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

Studio Practice — Tom Flanagan 2018

The only thing I really understand about my process as an artist is that everything comes from my drawing practice. There’s something essential about drawing. It connects me to the world and to my sensibilities.

Lately I’ve been drawing directly onto the canvas using a colored pencil that can be erased with a wet rag to make adjustments. Sometimes this takes hours and sometimes this can take days. I try not to judge what I’m doing, at least in the beginning. Basically, I keep at it until I see something that interests me. Feeling my way through the work, rather than thinking my way, has become more and more important. This is the kind of feeling that has been informed by years of thinking about what my work is about, and then letting it all go.

Everything changes as soon as color is introduced into the work. I mostly use

Tom Flanagan’s Fort Andross studio. Photo by artist.

Golden Heavy Body acrylic paints because I find them to be of a consistently high quality. The other thing I’ve done since graduate school is to keep a powerful metal fan on high, three feet from the work at all times. The fan dries the acrylic paint so fast that I never have to stop working to wait for a layer of paint to dry. I need the painting process to be more like drawing in the sense that the painting medium doesn’t slow me down.

I work on one piece at a time. I’ve tried to work on more than one canvas, but the work becomes watered down and not as intense. Intensity is very important to me. If I’m going to put two colors side by side, they’d better have something to say. Every line and shape compete with one another and hopefully depend on one another in order for a disorder of my creation to exist.

Tom Flanagan’s Fort Andross studio. Photo by artist.

I don’t use brushes much. About 12 years ago I started using broad knives used by sheetrock contractors to apply color. There’s something freeing about putting two or three colors on a blade and pulling them across the surface. I have no control over what comes out of it and that feels right.

I use thousands of feet of masking tape and rolls and rolls of paper towels in the course of completing each piece. After a week, the trash can next to my painting table looks like a tall masking tape plant with blobs of color mixed in. I have a large thick piece of glass that I use as a pallet and clean that glass after each color is mixed and used. That’s my obsessive intense side coming through.

Tom Flanagan’s Fort Andross studio. Photo by artist.

The studio I’m in right now is in Fort Andross in Brunswick, Maine. The Mill, as it’s known, has become a real center for contemporary art in Maine. Most of the spaces are big and bright with large windows. Being there allows me to work on large canvases and look at multiple pieces as a body of work at once. It has also connected me to other artists and creative types that I wouldn’t normally bump into, like painters Cassie Jones and Richard Keen and sculptors John Bisbee and William Zingaro.

All the technical stuff aside, what I’m really doing in the studio is looking. I start with something––whether it’s a line or a color––and then I react to it. I adjust it. I add to it. I cover it. I put something next to it. I turn it upside down. How I get there doesn’t matter. This is a creative act. There are no rules.

What matters most to me is that I end up with something that has an energy that stays with me.

Brushes by the Bushel: In the Studio with Henry Isaacs by Daniel Kany

Henry Isaacs’ Portland studio is an open and airy place filled with tiny painted sketches, canvases, piles of tubes of Gamblin oil paints and tin after tin crammed with hundreds of paintbrushes. The walls of the studio’s front room are filled with colorful and affably optimistic framed landscapes painted in Isaacs’ easily-recognizable style. The walls of his studio are covered with about a dozen paintings in process and scores of studies ranging from full size canvases to tiny squares dolloped thick with oil paint.

This is the story of why Isaacs has hundreds of uncleaned brushes sticking out of tins in his studio. It’s a cautionary tale.

Having travelled and taught around the world, It might not be surprising that a Maine artist like Henry Isaacs would have partied on a bus in Cuba with Jacques Derrida (well, sort of: the French philosophe was stiff and grumpy in the midst of the joy of others) or sat in a meeting with a brain like Jeremy Bentham’s. Bentham, after all, founded the University College of London, and Isaacs taught at the Slade School of Fine Art, the art school of the university spiritually founded by Bentham.

Henry Isaacs in his Portland studio.
Photo by Dan Kany

During the last decade, you would most likely have spotted Bentham in the halls of UCL. But Bentham, the spearhead of philosophical utilitarianism, is now visiting the United States and he is featured in “Like Life: Sculpture, Color and the Body, 1300-now,” a show at the Met Breuer (through July 22, 2018).

On June 6, 1832, the day Bentham died, the terms of his will established a continued “life” for him as an “auto-icon.”

And when I say Isaacs sat in a faculty meeting with Bentham’s brain, I literally mean Betham’s brain — chemically preserved in a large jar.

However wacky this may sound, the comparison between Bentham and Isaacs is anything but. While teaching at Mass Art in 1988, Isaacs rushed to help two men who accidentally spilled a pair of 50 gallon drums of Butanone during a delivery.

Butanone is also known as methyl ethyl ketone or MEK, a widely used industrial solvent that smells like a combination of butterscotch and acetone.

One of the men immediately left the scene. Isaacs helped the other. For this helpful gesture, Isaacs was rewarded with chemical narcosis, meaning he was poisoned to the point of passing out.

Isaacs in his Portland studio. Photo by Dan Kany

Another token of his helpfulness was a lesion on the top of his brain, which was pickled, to a certain extent, like Bentham’s. This condition took years to discover and then years to find a treatment which finally took place in Sweden. (Saab Aeronautics recognized and treated what they call “painters’ disease.”)  Isaacs has had to absolutely minimize petro chemicals from his life.

For a while, Isaacs worked in acrylics, but the quick-drying plasticky paints didn’t allow for him to push the paint around on the canvas, to paint the way he preferred to paint, with thick strokes pulled through wet paint already on the surface. He tried pastels as well, but found them too dusty,

Isaacs’ Portland studio. Photo by Dan Kany

Isaacs had met Bob Gamblin while teaching at the Slade. Gamblin, whose company was based in Portland, Oregon, was trying to market his new paints and no one at the English school even wanted to talk to him, so they sent the junior American professor to meet with him. Gamblin and Isaacs hit it off from the start. In 1991, Gamblin created a new paint recipe using pure poppy seed oil and sent samples to Isaacs. (Isaacs has found that paints even by the leading brands contain solvents even when they are not listed; such exposure is dangerous for him.) “Bob rescued my studio,” explains Isaacs. “From that point, I have used Gamblin paints. And now, his pure poppy seed recipe is the stuff that’s in the marketplace.”

Isaacs paints with vegetable oil from the grocery store and never washes the Winsor & Newton brushes he buys in bulk for the less than $2 each. Ultimately, he breaks them up and recycles what parts of them he can. “I use brushes by the bushel. I have to.” With this, Isaacs pulls a brush dripping with oil out of a tin and wipes the thick dollop of grayish blue goo from its bristles. Without hesitating, he pushes it through the thick paint piled on his palette and begins to rework a small picture of the underside of a bridge. The wet paint is buttery and Isaacs moves the brush about the surface with wizened confidence.

Because painting with pure oil can make the works take weeks to dry (“Alone, Bob’s paints take three to five weeks to dry,” he comments), Isaacs uses tiny amounts of Galkyd. He cannot use turpentine, Turpenoid or driers.

Some of Isaacs’ “notes.” Photo by Dan Kany

“I am compulsive about painting every day,” he notes. Pointing to a wall filled with 150 tiny, loosely painted canvases, he continues, “For every project I do, I make 50-100 of these little guys – hundreds of these ‘notes.’ These are for a project for a hotel in Marrakech, Morocco. These are beautiful schools, madrasas. I am working on making a huge painting that captures this kind of interior space made 2D. As far as my studio practice goes, I work from these ‘notes.’ I take no pictures. I rely on them even from years ago. These (he points with his brush) were painted on site four years ago.”

On another wall hang 75 of Isaacs’ “notes” he made in Guatemala in May. He muses: “These are little pieces of memory. My job, here in the studio, is to put them together.”

 

Censorship, or Safety? by Dan Kany

Statements, dialogue and conversations about censorship and USM president Glenn Cummings’ unilateral decision to remove three paintings from the Atrium Gallery’s exhibition “Industrial Maine: Our Other Landscape”

By Daniel Kany

“I would prefer we act in this case from our hearts and not our anger.”
Robert Shetterly

Curated by Janice Moore, “Industrial Maine: Our Other Landscape” ran from March 13 to June 1, 2018, at the Atrium Art Gallery of the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College at 51 Westminster St., Lewiston, Maine.

Soon after the opening, USM president Glenn Cummings removed three paintings of factories by a Waterville artist who has shown in the past at leading galleries and notable venues such as the Center for Maine Contemporary Art and the Portland Museum of Art.

According to Cummings’ office (in my first conversation with them before my review came out; but we’ll come back to this), Cummings removed the works based on a complaint by a relative of a victim of a sex crime involving unlawful sexual contact in 1999, for which the artist served six months in prison. The artist also had two sex-related misdemeanor convictions in the 1990s, one involving a juvenile. (Since I drafted this text, Cummings called me and clarified his thinking and details about the incident; this dialogue changed my thinking to a large extent, but, in the spirit of dialogue, I am choosing to leave my first draft in place and comment on it below.)

