Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Cranberry Isles: A Community of Artists

By Carl Little
Author

I don’t know if there are any cut-and-dry criteria for what comprises an art colony, for example, there has to be so many artists that there must be some sort of art school, etc. In the history of Maine art, Ogunquit and Monhegan Island are most often associated with the term—places where a lot of artists have congregated, with a variety of activities, social, aesthetic, and otherwise, weaving them together.

Maine has also had its share of “salons,” several of them island-based. One thinks of Celia Thaxter’s place on the Isles of Shoals where Childe Hassam painted some of his greatest landscapes; Dwight Blaney’s retreat on Ironbound Island in Frenchman Bay where the Boston painter hosted John Singer Sargent and others; and the Porter family compound on Great Spruce Head Island, which continues to nurture art-making today through a residency program.

The Cranberry Isles fall in between colony and, shall we say, cohort: they represent an artist community—or better, a community of which artists are a part. Over the past 70 or so years, Little and Great Cranberry islands have been home, seasonal and year-round, to a remarkable group of artists who give to their communities—contributing a work of art to an auction to help a lobsterman with hospital bills; painting sets for an island theater production; teaching in the schools; creating a historical society.

The artists have also formed communities within communities. Dorothy Eisner’s painting Desk II in the Portland Museum of Art show features a schedule that notes visits from painters John Heliker and William Kienbusch—a painterly documentation of a circle of friends who spent summers making art on Great Cranberry while enjoying one another’s company. On Little Cranberry, the Islesford Artists Gallery has been the center of a wonderfully interconnected posse of painters and printmakers—a communal clutch of individuals committed to art.

In my upcoming talk at the Museum on Saturday, June 20 at 11 a.m., I will seek to provide a sense of those communities of artists that have made the Cranberries a vibrant place of art during the past 75 or so years. Drawing on personal connections—William Kienbusch was my uncle—I will offer a view of the islands, from dock to home to outer edge, through image and imagination—and community.

Image credit: Dorothy Eisner (United States, 1906–1984), Desk II , 1979, oil on canvas, 34 x 40 inches. Lent by the Estate of Dorothy Eisner.

Coming Home

By A. Jacob Galle
2009 Biennial Artist

I was born in Maine and lived in the state for a good chunk of my life. During roughly the last five years, I have been on the road, and the two most recent years were spent in Virginia farming. In the early fall of 2008, I made up my mind to return to Maine this spring to continue farming the land I was raised on—the same land where I learned about hard work and the natural world that so heavily influence my projects. For the viewers of my videos, it is important that they come away with an idea of respect for manual work by watching my actions. The tasks I engage in are everyday events we can relate to in some manner. I do not attempt to cultivate a sense of nostalgia or an air of romanticism, because this work is back breaking, dirty, sweaty, and mundane. In the course of these performances of pre-industrialized or pre-specialized labor, routines, and meditations, I begin to dig into realms of what pioneers and settlers may have encountered both in the labor and in the landscape of unknowns and endless possibilities.

Upon my return to Maine, I feel a bit like a pioneer—unsure of my surroundings and the land but fully aware of the possibilities it holds for me. It is a great honor to be in the 2009 Portland Museum of Art Biennial especially with the group of artists selected, and the jurors that chose the works. In many ways this Biennial has left viewers full of uncertainty and simultaneously open to the vast wonder, mystery, and future of Maine contemporary art. As if cresting a snow-capped mountain not knowing what lies beyond and knowing it isn’t the end of the journey, the Biennial indulges all the senses and asks for the viewers’ full attention and sense of adventure.

BOOM!

By Aaron T. Stephan
Portland Artist

Public Art, by nature, involves a complex overlapping of goals, concepts, and voices. These often opposing factors pose serious questions about how to create a successful public artwork. How can an artist create a work that not only appeals to the general public, but also maintains an individual voice and vision? Where do these concerns meet? Can a work be progressive within the public realm? Can public artwork challenge its audience and be accepted by that same audience? These difficulties, inherent in the public art process, present a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles—ranging from sensitive public negotiations to navigating the norms of engineering.

At the same time, these challenges can feed the artistic process in surprising and rewarding ways. Within the minefield of public opinion, corporate concerns, and public policies lies precisely what many artists strive to achieve—artwork that creates a rich, interesting, and thoughtful dialogue with the public. This is something that is difficult to achieve through market-driven galleries and artworld-centric museums. At the same time, this process often opposes standard notions of what it means to be an artist. Picture your average unkempt and uncouth artist in a boardroom surrounded by local executives and politicians, and you get a pretty good idea of what I mean.

Regardless, these challenges are exactly what makes public art most appealing to me. Boom is a prime example of how these challenges can result in a truly enriching art-making process. This complex project has involved a diverse array of groups and individuals including family members of P. D. Merrill, the FAA, MDOT, Portland’s zoning committee and public art committee, and local neighborhood groups. Through the patient efforts of these thoughtful individuals, the process of the creating Boom has provided an experience (and hopefully an artwork) that has been enjoyable, thought provoking, and eye opening. Even before the work has been completed, it has provided me with an invaluable experience that will influence many future projects. For my talk at the PMA, I hope to address these issues and explain the process of creating Boom.