Skowhegan at Seventy

June 4, 2016 to October 10, 2016

Skowhegan at Seventy

Letha Wilson (United States, born 1976), Headlands Golden Cement Fold from the portfolio SkowheganBOX no. 2, 2014, chromogenic print, 16 x 12 inches. Museum purchase with support from the Irving Bennett Ellis Fund and John and Linda Coleman, 2015.11.3

“People would go out on trucks, painting landscapes, and I had never done that, so I tried it.. . . It was the first time I had done direct painting and it was a real kick. It was a blast. It was like feeling lust for the first time.. . . It was at Skowhegan that I first got involved with the Maine light, which is richer and darker than the light in Impressionist paintings. Being able to see the Maine light helped me separate myself from the European paintings and find my own eyes.” Alex Katz, Invented Symbols: An Art Autobiography (2012)

In 2016, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture celebrates 70 years as one of the world’s premier artist residencies. The school does not grant degrees, yet for just over two months each summer its participants and faculty work and learn in an intense period of residence, intense days punctuated by evening lectures by artists and writers from all over the world. Many artists speak of their experiences at Skowhegan with stories not unlike those of Alex Katz, who has maintained in interview after interview for decades that his first summer at Skowhegan (also his first summer in Maine) was decisive for his life as an artist.

In 2015, the Portland Museum of Art purchased a portfolio of photographs made by recent alumni Lucas Blalock, Brian Bress, John Houck, and Letha Wilson titled SkowheganBOX no. 2. Each work in the portfolio consists—in part—of the paper and chemistry of photography, yet each artist pushed beyond the traditional boundaries of photography to make something fundamentally new. Wilson’s remarkable folded-paper Headlands Golden Cement Fold merges sculpture with landscape photography. Like Katz some decades before them, these artists, each emerging into the contemporary art world with ferocity, vigor, and keen intelligence, identify their time at Skowhegan as pivotal.

In acknowledgement and celebration of the extraordinary history of Skowhegan, this summer the PMA will install the works in SkowheganBOX no. 2 along with works that document the 70-year history of the organization, in the William Dette Hamill Gallery. Together with our colleagues at Skowhegan, we have organized a small exhibition with a big punch, exploring the contributions of many of the best-known artists of the postwar period and their shared connection to the rolling hills and spectacular landscape of central Maine.


Philip Pearlstein (United States, born 1924), Portrait of the Artist's Daughters, 1967, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches. Promised gift of the artist, 8.2015. 


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