Below are excerpts from email conversations between John Ripton, a UMVA member and a participating artist in “Industrial Maine,” and UMVA president Robert Shetterly. Included as well are snippets from my own emails to them regarding the removal of the three paintings.

Cummings did not contact the curator, Janice Moore, before taking action. Instead, he had a university employee take down the works. The university then contacted the artist and had him remove the works.

This is an instance of censorship. But was it the right thing to do? The open questions include whether Cummings was justified in removing the work, whether Cummings was acting appropriately in his capacity as university president, and whether Cummings handled the process well. I think the answers are no, no and no. However, this is a nuanced issue: Cummings is clearly tasked with the safety of his student body and there is no question that he acted with the safety and well-being of the USM community in mind. Many think Cummings acted within his legitimate authority, while others don’t. Regardless, with the current public focus on “triggers” and the #MeToo movement, it is easy to follow Cummings’ logic, and there is no doubting his intentions to do what he felt was right. Moreover, the Atrium Gallery is an actual atrium, the main entrance to USM’s L/A building, so, logically, any student entering the building would necessarily be in the visual presence of all of the works in the exhibition.

If the concern was the name of the artist — an indirect presence — then Cummings’ acting in such a patently controversial way flew in the face of his purported goal. It was virtually inevitable that the artist’s name would be picked up by news organizations, and so it was (it was first published by the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram for which I write). While no statement from the university or the curator included the artist’s name, it was simple enough to discern from comparing the exhibition’s public media materials and noting which artist was no longer included in the show. Moreover, Moore left the spaces previously occupied by the paintings blank and included a note that stated that Cummings had removed the paintings. (The university later took these notes down, and that is another as-yet largely unvisited chapter of this story.)

I personally think Cummings was well-intentioned but handled the situation poorly: He might have, for example, contacted the curator first and sought her insights.She might have chosen, for example, to remove the work on her own. (Moore’s later statements make it clear she likely would not have done so, but Cummings had no way of knowing that — and didn’t bother to find out.) Or he might have contacted the artist and asked him not to come to any USM campus during the run of the show, etc.

My purpose in presenting the snippets of the dialogue between Ripton, Shetterly and others (including me) that follow is not to find or declare a singular truth but to encourage readers to delve into these complex and nuanced issues.

No one can undo what happened, but this seems a worthy set of circumstances to consider so that administrators and curators (and the public) can handle this as well as possible in the future. And if we are to accept censorship based on past actions, where do we draw the line? What if an artist was abusive to a spouse, robbed someone, cheated on taxes, got in a bar fight, or embezzled from an organization? As a critic, I have spent years developing my abilities to mentally separate works of art from the artists who made them. In other words, as a critic, I write about art, not artists. The painting and the person, as I see it, are not the same thing. But, of course, I do not expect the public to have the same perspective as I do. Culture is about people after all. It is a dynamic social space in which we articulate, confirm and test our ever-changing values. Right and wrong are never the same for long.

I want to be clear that I am deeply sympathetic to the victim, her family, Cummings, Moore, and the artist. Their perspectives are all different and I see no reason to believe that any of them have acted with ill-intent regarding this issue. I see merit in the statements of both Ripton and Shetterly. That is why I have included them both.

The first draft of this piece ended with the previous sentence, but I am here adding comments President Cummings made to me on the phone on the evening of June 28 and some of my thoughts about them.

Cummings explained to me that he found out about the presence of the work when the victim’s family contacted him and told him they were planning a public protest. This changes things and renders moot several of the points I made above: To begin, the idea that the victim was seeking quiet privacy was simply not true; that also means my surmising that Cummings was trying to keep this on the QT was wrong. Regarding the protest, this clarifies that Cummings wasn’t worried about the triggering of a single individual but any and all members of the community who may have been sexually assaulted in the past. “And it’s my understanding,” stated Cummings, “that as many as 20 or even 25% of American women are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.” Suddenly, I came to see the urgency of Cummings’ actions in a very different light. Whereas I had seen his abrupt unilateralism as insufficiently considered, I came to appreciate the difficulty of Cummings’ position and now consider his tactics as sympathetically strategic.

I am not sure how much of my previous statements I would have made differently if I had spoken to Cummings prior to drafting the text. However, I am not sure I would have spoken to Cummings if I hadn’t sent him my draft. In the spirit of dialogue, I am leaving my statements, my mistakes and my original thinking. After all, this is the point of dialogue: Our perspectives change and grow as we learn more about a situation. My thinking certainly has. I still think this is an instance of censorship and I do not think it was handled well. But I am now far more sympathetic about why this unraveled the way it did.

Here are a few related links:

Curator Janice Moore’s statement about the “Industrial Maine” censorship issue:
http://maineartsjournal.com/industrial-landscapes-a-curators-experience/

Daniel Kany’s 6 May Maine Sunday Telegram review of “Industrial Landscapes”: https://www.pressherald.com/2018/05/06/art-review-grit-galore-art-of-maines-industrial-landscape/

Bob Keyes’ May 6 article about the removal of the work:
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/05/06/sex-offenders-artwork-pulled-from-usm-show-at-lewiston-auburn-gallery/

Bob Keyes’ May 7 article about Cummings’ public response:
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/05/07/usm-president-responds-to-criticism-about-removal-of-sex-offenders-artwork/

Following are just a few excerpts from the email dialogue:

Excerpt from John Ripton’s May 3 “Open Letter to USM President Glenn Cummings, EdD” signed by Ripton and 19 others:

“As artists participating in the “Industrial Maine: Our Other Landscape” exhibit currently showing in the Atrium Art Gallery at USM Lewiston-Auburn, we respectfully call on you to restore to the gallery wall three paintings that you removed more than two weeks ago. We are joined in this urgent appeal by fellow artists at the Union of Maine Visual Artists. Your action constitutes censorship in clear violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Even if the three art pieces contain offensive content, which they do not, your decision to remove them threatens the very foundation of democratic society based on free expression of ideas.

Censorship must be vigorously opposed by citizens who wish to live in a free and open society. Any repressive step – no matter how insignificant it may appear or how justified it may seem – must be forcefully resisted. While censorship of creative expression may not appear to be significant in this instance, you have decided that a fellow citizen may not exhibit his work in a public institution. That is a decision that no one in a democracy can afford to accept.

(…)

In Section 212 of the University of Maine Policy Manual “The Board of Trustees of the University of Maine System affirms its commitment to the rights of free speech, free inquiry, and academic freedom. To protect these rights, all members of the University community should act toward each other with civility, mutual respect, integrity, and reason.”

The University further recognizes that freedom of expression “requires tolerance for diversity of opinion…without social or legal prohibition or fear of sanction.”

Daniel Kany seeking permission to get statements from Ripton and Shetterly. (It was Shetterly who suggested using the dialogue rather than statements.) June 14, 2018

“John & Robert,

Can we get and have permission to run your statements about the USM censorship issue for the forthcoming issue of the Maine Arts Journal: The UMVA Quarterly?

I am writing a piece with my name on it to accompany them. (I am on the MAJ’s editorial board, but this is a self-authored article, not an editorial board statement.)

My take is that there was a legitimate concern on the part of the president but that censorship of art is something that should be taken very seriously and only considered as a last resort. I don’t approve of Cummings’ process and lack of transparency. I think his job’s mission statement is clear that it was wrong for him to have pulled the work: He is tasked with supporting and defending academic freedom, and that includes curatorial presentation in the Atrium Gallery.

I also think that someone who has done criminal wrong in the past — and who has admitted and apologized for that wrongdoing and who has been cleared from the ranks of sex offenders — should not be penalized for doing something positive like art, particularly since this art is in no way concerning or offensive.

These points will constitute the bulk of my statement.

I hope we can count on including your comments in the MAJ.

Thank you,

Dan Kany”

Robert Shetterly to John Ripton May 3, 2018

Dear John,

As I said before, I’m opposed to the sending of this letter as it is written. (Shetterly is referring to the open letter quoted above that Ripton authored as an artist included in the exhibition.)

I think the issue is more nuanced than blatant censorship .

However, that’s simply my opinion.

I’ll be interested to see what comes of the sending of the letter.

I’ve copied below my response from last week. I should add that no one, except William (Hessian, the president of the UMVA’s Portland chapter), made any attempt to discuss this with me.

Best,

Rob”

From Rob Shetterly to William Hessian April 28, 2018:

“Thanks for sending the letter, William.

I’m totally opposed to it as written.

Although there is a censorship issue here, there is also a very real person who was a victim of sexual assault to whom the exhibit is disturbing.

There is no mention of her in the letter or empathy for her concerns.

