In 1975, when the UMVA started in Brunswick, we weren’t all simply artists, young and yearning. We were, most of us, hippies, as well, with all that that implied: long hair, loose clothes, old cars, and handmade almost everything.
We made claim to the world around us with our shared intentions, and cultural beliefs, to live as artists.
Charles J. Stanley, as Carlo Pittore was known at the time, lived in a yurt on Priscilla Berry’s chicken farm in Bowdoinham. He was a vocal proponent of artists’ rights. Charles inspired us to form “an artists’ union” to among, other things, ask galleries and museums to eliminate entry fees to group shows. Why, he asked, should the artists pay the galleries to show our work?
He, and many of the rest of us artists, refused to apply to shows that required entry fees.
Beyond the ways Charles encouraged us to understand our value, he also rallied us artists in our large, mostly rural state, to get to know each other, to collaborate and instigate for art. Geography was a challenge in creating community.
To bring us together, the UMVA put on artist conferences, art sales, and monthly meetings around the state. We brought about the 1% For Art Act which still brings art to public buildings throughout Maine. We even offered group health insurance in the 1980s!
In the early UMVA, we had committees, and members were urged to join one. I was on the Newsletter Committee, where I met and worked with my now lifelong friend, Stephen Petroff. A rich and sustaining, almost family, of far-flung but loving artists, was created through our UMVA activities. Simply put, we would not have known each other in the vibrant and creative ways we still maintain without the union.
Old Friends’ Rendezvous
by Pam Burr Smith
A poem about a gathering in September 2019 at Mark and Lindsay Nelson’s home in Litchfield. Present were some very early UMVA Members, Stephen and Noma Petroff, David Brooks and Nancy Marstaller, Abby Shahn and Jim (Fang) Fangbone, Wally Warren and Pam Smith, as well as Mark and Lindsay Nelsen.
The first circle we sat in was on the grass
between the house and the barn.
We occupied old chairs, sat around small tables,
took pictures of each other and laughed.
Ate olives. Drank wine and pear juice.
Stephen brought a poem he had written
about some reliquaries Mark had built, decades ago.
And he brought color xeroxes of paintings he had made
of his own imaginary reliquaries, inspired by Mark’s—
sacred boxes, animated boxes, some with antlers or legs,
every color in the world suggested if not present.
We passed the images around as Mark slipped into the barn
and came out with the reliquaries themselves, dusted by time.
We passed them around, exclaiming in wonder
and joy at the simple gift of being alive together
outside, in golden September sun, with so much shared art.
When darkness stole in we drifted to the house,
and set up chairs around the kitchen table. We sat
for a harvest supper cooked from our dirt and sun gardens
and our heart and soul gardens.
And here my memory fails. I can’t remember what we old friends
talked about. But I can tell you where each of us sat,
how Lindsay leaned toward every word,
how Noma’s voice came with melon softness,
and Abby’s warm cadences sang us into the night.
Image at top: The Union of Maine Visual Artists in late 1980’s.