Community as Place: Life-Changing Experience for Artists


When I was asked to write about the Great Spruce Head Island Art Week which I founded and have directed for nearly thirty years, I realized actually how important this event has been both for me and for the nearly 200 participating artists. I’ve discovered that by coming together to share a common artistic energy, amazing things occur in the community. To quote one recent artist: “it was one of the best weeks of my life—a return to the creativity, lightness, and friendship I felt at summer camp as a kid. I hope Art Week continues long into the future and that I can be a participant again someday.”

anina 2 porter fuller copy 2

Anina Porter Fuller.

Each summer since 1993 a group of twelve artists (painters, writers, sculptors, photographers), some new, some repeaters, have come to work independently and to share their love of the artistic process. This private island provides a nurturing environment for people with a broad range of creative expression. In the quietude and simplicity of island life, creativity can flourish. Art Week has no instruction or structured workshop. Participants enjoy three special meals a day, a private bedroom and workspace on one of five porches.

anina 7margaret kennedy at easel gshi copy

Margaret Kennedy at her easel on Great Spruce Head Island.

anina 6 wade perry copy

Wade Perry.

There is gratitude to the family corporation for sponsoring the week of artists’ retreat each summer. Nature prevails on this unique island where James Porter built a twelve-bedroom “summer cottage” for his family of five children who spent summers there throughout their lives. Little has changed; food is still cooked on a wood-burning stove, solar energy provides electricity. Eliot and Fairfield Porter led the way for many family members, and now many artists from away have enjoyed this environment.

anina 11 sarah r neil calendar wade perry copy

Sarah R., Neil Calendar, Wade Perry.

anina 10kingsley parker reading sarah s sleeping copy

Kingsley Parker reading, Sarah S. sleeping.

To quote writer Jane Hertenstein (a “Person From Away,” or PFA):

This is the first gem I will absorb

on an island in Penobscot Bay, where eons ago

the ocean muscled in

and covered up the mountains,

leaving only peaks of spruce-fringed islands.

But on this first day

of camaraderie, of almost overpowering

sensation-flashing waves,

shingled “cottages,”

I have only begun.

anina 9interior of the Big House copy

Interior of the Big House.

From Sarah Faragher, 2005:

I watched morning come in the Big House. 

It came with crow’s cry and loon quaver, 

with a humid band of sun 

feeling its way through the trees, 

outlining them with halos 

and sleepy drone of a housefly 

awakened at the same time I was 

by the same things. 

anina 1chip the cook copy

Chip, the cook.

anina 4 mealtime copy


“Benediction” by Carl Little

I’m sleeping in like Jimmy. 

Well, not quite: it’s seven a.m. 

on the second floor of the Big House 

(which is not slang for prison, 

just the largest island edifice) 

footsteps on the stairs, aromas 

of coffee and spicy scrambled eggs 

lure me like a cobra out of bed 

to my morning benedictions. 

Then I descend to join comrades-

in-art at the screened in table 

on the front porch. 

Do not ask for whom the breakfast bell rings, Carl: 

it rings for thee. 

anina 8 anina mixing fairfield porter s pigments copy

Anina mixing Fairfield Porter’s pigments.

Jill Madden, What Anina Has Given Me

On my last day at Great Spruce Head island I asked Anina a question which made me nervous. My whole painting life, thirty-five years, I have wondered what Fairfield Porter’s palette was. My research only uncovered his medium. As an obsessive color mixer, I could mix paint all day and never apply a drop of paint to canvas. On the last day, I worked up my courage to ask. If not now, then when? “Anina, do you know what Fairfield’s palette was?” “Oh, let me show you, it’s in the closet.” And that closet, like in Narnia, held a whole world. Anina brought out the dry pigments and I called some of the other painters to come. We mixed each pigment with linseed oil. And there it was: his palette, a painting in and of itself.

anina 12Looking East GSHI jpegphoto by jill madden copy

Looking East Great Spruce Head Island (photo: Jill Madden).

6/27, 3:30 a.m.

I don my long pants, wool hoodie and wrap my down coat around my waist. I tip-toe past the doors of my new painting friends who have joined this Art Week out of their own love and respect for Fairfield Porter.

I check the sky from the kitchen window as my coffee water boils. A deep purple cloud sits on top of a dark orange band of light. It is this dawn light that draws me outside every morning at GSHI. Grabbing my pack on the way out, I head down the trail to North Point Beach where I set up my easel. Anina mentioned that Fairfield always started with bigger shapes of color, which is a helpful reminder on this morning when the light is a crazy hash of violets and fuchsia sitting on bands of leaden gray. I take some long breaths and begin mixing colors.


Image at top: Wade Perry, Sara Ransofoff, Sara McCollough.