It’s true that the artist may have served his time and certainly should be allowed to make and show his work,

It’s also true that the sentence is never over for the victim. Any reminder of him triggers fear and pain.

Before any letter is sent I recommend reaching out to the victim or the relatives & inviting them to have their say about  how they feel. Sit in a circle and listen. If art and artists should be about anything, it’s about listening.

I’m not in favor of having our “rights” of free speech run roughshod over a vulnerable person.

To me this is not the kind of free speech issue where ‘truth’ is being muzzled or kept secret. It’s primarily  an issue of sensitivity. How can we as artists at this moment actually help the victim have a voice and perhaps, then, find a way to show the paintings — she might OK that if she feels heard.

I spent a long time this morning talking with Jon Wilson of Just Alternatives (www.justalternatives.org <http://www.justalternatives.org/> ) who is a national expert on creating dialogue between victims and perpetrators.  He said it is very rare in our society for the voice of the victim to be heard or even considered over the “rights” of the perpetrator. We are encouraged to honor that the offender gets to “move on.” That’s fine, but the victim doesn’t get to move on from her trauma. I would prefer that the UMVA find a way to honor that.

That being said, I think the political sentiments of the letter in how they describe art and free speech in our culture today are exactly correct. But I don’t think they fit this problem and shouldn’t. I would prefer we act in this case from our hearts and not our anger.

Let’s discuss further….

Best,

Rob”

John Ripton to Robert Shetterly, Fri, May 4, 2018

“Hi Robert,

I appreciate your concerns and agree with many of your remarks. Endorsers of the letter are, of course, sensitive to any victim of a sex crime. Some of us have known such horrific experiences and many have relatives and friends who suffer daily the wrenching emotional consequences of such crimes. These experiences and the tragic plight of the victim and the relative who apparently contacted president Glenn Cummings were part of our discussion in the UMVA Portland Chapter. In this case, unfortunately, curator Janice Moore’s appeal to Glenn Cummings did not lead to any meeting to discuss the matter and reach an appropriate decision.

Several weeks have passed since the removal of the paintings. Janice Moore put a notice in the space of the missing paintings indicating that they had been removed by order of USM President Glenn Cummings. As curator, she felt that this was appropriate, given that an empty space suddenly appeared where the work of an artist who was part of the show and listed as a participating artist in the exhibit’s publicity had hung. His work had been seen by many who had attended the opening or had visited the show shortly afterward.

As far as I know from my conversations with Janice, Glenn Cummings has not reached out to have a meeting in which these delicate and sensitive matters might be more fully addressed. I believe that Janice earlier conveyed to you that she had requested an opportunity to discuss these matters with President Cummings when he called her to congratulate her on the exhibit. In addition, the notice on the wall where the paintings once hung clearly illustrates that this delicate matter has not been adequately considered.

The politics of the day are highly charged and frequently polarized. I and, as far as I can determine from our conversations at the gallery in Portland, other UMVA members are intimately aware of this. I don’t doubt that Glenn Cummings’ decision to remove the paintings was rational and informed by an understandable sensitivity to the victim. At the same time, neither curator nor the artist knows anything more about the reasons for his decision and he had ample opportunity to bring all parties into discussions concerning those reasons. No one asked that the victim be identified or even attend such a meeting. A more sensitive understanding could have been reached in a number of other ways.

Under these circumstances, Dr. Cummings’ decision seems at best quite arbitrary. In the broader American society we contend daily with lack of transparency, misguided communication, muddy decision-making and disregard for evidentiary fact. The laws protecting a democratic society are only as good as our political will to maintain them. If we allow, for example, the Justice Department to be undermined by those who do not wish to countenance potentially damaging information to surface, then we will have abdicated our responsibility and placed into jeopardy all expression of ideas except those that have gained the political advantage to use the law for their own purposes.

These are the very reasons the First Amendment provision of “free speech” exists. And the Supreme Court has interpreted creative expression to fall within that provision’s scope. While acting on principle may sometimes seem to observers as insensitive to others, it is often forgotten that the principle in this case is ultimately protecting the rights of all people to be heard. Without carefully observing this right, the victims of any criminal act, heinous ones and less reprehensible ones, will not be adequately heard.

It is in this spirit that Janice Moore requested of Dr. Cummings an opportunity to discuss more fully the removal of the paintings. She knew well that the decision needed to involve all affected parties. She was completely sensitive to the complaint that had been made on the victim’s behalf. Janice and I are both aware that the complexities of this delicate issue are interconnected and anything short of addressing those wide-ranging relationships may actually do more harm to victims of sex crimes than might be appreciated in the absence of deeper consideration.

For these reasons it is critical that we express clearly and affirmatively to president Glenn Cummings our shared concerns about censorship in light of the First Amendment and the USM charter’s (section 212 Free Speech, Academic Freedom, and Civility).

I respect your thoughtful remarks. Unfortunately, I was not aware of your response to the letter. I write at such length to make clear how important this request to restore the paintings actually is. It is a difficult issue and one that should have been addressed appropriately before an act of censorship occurred.

Respectfully,

John”

National Coalition Against Censorship’s Director of Programs, Svetlana Mintcheva’s June 21 “Statement about USM Censorship”

The University of Southern Maine’s (USM) removal of three paintings from an exhibition in an on-campus gallery is a disturbing instance of encroachment on academic and curatorial freedom. The incident highlights the need for exhibition spaces at academic institutions to have clear guidelines in place. As institutions whose mission it is to nurture cultural exchange and education, public universities must uphold and protect freedom of expression in their exhibition spaces as staunchly as in their classrooms.

USM’s removal of paintings by Bruce Habowski, a well-regarded painter whose works have been shown at the Portland Museum of Art and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, from “Industrial Maine: Our Other Landscape,” was based on complaints that his past behavior disqualifies his work from being displayed no matter what it represents. USM President Cummings’s subsequent statement that the work, beautifully executed paintings of industrial landscapes, could serve as a trigger for victims of child abuse and sexual assault raised further alarm about the University’s commitment to principles of academic freedom:

If universities were to purge all material produced by those who have ever violated moral and social imperatives, there would not be much left to study and students would be deprived of all nuanced discussion about ethical and moral conflict. (Caravaggio was a murderer; Picasso a serial sex abuser; Dostoevsky a virulent anti-Semite, the list is very very long.) A sterile, empty space may be “safe” but it does not promote learning or any form of complex thinking.

Students attend college to learn, to discuss ideas and be exposed to a wide range of art and literature, not to be kept in an isolation bubble. They must be trusted and respected for their strength, not treated as fragile victims. Rather than suppress the creative output of those who fall short in their moral conduct, a university must find intelligent ways to encourage its community to engage in critical discussions of such issues in all their nuances and grey areas.

Here are four principles that academic exhibition spaces should adopt:

  • Artistic expression in a university setting, as well as the presentation of student and faculty work to the public, is integral to the learning process and therefore merits the protection accorded to other scholarly and teaching activities. University exhibition spaces must align with the mission of educational institutions, uphold curatorial and academic freedom, and demonstrate respect for the curator’s decisions.
  • Universities hold exhibitions to encourage artistic creativity, expression, learning and appreciation, and they do not thereby endorse specific artistic presentations nor do the presentations necessarily represent the institution. This principle of institutional neutrality does not relieve institutions of general responsibility for maintaining professional and educational standards, but it does mean that institutions are not responsible for the views or attitudes expressed in specific artistic works.
  • While many considerations enter the curatorial process, once an exhibition goes up, academic institutions should ensure that the rights of the presenters and the audience are not impaired by a “heckler’s veto” from those who may be offended by the presentation. Those who choose to view or attend should be able do so without interference. Modifications should only be made in exceptional cases and only after an extensive process of deliberation with all the stakeholders.
  • The selection of art for an exhibition should not require a background check into the artists’ pasts, nor should artists be judged and disqualified from participation in an exhibition based on their beliefs, statements or past behavior unrelated to the work shown. Such a requirement not only unduly burdens the curatorial process, it would open the institution to a flood of complaints for giving a platform to individuals that may hold the “wrong” ideas or have been accused of various types of misconduct.

 

John Bisbee – State of the Studio

“American Steel”; 4”, 6”, 8”, and 12” Bright Common Spikes, Weld; dimensions variable, 2018.

For the last year and a half, I have been obsessed with creating my upcoming show, American Steel, at CMCA. It is a true departure for me on many fronts: it’s realist, it’s text-driven, it’s political, and hopefully it’s funny. If it’s not a little bit funny something’s gone wrong, and if it doesn’t go past this charged political moment, something has also gone wrong.

I’m attempting to unpack my abstract and specific thoughts about this country of ours.

