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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: May 14, 2018

Like its people, Bath’s emerging art scene remains authentic

Written by: Bob Keyes

Claudette Gamache thinks she knows why Bath is becoming a popular spot for art and artists.

It used to be a city where people would stop and visit. Now it’s a city where people stop and stay, she said. As a result, the city has more art, better galleries and more opportunities for artists to show their work. There’s a larger critical mass of talented people living here, she said, and their presence is reflected in the city’s evolving arts scene. “I think a lot of our colleagues are getting better and better,” said Gamache, who is best known for her pastel paintings.

As Bath develops new hotels, new restaurants and a brew pub, the art scene is becoming more sophisticated. Generally, galleries here have tended to be a little touristy – seascapes and lighthouses and trinkets. The trend toward more serious art began some time ago and has taken on urgency in recent years.

Markings Gallery on Front Street opened in 2010, offering work by Maine artists in metal, clay, fiber, paper, glass, paint, stone and wood. The Green Lion Gallery opened two years ago, showing prints, paintings and other art by artists from around Maine and around the country and world. The art gallery at the Chocolate Church Arts Center has a new curator, who is interested in showing topical, timely and when appropriate, politically sensitive art. And the artist-owned Centre St. Art Gallery, at 11 Centre St., has become the hub of the city’s art scene and also its engine, with an active year-round presence and a roster of engaged artists who push each other to do new and better work.

“We talk about ourselves as artist-owned and not a co-op,” said Centre Street member Lea Peterson. “It suggests something more professional than a co-op. We’re serious about our work, and we want to come across that way.”

In addition to showing work by members, Centre Street hosts exhibitions by guest artists from the midcoast community. Among those who show at Centre Street regularly are John Gable, a nationally known artist from across the Kennebec River in Woolwich, and sculptor Andreas von Huene, whose has exhibited his work across New England for many years. He also lives in Woolwich. Having artists like Gable and von Huene associated with the gallery elevates the work of everyone else, Gamache said.

Centre Street formed when several of the founding members realized they were all making the same rounds. “We were all doing our own thing, and depending on the situation, we would either just get together to talk about our work or show together,” said the painter Victoria Hope Jackson. “When this space became available, it just seemed to make sense.”

The gallery incorporated as a limited liability corporation in 2012, with nine charter members. Including associates, the gallery now has about 20 members, and all show regularly. Because they are expected to rotate new paintings into the exhibitions, the work is always fresh, which keeps the gallery from feeling stale, Jackson said. In addition, Centre Street invites a guest artist to show for eight weeks at a time, creating deeper engagement with the community and more collegiality between the gallery and the midcoast arts community.

Katharina Keoughan, a painter from Newcastle, will show from May 25 to July 13. The city’s first art walk of the season, on June 15, occurs during her show. Bath hosts four art walks, on the third Friday of June, July, August and September.

Gamache is convinced the work of all the artists has improved because of the communal energy of the gallery. The artists inspire and support each other, she said, and the community they have helped create has developed its own momentum and is pushing the gallery forward. Last year was the gallery’s best year financially, she noted.

The gallery is located just down the block from Bath’s historic Front Street, and its large windows look out on the Centre Street. The windows enable the display of large pieces of art and give the gallery a visual presence near the heart of downtown. In warm weather, the door is often open.

Around the corner at 104 Front St., Green Lion is showing mostly handmade limited-edition prints. The gallery also features drawings, paintings, assemblage and sculpture from Maine and around the world, with a goal of making original art accessible.

This week, Green Lion is winding down an exhibition of woodcuts and other prints by artists from Maine and the prefecture of Aomori, Japan. On view through Saturday, the traveling exhibition was organized by the Maine-Aomori Printmaking Society and is part of a cultural exchange program that shares art and artists between the sister states of Maine and Aomori. The next show, opening May 25, will feature new work related to spring by Siri Beckman, Holly Berry and several others. The gallery also will introduce Sherrie York, whom gallery owner David Morgan described as “an accomplished printmaker from Colorado who moved to Maine this winter.”

In June, Green Lion will show work by Richard Brown Lethem.

In his words, Morgan, a printmaker, “washed up” in Bath in 2015 after spending time in Blue Hill and Portland. He rented studio space upstairs on Centre Street and invited other printmakers to show their work because he didn’t have enough framed work of his own to fill the walls.

He moved to Front Street in 2016.

“Even though I’m in Bath partly by coincidence, it’s a great place to be doing what I’m doing because it’s at least comparatively affordable,” he said. “It’s a year-round community, compared to much of the coast. It’s diverse in the sense of people of all ages, backgrounds and many occupations – blue collar, white collar, self-employed and retired.

A few steps in the other direction away from downtown is the Chocolate Church Arts Center, a landmark with its chocolate-brown spire. The arts center is best known for hosting concerts and other performances and has also operated a gallery for many years. The energy of the gallery ebbs and flows, depending on who is curating and their interests. Bath resident Penny Lane recently took over curatorial duties on a volunteer basis, precisely because she likes what is happening in town and wants to be a part of it.

Her first show this spring was “A Woman’s Place,” a collection of work created by women in response to the #MeToo movement. It was a powerful statement of the times and reflective of the kinds of shows Lane wants to host regularly. “The Chocolate Church could become a platform for reaching out and offering something that hasn’t been seen here,” she said. “I am interested in bringing out people you haven’t heard of, whose work is edgy and will challenge the traditional Maine art viewer to think about art differently.”

She’s lived in Bath six years and appreciates the subtle ways the city is changing. It’s growing up, but isn’t losing its character, she said. As long as Bath Iron Works is around, Bath will retain its working-class anchors, she said.

“There is something very special about Bath. We still have that strong worth ethic here. We haven’t been taken over by the frou-frou,” she said. “We have this blue-collar edge that lends to the authenticity of the people who live here.”

And to their art.


GALLERIES IN BATH

Centre St. Arts Gallery, 11 Centre St., Bath; centrestartsgalleryllc.com or 207-442-0300

Green Lion Gallery, 104 Front St., Bath; greenlionart.com or 207-844-3770

Markings Gallery, 50 Front St., Bath; markingsgallery.com or 207-443-1499

Chocolate Church Art Center, 804 Washington St., Bath; chocolatechurcharts.org or 207-442-8455

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