Like many people who have not been to Biddeford in a while, Diane Hudson was surprised by what she found when she got there.
She always envisioned the city as “a dreary little town,” but found it vibrant and engaging.
Photographic images that she captured while exploring the burgeoning city just south of Portland are part of a group exhibition at Engine in Biddeford called “Text + Texture: An Urban Canvas.” It’s on view through Nov. 22, and features the work of artists involved with the Addison Woolley Group.
They dropped in on the city over several months, made photos, painted paintings and otherwise explored Biddeford with an open mind and an open eye.
“Walking around, camera in hand, offered an entirely different perspective” than driving through to somewhere else, said Hudson, who lives in Portland. “Is it because the town is being discovered? Or is it simply the bones are there and I never took the time to look? I think more the latter. I found excitement in almost every step. There’s an enormous variety of fascinating architecture within a few short blocks on Main Street, but, more than that, there is a fabric that keeps unraveling in most unexpected ways.”
“Text + Texture” attempts to capture the look, feel and visual rhythms of the city by focusing on the sights, signs and surfaces that define it. Using a variety of media and photographic techniques, the artists celebrate the sensory complexity of an urban environment while also seeking out moments of calm and revelation.
In addition to Hudson, the artists include Jane Banquer, Karen Bushold, Dan Dow, Diane Hudson, Jim Kelly, Susan Porter, Norm Proulx, Victor Romanyshyn, Ruth Sylmor, Darrell Taylor, Andrea van Voorst van Beast, Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beast, Dave Wade and Fran Vita-Taylor.
The artists represent the vestiges of Addison Woolley, the former Portland gallery that specialized in photography. The gallery no longer has a physical space, but the artists remain active.
Addison Woolley opened in spring 2008 on Market Street in Portland. By the following fall, the economic crash dashed any hopes of the gallery surviving. It has become a small hub of Portland’s art scene, and a place where creativity flourished. But the economics didn’t support the gallery’s long-term future.
In the meantime, as the group that became the Associated Artists of Addison Woolley Gallery had begun to form affinity for each other, bonds of friendship and support grew, said gallery founder and director Susan Porter.
Sensing that community, photographer Victor Romanyshyn invited the group to show monthly at his studio in the Bakery Building on Pleasant Street.
In 2010, Jon Edwards asked Porter to reopen the gallery at a space on Washington Street that he was renovating. The group opened its first exhibition there in July 2010.
“We had a wonderfully successful three years there, at least as a popular and critical success,” Porter said. “People love photography but they don’t buy it. Even the paintings and prints of some of the members seldom sold.”
By January 2013, Porter was exhausted and Edwards wanted to try something else. The gallery closed again.
Diane Hudson's "Main Street, Biddeford, 3-story: $81,500”
Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest’s “At Pops,” part of an exhibition at Engine in Biddeford through mid-November. Above, a clock tower photograph by Susan Porter
An image of a Biddeford mill is reflected in a car mirror in this photograph by David Wade.
The artists decided to take a different route, opting for a pop-up approach. They show several times a year at 3fish in Portland, and remain an itinerant collective. The show in Biddeford embodies its nomadic spirit and creative expression.
“We are excited by the energy that is building in Biddeford, and so thrilled to express that excitement in our exhibit there,” Porter said. “We are in turn energized to think about our own work in new ways.”
The artists hope to bring their perspective to other communities.
The artists approached their work in different ways. Darrell Taylor made political and historical references in his piece. Romanyshyn’s photo of suburban signs and an American flag suggest a spin on resurrection, and others produced imagery of the mills and buildings. The show also includes some abstract work.
“A lot of what I learned about Biddeford was the history that haunts its vacant buildings — acres and acres of empty brick buildings that once roared with the sounds of industry and armies of mill workers, and now are deafeningly silent,” said photographer David Wade. “The industrial revolution was once in full swing here, and now all that remains are the abandoned buildings. History has moved on, and a new history will come along.”
Among the images that Wade shot was the tearing down of an old incinerator, no longer in use. He photographed the demolition, a pile of rubble and a church spire rising in the distance. “It looked like bombed-out London after the blitzkrieg,” he said. “But there was life, along the edges — artists, squatters, survivors — and you could sense there was a Phoenix rising from the rubble.”
Wade did not include those photos in this show, choosing instead the facades of standing mills that serve as silent witnesses to history’s march.
Photographer Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest focused on people in a street documentary style.
He found a favorite tavern on Bacon Street, Pops. It was full of people and lively.
“It turned out to be a real working class neighborhood bar where everyone was quite familiar with each other,” the photographer said. “Even if the town still seems quite depressed, here we found people quite happy with their environment, friendly, outgoing, loud, boisterous and full of character. After a while, they were OK with me taking some photographs. They were spontaneous and themselves. It was strange, but it seemed I found a place that reflected energy and hope.”
Much like the gallery artists, who have kept the Addison Woolley vision alive even without a physical space to call home.
WHEN: Through Nov. 22; 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Engine, 265 Main St., No. 103, Biddeford
HOW MUCH: Free
INFO: 207-370-9130 or feedtheengine.org