The work runs from the miniature–oyster shells–to the macro–enormous pillars and a serpent. I’m hoping the work will read like a dark allegorical fairytale with some optimistic twists. It  has been an amazing work cycle. So many new discoveries of technique and form and specificity. When I’m not terrified I’m having the best time of my life.

The obvious reason for this strange new batch of work is the injection of toxins that this current administration has shot into our politics, and even more significantly, into our society. Trump has opened the door that I had hoped would remain locked at the bottom of the ocean. People just feel comfortable spitting hate without ever hearing or even wanting a cogent response. Because the dialogue seems so discordant, I felt compelled to enter it.

John Bisbee studio shot #1, photo courtesy of J. Myer
John Bisbee studio shot #2, photo courtesy of J. Myer
John Bisbee studio shot #3, photo courtesy of J. Myer

The Wave of Creativity by Dietlind Vander Schaaf

by Dietlind Vander Schaaf

 

Last winter I found myself in a bit of an artistic slump. The flow of energy and ideas that had moved through me freely and guided my work for years seemed to have dried up. As winter gave way to spring, I reached beyond my studio walls to other artists in my orbit curious about what they were working on. How had they ridden the wave of creativity over the long haul? What did their daily studio practices look like? I wanted their insights. Ultimately their answers cast my experiences as part of a larger and ongoing conversation. As painter Gail Spaien notes, “painting is a physical manifestation of life…it brings us in closer contact with what it means to be alive and heightens our awareness about that which is not visible.”

 

Henry Wolyniec

Henry Wolyniec is involved with three distinct bodies of work at the moment. The first, which he has been working on for the last decade, consists of paper collage and relief printing. The second is a series of painted wire and paper sculptures started in the summer of 2017. The third is photography, which he has been doing for about three years. Henry says of his work that it is not concept driven or grounded in ideas; rather he continues at a piece until a series of visual decisions seem to come together.

Henry Wolyniec, HW 17.29, relief print and paper collage, 24” x 19”, 2017

Photography started as a fast and easy way for Wolyniec to capture an image. After a while, he noticed that certain kinds of images, specifically densely-packed compositions that included some form of overlapping shadow or reflection, kept showing up. Around the same time, he saw that his collages, in comparison, had gone flat and lacked composition. Recognizing he had worked himself into an aesthetic corner, Wolyniec realized photography would help him find his way out.

Henry Wolyniec, HW 16.3, relief print and paper collage, 17” x 16”, 2016

For Henry, navigating his need to have the time, energy, and focus his work requires has meant letting go of certain personal relationships not in sync with art making, as well as making specific choices around work and living situations that are affordable and studio friendly. Keeping life simple and uncluttered works, he notes, if money is not a motivation or within realistic reach.

 

Ingrid Ellison

Currently at work on a series that explores different color combinations, Ingrid Ellison’s paintings are an effort to balance pressure with open space. Her ideas come in the form of visual cues from nearly everywhere–the foggy harbor, a solitary mountain path, cracked and peeling paint, the shadow on a wall, a new tube of paint, passages from books and phrases from poems or songs, as well as time spent alone, out of doors, moving through space, woods, or water. There her mind empties and her thoughts are clearest.

Ingrid Ellison, Last April in Saint George, oil on panel, 12” x 12”, 2018
Ingrid Ellison, this is everything I know about Winter, 36” x 36”, oil on linen, 2018

Lately she has begun to explore writing as an extension of her creative practice. She keeps a visual journal that she takes everywhere, in which she writes, draws, paints, and collages.

Ingrid Ellison, The Grace of Summer, oil on panel, 12” x 12”, 2018

Frequently she experiences a period in which she feels as though she has explored all her options in a particular body of work and were she to continue, she would begin repeating herself. This is usually followed by a series of unsuccessful paintings that she keeps making until something new reveals itself, and then she is off following that tangent. It’s a very experimental phase, she says, and one of her tricks to moving through it is to force herself to start differently.

 

Kim Bernard

Kim Bernard has been working with a quarter round shape that forms a particular mark. It took her weeks of focusing exclusively on this flow-like element to get the mark right. This was followed by several more weeks of figuring out what materials to work with and how to apply the mark. She says this period was characterized by quite a bit of dissatisfaction, but she dealt with it, because “the older I get, the less I am willing to accept something that’s not just right in my work.”

 

Movement has been a consistent theme in Bernard’s oeuvre, which ranges from kinetic sculpture and gestural painting, to painting with a pendulum, sculpture racing contraptions, spring shoes, and finger painting.

Recently, Bernard experienced a bout of creative block. She had finished her Amphibious Tiny House project, which consumed her for 2017. She felt a bit lost and spent the next few months fighting going to her studio because it was painful to be in there. To ease back in, she gave herself permission to do whatever she wanted, as long as she was in the studio. She messed around with paints, drew, took photographs. Most of the work she produced was not good, but she persevered , telling herself that nothing was guaranteed to happen if she didn’t try. And eventually something sparked.

Kim Bernard, Go With The Flow, 16” x 24”, encaustic on panel framed with lead

During this period, Bernard read books about the creative process and listened to podcasts on creativity, all the while observing herself and taking notes. She developed a workshop called “Cultivating Creativity,” in which she guides students through playful exercises that inspire, build creative confidence, and generate ideas, leaving them with an arsenal of go-to strategies they can revisit for inspiration.

 

Bernard just turned 53 and she feels a sense of time passing. She has become increasingly selective about the kind of work she does and where she exhibits. “I don’t want to waste time and energy spinning my wheels on what’s not meaningful.”

 

Gail Spaien

Throughout her career, Gail Spaien has explored the question of how to bring the natural world into a static gallery setting. Her paintings translate the sensations around her with concentrated detail, depicting an idealized view of nature and a denial of unpleasant things. She paints the world as she would like it to be and invites the viewer to experience a painting as an object that holds an opportunity for contemplation, physical intimacy and affective power.

Gail Spaien, Serenade #10, acrylic on linen, 41” x 44”, 2017

A painter of ‘weather and seasons,’ Spaien feeds her studio practice by working in her garden. She says that she has come to appreciate the symmetry of landscape design through hours spent composing an image and arranging her garden to create a form of balance that is both stable and active.

Gail Spaien, Serenade #6, acrylic on linen, 34” x 36”, 2017

And Spaien admits that she is lost a lot. Her strategy, like that of Wolyniec, Ellison, and Bernard, is simply to keep working. That is followed by taking walks in all kinds of weather, as well as looking at art in person and in books.

 

At this time in her career, Spaien refuses to worry about whether she is doing it right anymore. This has, at times in the past, hindered her ability to have a particular kind of freedom in the studio. When stuck, she returns to pragmatic, technically-based core questions. Throughout all of her work is the thread of her core inquiry. How, she wonders, can she give form to life’s paradox and poignancy?

Gail Spaien, Renegade Mirage #2, acrylic on linen, 38” x 40”, 2018

Invitation for Fall Issue 2018: Dialogue

Dialogue

Dialogue is defined as a conversation between two or more people, and in literature, philosophy or art takes on many forms and formats. The purpose of dialogue is to explore topics rather than reach conclusions. It is different from a debate and more egalitarian than a monologue.

Artists can choose from many forms to explore their themes or topics. There is the interview format between two artists, or a less formal conversation format, or the lyrical, narrative format. And there is a visual dialogue, through images such as Jim Chute’s “Conversations” series, or Christine Sullivan seeking salon-style interaction.

There are questions extended to artists to explore with others and reflect on the process.

When making art are you seeking to explore dialogue between individuals or is your artwork part of a larger dialogue—a broader cultural perspective? Do curators and art reviewers guide or inhibit your conversations?  How do we foster/contribute to dialogue as artists in cultural institutions? How do schools, programs, organizations, UMVA, MAC, MECA, foster or engage their students and programming in dialogue? What is the role of the gallery? The artist?

Journal Submission guidelines for Members Showcase and featured artists:

Deadline: September 1st  

A) We invite UMVA members to submit up to 4 JPEG or png images, (featured artists 8-12 images). Attach to an email, (see below.)

—Size of images:Images as JPEG files, (approximately 1000 pixels on long side, resolution 72dpi) with total file size: 500KB – 1.2MB (No TIFF files)

—Photo/image file name:  your last name_number of image_title  

Note:If you are submitting for a group put your own last name in first.

B) Include your statement, or essay, and an image list in Word doc. format, not a PDF.

—Document/essay file names: your last Name_title of essay—Image list file name:  your last name_image list

Image list format:  Artist’s Name, “Title of Work”, medium, size, date (optional), photo credit (if not included we assume it is courtesy of the artist).

Please wait until all of your material is compiled to submit.

C) Submit by email to umvalistings@gmail.com  Put “Dialogue” in the subject line.

MAJ will limit the “Members’ Showcase” section to UMVA members who have not been published in the past year.

We are no longer able to accommodate artists’ pre-formatted visual essays. Our editors will lay-out text and images submitted using the new guidelines above.

