The spring museum calendar in Maine is full of surprises, but before we turn the page, there are a few lingering exhibitions from the winter worth experiencing.
“Images of Children/Images of Youth” at the Art Gallery at the University of New England in Portland closes April 1 and includes about 100 photographs of kids from around the world, and most were taken by photographers with ties to Maine. It’s a who’s-who of widely known and accomplished Maine photographers, from back in the day and from today. Todd Webb, Verner Reed and Berenice Abbott are among the photographers from the past. Sean Alonzo Harris, Jack Montgomery and Robert Pennington are among the contemporaries, and there are many more.
Stephen K. Halpert curated the exhibition, much of which comes from the UNE art archive. The rest are on loan to the gallery.
This group show evolved from two other recent photography shows at UNE. “Portraits of the Artist” in 2016 focused on images of famous artists across disciplines. The other, “A Tale of Three Cities,” told stories about Portland, New York and Paris. They are connected because Halpert curated each of them, and each was built around photographers from Maine, past and present, who are part of the UNE photography collection, which numbers about 200 images.
In putting those shows together, Halpert noticed that many of the photographs in the UNE collection included images of children and youth. “Almost everybody has done photographs of children, and I do not mean family snapshots,” Halpert said. “You realize you have quite an accumulation of a category, and that’s what leads to an exhibition.”
Harris, who also has photos in the Portland Museum of Art 2018 Biennial, is showing a family image, but it’s hardly a snapshot. Harris took a picture of his nephew, Tezi, in 2015 when he was visiting his family in Washington, D.C., for Thanksgiving.
He and Tezi were up early one morning making art. Tezi was coloring, and Harris documented his nephew’s creative efforts. He captured the moment when 4-year-old Tezi looked up from his work and into a ray of sunshine coming through the window. Tezi has a crayon in his hand and a look of contentment on his face. You can tell he’s happy to be playing with his uncle from Maine.
What makes the photo remarkable is the how the sun ray plays on Tezi’s face. It encircles one of his big brown eyes and moves down the bridge of his nose and mouth and ends on his pajamas. The photo feels like happiness, and it would only be possible with Harris present as an uncle and an artist. He got just the right expression at just the right moment.
The other remarkable thing about this image is that it’s in color. Harris takes color photographs for his commercial and editorial work, but this is the first time he’s shown a color photograph in a museum or gallery. “I shot color because it was perfect,” Harris said. “The light was coming through the window just so, and I just started shooting.”
Harris is proud to be part of an exhibition with so many big-name photographers from yesterday and today, and he called attention particularly to Berenice Abbott, Edward Curtis and Ernest Withers. “All three of those people showing at the same time – what a treat,” he said. “You don’t get the chance very often in Maine to see three masters at once. But that’s what makes this show so interesting. I think it’s an absolutely amazing show, with such a huge breadth of different levels of photographers, different genres and different decades, and they’re all spectacular. You have to spend some time and really look through it. There are some gems in that show.”
Spend some time, indeed, but do it soon. The exhibition closes April 1.
“Images of Children/Images of Youth: Period and Contemporary Photographs,” Art Gallery at UNE, 716 Stevens Ave., Portland. une.edu/artgallery
POOGY BJERKLIE is another in a long line of artists from Maine who credit their high-school art teachers for encouraging their creativity. She grew up in Hallowell and attended Kents Hill School, where “the art teacher was phenomenal. That’s where I got the bug to make things,” she said by phone from her home in New York.
After learning metalsmithing at Maine College of Art – she graduated in 1977 when it was known as the Portland School of Art – she moved to St. Louis, where she began a successful line of wearable-art clothing, and to New York about 30 years ago.
It was in New York she began making landscape paintings based on her memory of and feelings for Maine. “When I moved to St. Louis, I felt like I would be there the rest of my life. Moving to New York was unsettling, and that is why I went to painting that landscape that had a familiar rootedness,” she said. “I just painted for myself. I had no expectations at all. It was just for me, which is what my work is all about.”
Through May 5, she shares her work with visitors to the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor. In these paintings, she emphasizes misty mornings and gray evenings, eschewing the beautiful coastal scenes that so many painters focus on in favor of the inland lakes. These are unrecognizable places, defined by atmosphere, mood and the nuance of paint on wooden panel.
Her paintings are like a dream, lacking detail but specific in their feeling of rural quietness and calm. “They were really of my memory of my childhood in Maine,” she said.
Bjerklie has a cabin in Winthrop and comes back to Maine every summer. But she’s not moving back here. She has learned to love living in New York. “I love coming to Maine in the summertime. I don’t miss the winter, but I have to be there in the summer,” she said.
“Nowhere in Particular: Poogy Bjerklie,” University of Maine Museum of Art, 40 Harlow St., Bangor. 581-3300, umma.umaine.edu