gift shifted both of our lives. Up to then we had been oriented toward New York City and the South Fork of Long Island. Our parents’ home in Water Mill had been our refuge and retreat, but the landscape was changing drastically. Maine was a new world, a place where we might start seeing again. And that is where we are today, writing and painting.
Uncle Bill made us Mainers; he left us his home, his friends and his favorite landscape—not to mention the poetry of Abbie Huston Evans. I’ve told this story many times, and apologize if you’ve heard it before. Bill is the talisman and touchstone of my creative life. I owe him big time.
Carl Little is co-author with his brother David of the forthcoming Paintings of Portland (Down East Books). He has also contributed to monographs on Philip Frey and Joseph Fiore.
I think it’s important for any artist to figure out how to survive. For my paternal grandfather Jacob Kantrowitz, a skilled tailor, he survived living in the Ukraine city of Kharkov by chopping off his large toe to avoid being sent to the front lines during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. The word had reached home from Jacob’s older brother in Manchuria that Tsar Nikolai II was sending Jews to the front lines only to be slaughtered.
Interestingly President Teddy Roosevelt mediated the negotiations that ended that war on September 5, 1905 in what became known as the Treaty of Portsmouth. Sound familiar? The talks were held at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine! A few months later my grandfather Jacob emigrated to New York in 1906 with my grandmother Ida Wooten. They were 19.
Jacob went to work for a thriving dressmaking business on the Lower East Side and later, in The Bronx started Mr. K’s, his own tailoring business. His son, my father Murray, was the first to attend college (NYU) in the family, and after graduating dental school in 1941 he was drafted into World War II. Upon his return in 1945 he changed his name to Kane at a time when a great many American Jews were seeking to blend in and in a real sense hide from anti-Semitism.
Recall that President Franklin Roosevelt during WWII turned back ships filled with Jews fleeing the Nazis hoping to reach the safety of our shores. They were all subsequently incinerated in the Holocaust. Si Kahn memorialized that piece of history with his song Lady of the Harbor that I’ve long wanted to use in a film about those times. The immigrant is what has made this country strong.
When I started editing film in graduate school at Temple University in Philadelphia, I always felt I was following in my grandfather’s footsteps, cutting and trimming and sewing and creating a work of art.
So how have I learned to survive as a filmmaker in Maine while keeping all my fingers and toes? Just as any artist, you have to get your work shown. I learned a few years ago at the Points North Documentary Forum of the Camden International Film Festival that the key is through a publicist. Easier said than done. There are MANY more filmmakers than publicists.
But I did succeed in finding an extraordinary Outreach Director, Marga Varea, who has made all the difference in getting our last two films on Ashley Bryan and J. Fred Woell seen. FYI March 29, 2018 we’re having a NYC Premiere of our latest film J. Fred Woell: An American Vision at the Museum of Arts and Design with a panel of icons of the American Crafts Movement.
click on GIF button
There’s lots happening with the Maine Masters film series. The BIG NEWS is that Geoffrey Leighton and Anita Clearfield have begun work on a docu-art film project about our own beloved Natasha Mayers: An Un-still Life. Anita and Geoff thank the contributors to their successful Indiegogo campaign — many of whom are UMVA members — and hope to have the project completed by the end of the year. Stay tuned for more Natasha magic in Maine!
Moving into the fundraising phase of a film Robert Shetterly: Americans Who Tell the Truth. See the trailer: https://vimeo.com/220552230
We are also creating a Vimeo portal to have all our Maine Masters available on Vimeo.com/ondemand and am working with several teachers to create short versions that would be appropriate to use in schools and full length vimeos on demand for senior centers/retirement communities.
above: Renu O’Connell, Past and Present, casein, 26 x 34
This year I found myself coming home both to myself and to my ‘homes’ that hold my past and present.
I will begin by by describing the journey back to the place that never felt like home but now does. I was born In Detroit, Michigan, lived there in my formative days, then moved to the suburbs that did not feel like home.
Months before this visit I had been asking myself what mattered the most to me in the political climate of 2018. The issue of immigration is central to our country. I started to look for images of immigrant farmers to paint and found many who were urban farmers in Detroit. So, excitedly, I began to read that there was enough land to feed the whole city which was considered a realistic goal.
There is an intimacy between decay and life and there is a contrast between what seems gone and what is actually growing life. What I saw were 1400 farms, many that have community connection; centers for education, places to gather and eat, all contained in an area that could fit San Francisco, Boston, and the borough of Manhattan within the city limits. I began to paint Detroit farmers, many of whom had roots in the great migration from the South. Many of these people’s children and grandchildren are coming home to their innate sense of nurturance of the land. Farmers see themselves as makers of history.
Other immigrants, like my ancestors from Ireland, came to Michigan to farm as a result of the great potato famine. For the first time in my life I considered the pure hopelessness and destitution they had to face. When they arrived in their new home on Mackinac Island, they tried to farm but the soil was too rocky.