Maine artists and arts community members can become members of the Union of Maine Visual Artists by clicking HERE <http://umvaonline.org/index.php?page=join> . Membership helps support the UMVA’s advocacy and helps make this Maine Arts Journal: UMVA Quarterly possible. Or you can provide direct support to the MAJ via the link under “Support MAJ!” For a free subscription to the MAJ, enter your email on the side link under“Subscribe”and a link to this Journal will be mailed to your inbox.

It is the MAJ’s policy to request and then publish image credits. We will not publish images the submitter does not have the right to publish. However, we leave the question of photo credit to the discretion of the submitter when there is no required photo credit (photo by self, image ownership freely given, copyright with contract, copyright expired, work for hire).  It is to be assumed that any uncredited or unlabeled images are the author’s/submitter’s own images. By submitting to the MAJ, you are acknowledging respect for these policies.

Thank you,

MAJ Editorial Board
Natasha Mayers, Dan Kany, Jessica Myer, Nora Tryon, Kathy Weinberg

Introduction to the Summer 2018 Issue  

 
State of the Studio
What an artist does daily matters. The continuity of a steady studio practice is a place of invention and exploration, as—or more important than—putting on a show.
We asked the artists in this issue to tell us “What are you doing? What are you making?”  Are you staying on a course you have long ago established or have you recently started working in a new medium?  Are you suddenly working very large or getting small? Have figures emerged or has your work been consumed with geometry? Have you added color, or moved into monochromes? Does the outside world affect your studio life, or is your interior life reflected in your art? And was there a reason— or was it a whim— that brought you to your current direction?

Featured artist, Meghan Brady shares her experiences in studio residencies and scale. A studio visit with Ron Crusan explores his work, neighborhood and influences. John Bisbee talks about his new politically-charged art. Beth Wittenberg shares her thoughts on consumption, throw-away people, and being without a studio.  Pat Wheeler writes about how we can restore ourselves in troubled times. Sarah Stites reveals how drawing is her lifeline to her work. Sondra Bogdonoff writes about how her weaving is augmented and informed by painting and drawing. Tom Flanagan tells us that drawing connects him to the world and his sensibilities. Jim Chute shares his Conversations series and foreshadows our fall theme: Dialogue.
 
Member contributors include Sandy Olson who gets back into her studio and finds new inspiration. And Ruth Sylmor, Ken Kohl, Pamela Grumbach,Judith Allen-Efstathiou, Michelle Leier, Amy Pollien, Alanna Hernandez all share their art, thoughts and inspirations about the State of the Studio.

Janice Moore shares an account of her experience curating what became the  USM-LA Censorship story, and we include with it excerpts from letters written by John Ripton and Robert Shetterly with an essay on the topic by Dan Kany, and the National Coalition Against Censorship’s statement about the incident.

Regular contributor Edgar Beem writes about artists’ studios he has known. Dan Kany describes Henry Isaacs’ studio filled with brushes and small canvas “notes”.

Jane Bianco, Farnsworth Museum curator writes about the 19th century portraitist and landscape painter, James Hope.
Sarah Bouchard joins us as a guest contributor and interviews Michael Mansfield, the new executive director and chief curator of the Ogunquit Museum of  American Art about his personal artistic practice.

Dietlind Vander Schaaf contributes an essay from her place of inner contemplation and asks other artists what they are working on.

Our regular Poetry Feature introduced by Betsy Sholl presents  poems by Christian Barter and Dawn Potter.
Other regular features include: Insight/Incite about Krisanne Baker’s water activist residency in Malawi.

Richard Kane of Maine Masters talks about how he’d like to see those films used in the schools.  
 
ARRT! makes more banners, LumenARRT!  makes more projections, Portland and Lewiston UMVA chapters present reports.

The issue is full of many essays and artists to meet and explore, so find a porch, a hammock, or an armchair by a fire and curl up with the Maine Arts Journal on a fine, or foggy summer day!

From the editors,

Natasha Mayers, Dan Kany, Jessica Myer, Nora Tryon, Kathy Weinberg

 

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.)

State of the Studio with Meghan Brady

Last summer I was the recipient of a six month studio residency through the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation.  I left my modest garage-studio behind my house, where I have been making paintings, drawings, prints and some sculpture over the last ten years, for a large high-ceilinged space at Lincoln Street Center in Rockland.  Shifting spaces has been transformative for me.

Studio shot, piece from “New Misfits” in process, acrylic on paper + Tyvek, 2018

Mostly I responded to the scale of my new space by following the impulse to work larger.  I painted and collaged a series of wall-sized paper pieces that I made on the floor. I had a backlog of painting ideas that I wanted to get out of my head as a way to loosen up my other work.  I found it liberating to work on a temporary, unfussy surface that I could reshape on an impulse. Not only did I find relief to my restlessness by turning my back on the loaded history of painting on stretched canvas but I also found a sense of possibility in the physical building itself.  The new studio suited me in ways that I could not have predicted and so I have stayed on as tenant.

Studio shot, acrylic on paper, 2018

I am back to working on canvas but it is unstretched and I am still using the floor as my work surface.  I’m using the same collage approach as I used with the paper pieces but the materials have slowed the mark-making down.  There’s a body-intelligence in making work with the whole physical being — walking around and across the painting or on hands and knees.  I trust it.

Installation shot of “Free-Forming” at Tiger Strikes Asteroid where the artist used the gallery space as her studio while an artist-in-residence in Brooklyn, NY, April 2018, acrylic on paper, photo: Julia Guillard

I talk a big game about being open to change in my studio but notice that I always have some hesitation or resistance to it when the crucial moment arrives.  I’m interested in that conflicted moment and what it is telling me. A studio friend refers to it as threshold anxiety.

Installation shot of “Free-Forming” at Tiger Strikes Asteroid where the artist used the gallery space as her studio while an artist-in-residence in Brooklyn, NY, April 2018, acrylic on paper, photo: Julia Guillard

Very recently I’ve been working on small stretched oil paintings in my old studio again.  I feel the same but completely different, like a tourist who has traveled and then come home.  The residency and the changes it encouraged remind me to find the place where I stay both flexible and focused in the presence of my work while allowing myself to do all those underrated non-quantifiable studio acts:  eat all the snacks, stare at the wall, read, and miss people.

—Meghan Brady, May 2018

 

 

Sara Stites in the studio: A Journey

My work has always had an organic, visceral aspect which I consider to be part of my concern with life issues, like vulnerability, passion, and the uncanny.

Sara Stites, Studio view of “Lemon,” ink, spray paint on Fabriano paper, mylar, 30” x 20′ 2018

Drawing in notebooks is my lifeline to my work whether I am in my studio in Maine or Miami or traveling on the road between them. My hand goes where it wants in these visual journals. After I fill each one, I reconnoiter, selecting and tearing out what might be used for inspiration.

 

Sara Stites, Journey, oil & ink on yupo paper, 5’ x 23’ 2016-17

Last summer, after completing two long narrative works, I found that I was drawing heads and faces in my notebooks. I wondered how far the features could be distorted or moved around and still read as a face.

Sara Stites, Family, oil & ink on yupo paper, 5’ x 24’ 2017

Before that, I had been mixing recognizable faces with imagined forms and questioning my need to do this.

 

Sara Stites,Pink, ink, spray paint on Fabriano paper, 30” x 20”, 2018

Was the realism a crutch to impress the viewer that I could do it? Was it a way of enticing the viewer into the more difficult passages of my work? Or both?

Of course, I know that my best work is not so carefully considered. It’s what emerges when faced with an empty wall. But my fascination with faces was an issue I needed to explore.

 

Sara Stites, Studio view, “Hanging man,” ink, spray paint on Fabriano paper, mylar, 30” x 20”, 2018

I recalled that Philip Guston, at a turning point in his work, made a series of small painted sketches that he considered his “alphabet”, his vocabulary. The photograph of his efforts has always moved me because they are so direct, without sentiment and trying to hold on to what he’d done before.

Guston realized that a lifetime of devotion to art requires the occasional jolt to one’s satisfaction. Like a long relationship, it needs refreshment and redefinition, all the while staying true to the basic alphabet.

Philip Guston alphabet. Photo provided by S.Stites.

I thought back to his efforts and decided to challenge myself to create a vocabulary of heads and faces, leaving the next phase open-ended. Guston used his basic vocabulary as the inspiration for his new work – work that was not, at first, accepted by his admirers. I sensed that I was not taking as great a leap but embraced the exercise anyway.

Here’s what I did:

I culled 20 intriguing face/head sketches from my notebooks and transferred them to sheets of medium-sized Fabriano paper, using black ink and brush. Then I placed bright, colorful, geometric forms behind the faces to give a feeling of space behind them.

