When the Bath-built ship Cheseborough went down off the coast of Japan in 1889 in a typhoon, the townspeople from the nearby fishing village Shariki witnessed the tragedy and sent boats to help. Most of the crew died, but four were saved and nursed back to health by villagers.
A century later, the municipalities of Bath and Shariki became sister cities, and through this partnership evolved a sister-state relationship between Maine and the Aomori Prefecture of Japan. This week, a group of visiting artists from Japan are in Portland for a residency program and exhibition that highlight the relationship. SPACE Gallery will show prints made by artists from Maine and Japan in the exhibition “MAPS,” which stands for the Maine-Aomori Printmaking Society. The SPACE exhibition opens Friday and is on view through April 1.
The Portland show follows an exchange of prints last fall that were shown at the Aomori Municipal Art Pavilion in Japan.
As part of the exchange, four Japanese printmakers will take up residency at Pickwick Independent Press, above SPACE. In addition to making prints at Pickwick, the artists will work with students at Maine College of Art.
“This is a great opportunity for artists to see each other’s work, talk about art and continue a conversation and cultural exchange that’s been going on a long time,” said Jeff Badger, a Maine artist and member of the Friends of Aomori board.
Badger, who lives in South Portland and teaches at Southern Maine Community College, has a lot of experience with international art exchanges. In addition to working with artists from Japan, he has arranged exchanges with artists from Spain and Greece.
As part of the SPACE show, Badger collaborated with Pickwick Press to make a printed picture book of the Cheseborough shipwreck. The illustrations tell the story for the accident and the rescue. Badger looked at Japanese woodblock prints from the 19th century when making his prints for the book. He’ll display the book, as well as posters that he made from prints for the book.
Also on view will be artifacts from “Hello From the Other Side of the World,” a picture book by Portland artist Scott Nash and Toshiki Sawada. That book represented an earlier collaboration among Maine and Japanese artists. There are also will be a display of parade floats from a Japanese summer festival, along with the prints that are part of the exchange.
The exhibition includes prints by Judith Allen, Kyle Bryant, Clint Fulkerson, Colleen Kinsella, Kazuhiko Kojima, Reiko Kudo, Michael Marks, Pilar Nadal, Mitsuo Ohsaka, Lisa Pixley, Carrie Scanga, Emiko Seki, Carter Shappy, Nobuko Shimazu, Yoshiko Takebayashi, Kouji Tazawa, Yoshimasa Tsujii, David Wolfe, Seizoh Yagihashi and Koya Yamada.
This exchange is supported by a grant from the Japanese Consulate in Boston. While in Maine, the Japanese artists will create work in the Pickwick studio, visit local galleries and museums and talk with students in the printmaking classes at MMECA. The Japanese group is led by Jiro Ono, director of the Munakata Shiko Memorial Museum in Aomori.
As part of the ongoing project, both Friends of Aomori and the Munakata Shiko Memorial Museum will build matching collections of prints for future exhibitions of local contemporary artists to support education about the sister-state relationship. The goal is a regular exchange of art exhibitions, exchanges and residencies between the United States and Japan, Badger said.
“The sister-city relationship has been around for 20 years or so,” Badger said, “but the relationship between Maine and Japan is much deeper, going back at least to the wreck of the Cheseborough. It feels meaningful to continue the relationship and build on it.”
WHERE: SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland
WHEN: Opening reception 5 to 7 p.m. Friday; through April 1