How does this journey take anyone back to self? First off I believe until we mourn our ancestors’ losses, we will never be whole in ourselves. This is why it seems valuable to fill in the “holes” in our ancestral backgrounds. As we come closer to understanding their lives, we can see our selves belonging to a universal family. It is a human need to want to experience the “Phoenix rising from the ashes”. It is human to seek newness and hope. It is in all of us that we wish to plant seeds that germinate and offer nourishment on so many levels. For me there is something passionate within that wants to participate in the mending of this united fabric of states belonging to our immigrants and relatives and for this I give thanks to the pioneers past and present.
Excerpts from Origin Stories
by David Wade
For me, as with many artists, the sea is an inspiration, an eternal muse … it’s a font of creativity… it’s a call to play and make art and discover… and a trip to the shore is like a return to my beginnings, both ancient and modern … like going back home again… and it’s no coincidence that all of us have in our veins the same percentage of salt in our blood that is in our oceans…and that salt is also in our blood, in our sweat, and in our tears… so whenever we go back to the sea, we are going back to our very origins, to the source from which we came… these origins go back to before the dawn of history, when the first life began to bubble up from the primordial soup, where our original ancestors took their first breath and Life itself began…
These Maine shores draw me like a tide, which I cannot resist. At the shore, I hear the ocean sing its siren song… it seduces my eyes and ears, and serenades my soul… the sea speaks to me… and I answer… like a child, I put my ear up to a sea shell and listen… and I hear the distant sound of eternity.. … the sea’s cycles bring me back into tune with Mother Nature and the slow pulse of eternal time… always the seaside sets my spirit free….…and it is where I am most like a child, filled with inspiration, awe, and endless wonder……
Our home is filled with fine and fun art, almost all of it created by friends and family. The art we live with has become an important part of my own identity and I trace this aesthetic definition of self back to my mother. Most of the art in our home is by artist friends, among them Susan Amons, Dozier Bell, Kathy Bradford, Alfred Chadbourn, Howard Clifford, Maury Colton, Matt Donahue, Charlie Hewitt, Alison Hildreth, Eric Hopkins, Frederick Lynch, William Manning, Mathew Pierce O’Donnell, Abby Shahn, Todd Watts and Mark Wethli. But the first things you see when you enter our house are the Twombly-esque scribblings all over the garage wall where I have invited our grandchildren to leave their marks and the big bold flowers I have slathered on the same wall with leftover house paint.
Easily overlooked in this cheerful graffiti is a small watercolor of an iris blossom that hangs on the little landing outside the door to the mudroom. Irises are my favorite flower. I kind of wish the artist hadn’t added the little blue butterfly that is virtually indistinguishable from the iris petals, but then you don’t criticize your mother.
My mother was the only artist I knew growing up. She was an enthusiastic amateur who studied and painted watercolors all her life.
Among my mother’s paintings hanging in our upstairs bedrooms are a sprig of blueberries, a still-life frieze of fruit, and my favorite, a flutter of white flowers, a sort of abstract floral fantasy. There are also a couple of my mother’s efforts in oil. The watercolors are often deft, but the oils – a cheerful pink conch shell and a rather Ryder-esque farmhouse landscape – show the effort involved.
My mother came from humble origins. She was born Bertha Harrison in Bath in 1922, became Betty Gibson when she was adopted in 1926, and then Betty Beem when she married my father in 1948. All of her surnames were given to her by men, one she never really knew and two she loved very much. I’m not sure where my mother’s artistic interest came from. She studied early childhood education at Westbrook Junior College and Lesley College and taught nursery school as a young woman. All of my life she was a kitchen table painter and she took art classes wherever we lived.
When we lived in Groton, Massachusetts for a few years in the 1950s, my mother sent me to Saturday morning art classes at the Paint Bucket. Making clay pinch pots and paper mache animals was my first experience making art unless you count the elaborate battlefield drawings I made about the same time. It’s a boy thing I guess. So my exposure to art as a child was pretty much limited to calendars and her watercolors. On a couple of occasions, my maternal grandmother, a widow living alone on High St. in Portland, took me to the Portland Museum of Art, but all I remember about those visits were bands playing on the High St. steps under the Copper Beech and the smooth, cool deathly realism of Akers’ The Dead Pearl Diver at the foot of the circular stairs in the Sweat Galleries. I thus knew nothing at all about art until I got out of college in 1971. Then it took me a decade or more to understand that a true appreciation of art means unlearning the prejudices of art historical orthodoxy.
As a young man, just about the only work of art I owned was a gilt-framed reproduction of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic “Christina’s World.” I was a Maine boy and Christina was a Maine icon. I was so ignorant of the content of that painting and innocent of all the death, sex and violence in Wyeth World that I imagined Christina Olson as a lovely young farm girl sunbathing in the meadow. Who knew she was a crippled spinster dragging herself across the field? Apparently everyone but me.
Between about 1971 and 1978, I had something of an artistic awakening when my then-brother-in-law, a Jewish interior designer from New York, took it upon himself to educate me in fine art by exposing me to works of Leonard Baskin, Alfred Chadbourn and Ben Shahn. I started going to the few contemporary galleries there were in Maine and began looking at art in earnest, not as décor but as investigation, a search for meaning every bit as valuable as that of science or religion.