Sara Stites, Studio view, “Orange,” ink, spray paint on Fabriano paper, mylar, 30” x 20”, 2018

Part of my practice, in the last few years, has been to photograph my work with objects from the studio in the foreground. Manipulation of the light source and shadows furthers a process of refinement and integration resulting in a photograph that can be seen as the final “artifact” of the process.

Sara Stites, Studio view, “Pointed Pink,” ink,spray paint on Fabriano paper, 30” x 20”, 2018

One phase of the process involved masking areas of the paper to leave white paper where there was no color. I used mylar to mask the white areas – and I noticed that it looked lovely as it fell to the floor.  Sprayed areas of color trailed off softly and marks made by tape were bold. 

 

Sara Stites, Collage 1, ink, spray paint, Fabriano paper, push pins, tape, mylar on wall, d/v, 2018

 

The discarded mylar, I decided,would become an integral part of my journey with these drawings, and I placed the scraps as objects in front of the original art. The conceptual kick of plowing my materials back into the work added to the visual mystery of the same color behind and on top of the black and white, partially-obscured drawings.

On the wall of my studio, I placed four or five drawings, arranging them with attention to their colored parts so that a head might be turned on its side. This was a way of keeping me from being too precious with what I’d already made, my carefully inked faces. The black inked lines became the girding – the strong base of my structure – while at the same time maintaining their identity as individual pieces of art.

 

Sara Stites, Collage 2, ink, spray paint, Fabriano paper, push pins, tape, mylar on wall, d/v, 2018

Pinning and taping the colored mylar in writhing, playful interaction with the under-color and ink drawings, I made a collage on the wall. The mylar encircled, caressed, obscured and opened up to let the drawings show through, giving life to the big form emerging as a unified, amorphous piece of work. This was the pure joy of creation.  I didn’t worry about tape or pins showing.  I’d pushed through the step-by-step process – the plodding and earnest studying – to using the results of my work in ways I hadn’t intended.

And I had my own alphabet. 

The photos of the entire collage (I made several) seem like documentation of an ephemeral site-specific installation, one that could be repeated in different locations.  The close ups of different parts of the overall collage are exciting new photographs.

Edgar Degas, The Chorus Singers, image provided by S.Stites

Afterward, I returned to the horizontal format with new interest in color and ideas of how to use the heads. Inspired by a recently recovered Degas (“The Chorus Singers”  had been stolen in 2009 and found this winter at a bus station near Paris), I borrowed the composition of singers shown in perspective. Instead of figures, I “plugged in” my heads and painted them in colors I’d been using. It came out quite well but seemed a bit decorative and tasteful until I added the realistic head and face of a somewhat cranky child.

 The journey had come full circle.

 

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.

 

State of the Studio: Sondra Bogdonoff

After an earlier 25 year career as a textile artist, selling nationally a line of one-of-a-kind jackets and doing commissioned wall work, I returned to school to get a masters in public policy and started working full-time at the Muskie School at USM. My studio, on the second floor of the barn attached to our house in Portland, was no longer where I went to work. Although there was always something on the loom, I no longer “lived” there.

Sondra Bogdonoff, Lets Dance, linen, silk, needlepoint canvas inserts, 12” x 17”, 2016, photo: Jay York

Even when I worked in planning and development, I still thought of myself as a weaver. I considered my job to use the same sensibilities, same end result: weaving together multiple ideas, people and circumstances to move an institution (or an idea) forward to fruition. But after 20 years in university administration, I am thrilled to now be back in my studio weaving full–time. And weaving has been augmented and informed by painting and drawing.

Sondra Bogdonoff, Bark, Linen, wood inserts, 27” x 24”, 2016, photo: Jay York

I began painting while I still had a full-time job. I wanted something more immediate and transportable than weaving. Inspired by my love of casein paint and a class at Haystack with Alan Bray, I have continued painting from nature as an antidote, an opposite starting point from weaving – although I seem to often end up in the same place. When I find a view – through the woods, over the water, or out my window – there is invariably some indiscernible pattern, some underlying structure that I can’t see, but want to find. That is what drives the painting. I try to replicate what I see, but at some point, it becomes about the pattern. And I can layer and evolve a painting in a very different way from weaving.

Sondra Bogdonoff, Woods Window, casein on wood panel, 11” x 7.5”, 2015, photo: Jay York

The loom requires an end vision, and then multiple decisions, all of which have a consequence. So it’s an ongoing process of trying to stay true, decision upon decision, about color and thread and pattern. I get glimpses along the way, but truly don’t know what I have until it is finished and off the loom. I love the constraints of the loom – that both inspire and limit me. I like to work at the edge of possibilities – to see how far I can push the loom in the way it orders and structures the threads. I’ve been exploring pleating, layering and tension changes in making a surface. My husband, Jamie Johnston, has a wood studio below me in our barn, and the dialogue between us continues to play a role in my creative process.  

Sondra Bogdonoff, Ocean View, casein on wood panel, 10.5” x 13”, 2016, photo: by artist

I bought my first loom in 1974, when I moved to the Maine woods, and built a home without power or running water. I still use the same loom. When I recently did a weaving on a new loom, only then did I realize how well I know my loom, and what a relationship we have. We are good friends.

Sondra Bogdonoff, Into the Hedge/Winter, casein on wood panel, 10” x 13”, 2016, photo: by artist

Returning to my studio two and a half years ago, I had only begun to find my weaving rhythm when I became ill with a virus that lasted four months and left me with no energy for the physical work of weaving. While recovering, I began a drawing series “Stilled Life”, as an exploration of a grid structure that has long occupied my mind. I continue to love this simple process of making lines, the sense of hand, and the absolute attention it requires.

Sondra Bogdonoff, Stilled Life – Lines #7, wax pastel on paper, 14” x 14”, 2017, photo: by artist

After drawing for six months, I began to see the relation between the drawings and weaving and how I could move from lines to threads. Now that I am healthy, I’ve shifted my weaving focus to take what I learned from the drawing process and translate that into weavings, where the loom places its own parameters and opportunities.

Sondra Bogdonoff, Stilled Life – Lines #15, wax pastel on paper,16” x 24”, 2017, photo: by artist

In these recent weavings, as in the drawings, each square in the grid is made up of four colors. Two colors alternate changing right to left across the grid, while the other two colors alternate changing top to bottom. The result is that every square is one color different from the squares surrounding it. In a block of 9 squares there is a complete change of colors from the top left, to the bottom right, repeated multiple times. Each weaving/drawing uses 20 – 40 different colors.

Sondra Bogdonoff, Stilled Life – Lines #21, wax pastel on paper, 14” x 14”, 2018, photo: by artist

I’m consistently awed (infatuated) by how much energy and light is captured in a process that requires such calm concentration. And how the difference between individual threads used as lines and the same threads in a weave can look so completely different.

Sondra Bogdonoff, Stilled Life – Threads #3, linen on needlepoint, 16” x16” (needlepoint is 7” x7”), 2018

My practice is in simply working – everyday. I’m acutely aware of the cost of not weaving consistently for so many years. Although I have no regrets, I do feel committed to regaining the mental flexibility and comfort I had during my earlier career as a weaver, hopefully bringing a little more wisdom and ease to the process.  

Sondra Bogdonoff, Stilled Life – Weave #8, linen, 21” x 13”, 2018

I am totally immersed in this journey at this point – grateful that I have the privilege of time and energy to go wherever this exploration takes me.

Sondra Bogdonoff, Stilled Life – Weave #7 (photographed by artist, on the loom), Linen, 15” x 15”
2018

Cannery Row—A Studio Visit with Ron Crusan by Kathy Weinberg

The crossroads where you make the turn towards Port Clyde is landmarked by the General Henry Knox Museum, a 1929 re-creation of the original 1794 Federal mansion. Its monumental façade comes into view almost simultaneously with the Dragon Cement Company, a large construction of chutes and appendages of the last functioning cement manufacturer in New England. The historic and the industrial languages blend to form an architectural hybrid landscape, suggestive of a Hieronymus Bosch painting or an assemblage constructed of disparate parts. What brought me to this juncture, and through the coastal villages past Tenants Harbor, to Port Clyde, was an invitation from Ron Crusan to visit his studio.

 

Ron Crusan, Painting 2, 30″ x 22”, 2018 Acrylic on paper. photo by the artist.

 

Upon my arrival we began by looking at a stack of paintings on heavily- textured watercolor paper that at first glance resembled etchings. The paintings are built up layers of dark washes with specks of brilliant color revealed in the intertwined black and gray marks. Ron is reading about Richard Serra’s drawing process and thinking about the marks as language. Perhaps it is Crusan’s experience as a museum director that also has him thinking about how to display the paintings. He considers hanging them low and paired towards each other in a corner. He hopes this will encourage an interaction with the viewer, questioning the placement, creating a dialogue, getting people thinking about how an object occupies space. He is thinking about how a work of art becomes a part of the architecture and defines the space around it.