By the time I started writing about art in Maine in 1978, I had somehow “learned” that my mother’s art was amateur stuff and that Wyeth’s art, while popular, famous and expensive, was considered reactionary and rear-guard by the art establishment, a romantic throwback no more a part of the ongoing 20th century artistic dialogue than my mother’s aqueous flora.
My function as a reporter and self-proclaimed art critic then, first for The Portland Independent and then for Maine Times, was to be judge, jury and executioner. It was my responsibility to separate the wheat from the chaff, the gold from the dross, the worthy from the rest. Never mind that I had no art education whatsoever, I had a good eye and a way with words. Art objects were open to interpretation and I was good at coming up with a plausible explanation. All art, I soon discovered, is a con job, in a good way of course. Perhaps confidence game is a better phrase. The artist, in collaboration with dealers, curators, and critics, must create confidence in collectors and the public that the useless objects s/he makes have value beyond utility, both intrinsic and extrinsic, critical and commercial.
I participated in this aesthetic conspiracy for a dozen years or more, merrily pronouncing this artist important, that artist not so, this work fine art, that applied, this piece a work of art, that a craft object, etc. Sort and dispose. It is not enough to know what you like, I reasoned. A viewer who could not distinguish between serious art and pretty pictures was as culturally impoverished as a reader who could not distinguish between great literature and chick lit, Romantic poetry and Harlequin Romances. The one was an act of engagement, the other an act of escapism.
Of course, my idea of what constituted value in contemporary art was borrowed largely from New York and the slick art journals where a premium was placed on individuality and originality. Most, if not all of what I knew about the art enterprise I knew from talking to artists and observing them at work. Writing for publication gave me entrée to the studios of artists ranging from Neil Welliver, Alex Katz and Andrew Wyeth to Dozier Bell, Celeste Roberge and Abby Shahn.
I learned a great deal from talking to and observing dozens and dozens of artists in Maine, but it was an offhand remark by Abby Shahn that first threw a monkey wrench into the finely-tuned and well-oiled gears of my art critical machinery. I was visiting Abby at her home and studio in Solon, talking to her about her art and art in general while she transformed some frozen squash into one of best bowls of soup I ever ate, when I chanced to ask her opinion of an artist, perhaps Wyeth but definitely one problematic in terms of both content and style. “Given a choice between bad art and no art,” said Abby, “I’ll take bad art.” That generous, open-minded comment made me start to question my whole judgmental approach to appreciating and writing about art. And once you get beyond seeing art through the distorted lens of quality, you start realizing all the other biases that operate on our perceptions of art, art history tending to be an exclusive Eurocentric male view.
Abby Shahn’s comment began a re-examination of my own elitist male prejudices about art that eventually led me to the realization that there really is no such thing as bad art.
I probably knew this a priori as a child, but it came as something of a revelation to the “sophisticate” I had become. On a moral scale of human activity from genocide at one end to sainthood at the other, all art making, whether that of children, amateurs, outsiders, fine artists or geniuses, is way up there at the divine end of the spectrum. It’s a good thing to do whether the art establishment or the art market values it or not.
My approach to writing about art has evolved such that I now attempt to see and accept all art for what it is and what I imagine it is trying to do. I endeavor to be the best audience an artist can have, someone who will look long enough to ask questions and think about what the artist is up to whether they are trying to save the world or just make it a little more beautiful. To the degree that I can help the average reader find ways to approach difficult art that is what I want to do as a writer. But you do have to know a little something about art history to understand why a rectangular block of rusty steel by Richard Serra or a compacted bale of tin cans by Adriane Herman, to name two of my favorite pieces of art in Maine, are important works of art. But that’s a story for another time.
My long-winded point here is that as I matured as a writer, I came to a renewed appreciation of my mother’s modest achievements as a watercolorist. Watercolor, except in the hands of a few painters such as Winslow Homer, John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe and Andrew Wyeth, tends to be seen as a lesser medium than oil, acrylic, casein or tempera. Watercolors are humble things, a little powdered pigment mixed with water, the stuff of school children, illustrators and amateurs.
Watercolor was my mother’s medium. Her wet-on-wet still-life, landscape and floral paintings were only seen in the homes of her family and friends and once a year at the holiday art show at her church. Something about watercolor spoke to my mother and now she speaks to me through it.
The last two paintings we acquired – a lily by DeWitt Hardy and a pair of dark, brooding views of the apple tree in his New Brunswick backyard by Stephen Scott – are watercolors. It was not until a visitor saw the Hardy painting and asked if it were by my mother that it dawned on me that a lot of the appeal of the lily and the apple trees is that they are fluent in the fluid language my mother tried to speak.
During the last two years of their lives my parents’ world was reduced to a shared room in a nursing home. Other than family photographs, they took precious little with them when they could no longer live in their own home, but one of the few things my mother took were her watercolors. As she approached 90 and eternity in the nursing home, my mother created an identity for herself beyond that of old lady, invalid and patient. She painted small watercolors for staff members and fellow patients, taking special requests and sharing her time and talent right to the very end. Painting gave her an identity. Betty Beem was an artist. I know that now, but I didn’t always.