 

Ron Crusan, Studio, work on easel, 2018. photo by K.Weinberg

Crusan has more time now to devote to making, thinking and talking about his artwork. For more than 25 years he was director at several regional museums, most recently the Ogunquit Museum. His move to Port Clyde from Southern Maine last year coincided with his current position as director of Linda Bean’s Maine Wyeth Gallery and collections.

Ron Crusan, Assemblage, 2017-18. photo by the artist.

Inside his home, Crusan’s sculptures and assemblages line the walls of the living room and dining room. He makes freestanding sculpture, and shadow box assemblages from old wood, rough wood, and driftwood, some from old furniture, some painted, and some cut and reassembled. The associations that come to mind are some of the familiar names of 20thcentury modernism. But those are not the first associations that Crusan wants you to have.

Ron Crusan, Assemblage, 2017-18. photo by the artist.

In 1953—the year that Ron Crusan was born—Joseph Cornell made a series of shadow boxes in homage to a collage work, “The Man at the Café,” by the cubist master, Juan Gris. A recent show at the Metropolitan Museum united those works. A pair of west Coast artists, Wallace Berman and George Herms, both contemporaries of Joseph Cornell, worked in a similar vein, as assemblage artists. Cornell feels like a figure from history, his work evokes an earlier era, but he traversed the 20thcentury, spanning the years from 1903-1972, he is on a continuum with George Herms, born in 1935, and who still lives and works in Los Angeles.

One of Crusan’s wall assemblages includes a door handle, another a rusty hinge, a key is inserted into one, while another has a small tin box inset into the wood. They evoke a sense of place. We talk a bit about realism, and what does it actually mean.  Crusan pulls a book on Andrew Wyeth off his shelf. He flips through to the painting “Brown Swiss” and talks about the composition. A barn is on the left side with a partial reflection in a pond below, and the sloping horizontal lines of fields intersect in a myriad of textures in grays and browns.  There are concentrated areas of activity that balance the space. There were windows in the original structure, Crusan said, but Wyeth left them out and so the wall becomes a slab of white. The painting is as much an observational assemblage with an underpinning of abstraction composed by Wyeth, as Crusan’s pieces are abstractions made of actual elements salvaged from a real place and composed in the studio.

Ron Crusan, Assemblage, 2017-18. photo by the artist.

Leaving the more formal rooms in Crusan’s home we enter into his workshop, which resembles a raw materials library. Piles of scrap wood are neatly organized, some are textured, or some with carving and joinery betray a previous function as chair, table, or banister. Stacks of clear storage boxes hold parts and potential projects, sorted by like items, or color. One drawer reveals stacks of old Bingo cards, another is full of Monopoly paraphernalia. One box is filled with yellow pieces of wood, another, orange. Stacks of toy blocks with cowboys, and the corresponding Indians are set up in a still life on the shelf. A ray of sun moved into the upper story window and illuminated the inside of an old doll’s head that sat with a cluster of other dolls on a high perch. “Did you catch that?” asks Ron, and I nod, holding my camera. Lids of Port Clyde sardines tins are stacked like a deck of playing cards, some rusty, some with the logo bright and fresh.

 

Ron Crusan, Studio view, 2018. photo by K.Weinberg

 

The worn blocks and iconic relics say something about the passage of cultural time: like toy diplomats they present a window into what an American childhood once was.

 

Ron Crusan, Studio view, 2018. photo by K.Weinberg

 

We walk through the snow to the two storage sheds behind Crusan’s house. There is evidence of a squirrel that sees the space as a refuge. Nature is at work on the materials, even as Crusan has plans for them as well. The aura of possibilities lingers in the space, open- ended by collecting, and arrangement, bounded only by the limits of the imagination and the changes within the culture itself.

 

David McLaughlin, The Cannery, interior view. photo by J.Ackerman

As I prepare to leave I ask Ron if he knew of the Waldo County sculptor, and welder David McLaughlin. McLaughlin bought, and moved into a defunct factory, known as “The Cannery” in Liberty Maine, in 1972. McLaughlin was an avid salvage collector of scrap materials on an industrial scale, including the eight-foot tall pressure cookers that once processed vegetables in the Cannery, 500 gallons of steel rings, and as a delicate counterpoint, shelves filled with birds’ nests.

David McLaughlin, The Cannery, interior view. photo by J.Ackerman

His assemblages of rusty and rustic constructions evoke a sense of nostalgia, fabricated from articles from the recent past which have never fully become a part of our own times. His estate includes 100 tons of assorted steel, iron and other materials, and is now in the care of Waterfall Arts in Belfast and the Town of Liberty.

 

Ron Crusan, studio view. photo by K.Weinberg

 

Ron is eager to talk about art and to delve beneath the surface. He mentions some of the artists in the area, Jamie Wyeth, Wilder Oakes, and the late Richard Hamilton. Ron talks of future ideas involving all of his Monopoly pieces, arranged, or scattered perhaps, the boards set out on a gallery floor, an invitation to play or to reflect on the game itself.

Ron Crusan, Studio materials, 2018. photo by K.Weinberg

Ron sees me to the door, and then calls me back in with another book in hand to show me an artist in his neighborhood, accomplished painter, and amateur astronomer, Greg Mort. Thumbing through the book, we enter Mort’s world of exquisite still life—delicate arrangements of shells and planets—assemblages of sorts.

Driving away I feel the potential from all those raw materials, seeds of the mind that might come to grow on fertile soil. I think about Ron Crusan reading, and working from the ideas of Richard Serra, making his own response to those works, his steady and patient collecting of objects, and the absorption of culture and ideas—incorporating the past through its marks and materials.

Ron Crusan, Painting 3, 30″ x 22”, 2018 Acrylic on paper. photo by the artist.

The search for ephemera through the chance findings of flea markets perhaps now joins the realm of beat poetry, part of an America that is closer to the world of pre-Interstate highway. Jack Kerouac’s novel, On the Road was written in the era of the two-lane highway, and published in 1951, two years before Ron Crusan was born, and five years before the Federal Highway Act of 1956.  As I drive home through the networks of coastal and back roads, I think about how this landscape still has much in common with the roads that Kerouac traveled.

 

Ron Crusan, Studio materials, 2018. photo by K.Weinberg

UMVA Member Showcase: Michelle Leier, Sandy Olson, Amy Pollien, Ruth Sylmor

Michelle Leier

My paintings explore visual stimuli either from direct observation or from photographs and drawings made of scenes from my daily life. Lately I have been working on a series of still lifes which are contemplations of a group of objects I have in my studio. I had only planned to make one painting of these objects. However, I have discovered different views of it are intriguing to me for various reasons, so I am making several paintings from alternative views and perspectives. In the way a jazz musician can take a series of chords from a song and make an infinite variety of improvisations from it, I am finding that this still life affords me multiple opportunities for variation on a single theme. The more I come to understand the forms and patterns of light and shape in the set-up, the better I am able to improvise and play with making original compositions. By understanding the fundamentals of the visual stimuli, I can freely express myself by abstracting the most important elements, exaggerating some aspects, minimizing others, and changing still more .

Michelle Leier, “Green Still Life”, oil on panel, 12 x 9 inches, 2018, Jay York
Michelle Leier, “Blue Still Life”, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2017, Jay York

Sandy Olson

I have been working on The Resilience Project for about eight years. The latest installment is called simply The Map. It is scripted to document, in images and words, my thirty plus years living in rural Central Maine.

My studio practice had been erratic for years and I was unable to make this story meld cohesively. About a year ago I invited some of my favorite archetypes to join me in my working space and they definitely livened up the place.

At first the critters on sticks were so endearing that I became obsessed with making them, thinking maybe they were to become the centerpieces to the story I wanted to tell.  Eventually they settled into the background as I returned to my favorite complexity of line drawings, photo grids and words. My studio now has the layered look of a palimpsest landscape where I am comfortable creating.

Sandy Olson “Critters And Places” photograph
Sandy Olson “Icons in Cutouts and Lines” photograph
Sandy Olson “Ma Famille” photograph
Sandy Olson “Mapping Time And Place” photograph

Amy Pollien

My work has always revolved around still life compositions. In an effort to (literally) expand my horizons I’ve experimented over the past few years with painting plants where they grow, in the context of the garden landscape. This practice expanded the visual field and added a level of complexity that was difficult to achieve with arrangements and props in the studio. On a quest for the perfect still life painting, however, I was still not completely satisfied with the result.

Last Thanksgiving I went to London and spent most of my time in the National Gallery. I had the opportunity to study hundreds of still life paintings “in the flesh” and found myself fascinated by Dutch and Flemish work from the 14th to 16th centuries. The overflowing vases and anonymous backgrounds had never appealed to me in printed images , but the effect of standing in front of the collection was electric. The depth of field in a still life composition is generally quite shallow but the masters of this period managed to represent the universe in a spray of blossoms on a tabletop.

Since the trip I’ve been working toward understanding the Dutch Baroque period constructs and learning how to apply those ideas to the heaps of roses and pumpkins and apple blossoms that will soon be at hand from the garden. Maybe there will be a hermit crab with a basket of blossoms inspired by Balthasar van der Ast, or a bowl of colorful berries and pet birds from van Hulsdonck and George Flegel. I feel like there are decades of inspiration down this road and can’t wait to set up the paintings and get to work.

Pollien finds inspiration in this painting by Balthasar van der Ast
The Italian Vase, 2018, 24 x 18, oil on panel A large vase of coreopsis, cosmos, and zinnias in a traditional still life composition, work in progress
Honeysuckle and Matronalis, 2016, 36 x 24, oil on panel Composition in the garden, image courtesy of anonymous collector
Garden Studio Painting a set-up of fruit and vegetables with drapery

Ruth Sylmor

    “Photography is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s own originality. It is a way of life.”
                                                                           Henri Cartier-Bresson

Living in Paris during the long, cold, grey, windy winter of 2018, my photographs capture moments of  LA CRUE  when la Seine overflowed its banks by 5.84 meters.

My life, my daily photographic life, consists of meandering with my camera – seeing, composing, focusing, pressing the shutter, winding, rewinding, reloading, and knowing, as Cartier-Bresson also said, that “of course it’s all luck!”

Ruth Sylmor “Crue de la Seine 2018. Pont des Arts” silver print 14 x 11 inches
Ruth Sylmor “Crue de la Seine 2018. Ile de la Cite Bernard” silver print 14 x 11 inches
Ruth Sylmor “Crue de la Seine 2018. Quai St” silver print 14 x 11 inches
Ruth Sylmor “Crue de la Seine 2018. Ile de la Cite Bernard” silver print 14 x 11 inches

UMVA Member Showcase — Judith Allen-Efstathiou, Pamela Grumbach, Alanna Hernandez and Kenneth Kohl

Judith Allen- Efstathiou

The state of my studio is always in transition – seasonally packed in a suitcase and moved from one continent to another (I have three studios in all: one in Portland, one in Athens, Greece and one on the Island of Kea).  I split my year in half between Portland and Greece, traveling with a suitcase full of artworks in progress. Asian paper and cloth work best, light and easily folded or rolled into a suitcase and ironed flat again on arrival. There is never room for cloth in my suitcase, and it is always opened and checked by TSI.

My studio in Athens is three blocks from the Acropolis. How does that proximity affect my work? I’m not sure. I feel the energy of The Rock, but happily don’t have a view of the Acropolis from my studio. That would be too overpowering. Instead I look out at my walled garden. When it gets too hot in Athens, I travel to my third studio on the Island of Kea, and again my works in progress travel with me.

I spend winters in Portland and love the quiet contemplative time of winter in my studio. This year my Portland studio was transformed radically as I started making sculpture again after many years. I had the honor of being granted the Maine State House copper reuse commission, to make artwork with the beautiful 100-year-old copper removed from the State House dome in reroofing. I managed to finish and install the commission in March just before packing my bags again for Greece, a good thing because 47” long copper would not have fit in my suitcase.

Judith Allen-Efstathiou, Portland Studio
Judith Allen-Efstathiou, Outside In, Acid cut copper, three sections, 47 x 15 x 2.5” each, 2018 in Portland studio
Judith Allen-Efstathiou, Athens, Greece Studio
Judith Allen-Efstathiou, Outside In, Acid cut copper, three sections, 47 x 15 x 2.5” each, 2018, installation over the Law and Legislative Reference Library, Maine State House, Augusta

 

Pamela Grumbach

Perhaps it is because I have had to empty personal possessions and histories in a few houses lately, rummaging through basements and closets.  Perhaps it is because of a fascination with the shape and design of things used in a bygone era. Perhaps it is because of a concern about the rapid obsolescence of things that we now acquire as we discard sturdy old items. Perhaps any and all of these are reasons why I looked more closely at old discarded tools, deciding to make them a focus of my recent painting.

With this new focus, moving away from the bright landscapes of the region, I now use a limited palette to capture something important about forgotten times and items. I muse about whose hand held these tools, about the strength and dexterity required to use them, and how they once made tasks easier.

Pamela Grumbach  “Oarlock” watercolor 11″ x 14″

Pamela Grumbach  “Grant’s Hammer” watercolor 7″ x 10″
Pamela Grumbach “Drop Line” watercolor 10″ x  7″
Pamela Grumbach  “Old Paintbrush” watercolor  8″ x 11″

Alanna Hernandez

I moved to Maine from Colorado in October. I grew up on Cape Cod so the East Coast is my home, but Maine is all new to me. Moving asks you to sacrifice a previously comfortable way of living. It requires that you be creative and adaptable to fall into a new flow of living and working.

My new studio flow includes lots of time working at home alone. I’ve always enjoyed being alone with my thoughts and imagination. I’ve also lived with anxiety and agoraphobia for years, so this extensive alone time at home feels almost indulgent. This leads me to examine my inner state frequently. I get a lot of inspiration from sitting with, and confronting my anxiety. “Sad Girl” and “Mental Health Day” are pieces I created from observing and expressing my feelings, viewing myself as not a body or a person, but as a feeling or an environment.

My small work space confines me to drawing, so I use ink, colored pencil, and oil pastel. I combine the three materials and use them a bit unconventionally. I play with traditional methods of line illustration and let my lines overlap. I am working towards more layering and depth in my pieces.

Another theme I explored this winter was partnership. Living with another person in a very small house through a particularly cold Maine winter brings that relationship into a clear view. I’m always inspired by birds, and the way that they generally choose just one mate for a long period of time, or for life. I created “Avocets”, “Grebes”, and “Egrets”, each with a distinct color palette and overlapping lines to explore different facets of partnerships.

When I’m not focusing inward, I look out to nature, and especially to birds and plants for inspiration. Being limited to working at home, I use what I see in my yard and neighborhood. “Regularly Scheduled Chaos” is inspired by a flock of starlings and a few odd grackles that inundated my yard for a month and a half, eating up all the birdseed every few days.

I listen to and read the news often while working. Sometimes the titles of my pieces reflect my fears about the state of the world. I feel selfish and privileged to be insulated in my house creating art while American leadership destroys civility, decency, the environment, healthcare, and the lives of immigrants. I’m currently exploring themes of nature and chaos, using overlapping  lines and bold color to express my feelings about the current state of America.

Alanna Hernandez, “Mental Health Day” ink and colored pencil on paper, 12″ x 8.5″ 2017
Alanna Hernandez, “Sad Girl” ink and colored pencil on paper, 12″ x 9″ 2018
Alanna Hernandez, “Grebes” ink and colored pencil on paper, 14″ x 17″ 2018

Alanna Hernandez, “Regularly Scheduled Chaos” ink and colored pencil on paper, 14″ x 17″ 2018

Kenneth Kohl

These four graphic pieces are an exploration of photo collage and color.  This is a very different process for me. I have to a large extent used wood as my primary medium in which color and form are generated. Using the wood as sketch, through process into product, the physicality of the process draws me in and out of the work.

The past 3-4 years have been an exploration.  I have felt the need to say more than framing beauty from found wood. I dove into dance, performance, video, and have landed here with pixels, in the form of photos, shapes and color.

And amazingly enough it has brought me back to three-dimensional work and ideas that have been waiting for the opportunity to find expression.

These four graphic works have been part of that process.

Kenneth Kohl, “sale, HOME” Photo collage poster, 11″ x 17″
Kenneth Kohl “PLccell” Photo collage poster   11″ x 17″
Kenneth Kohl “Tipping Point” Photo Collage poster, 11″ x 17″
Kenneth Kohl “Herstory” Photo collage poster, 11″ x 17″

ARRT! Artists’ Rapid Response Team! Update

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

During Spring ARRT! sessions the following images were produced:

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

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

Recovery, for a Community Recovery group in York County

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

LumenARRT! crew at work projecting on the State Capital.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water quality microscope workshop, Krisanne Baker photo

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

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

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

Principal Mirrium painting, Krisanne Baker photo

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

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

Water is Life, Mpamila, Malawi, Krisanne Baker photo

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

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

Mural planning, Krisanne Baker photo

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

Nearing the top of the rainforest mountain, Krisanne Baker photo

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

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

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

Krisanne Baker, Wash Day Plus Needs Notes, watercolor

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

Krisanne Baker, Ecoartist and Educator

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

 

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

 by Richard Kane

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

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

Ashley Bryan www.vimeo.com/ondemand/ashleybryan

David Driskell www.vimeo.com/ondemand/driskell

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

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

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

J. Fred Woell will be next.

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

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

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

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