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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: September 10, 2014

Berwick’s recently opened Blackbird Studio & Gallery is about community and connecting with one another

The new art gallery features the work of artists from southern Maine and New Hampshire.

Written by: Bob Keyes
Jean Coughlin of North Berwick has reopened her late husband’s studio and is operating it as a co-op of 15 local artists. Jill Brady/staff photo

Jean Coughlin of North Berwick has reopened her late husband’s studio and is operating it as a co-op of 15 local artists. Jill Brady/staff photo

 

Jean Coughlin pulled the first print from her late-husband’s old press and barely held back her tears.

She had been thinking about this day since Michael Beaudoin died at age 60 in March 2011.

A printmaker and oil painter, Beaudoin spent the last years of his life making woodblock prints in the studio that he and Coughlin converted from an old farm building at their home in North Berwick. A former studio assistant for the artist Leonard Baskin, Beaudoin was in the prime of creative life when he got sick, leaving Coughlin to mourn his passing and unfulfilled artistic vision.

“So much of what he wanted to accomplish we can still accomplish,” Coughlin said. “It’s an amazing second life, in a way. This is happening as we planned. He’s still with me. I feel his presence here.”

Coughlin recently opened the Blackbird Studio & Gallery as a co-op of 15 regional artists. She will show their work on a rotating basis.

The work of her late husband, along with his press and the dozens of woodblocks that he carved, are part of the spirit of the place.

The gallery is in a rustic building surrounded by six acres of fields, a distant brook and a couple of family cats who wander the property. Oil paintings and watercolors hang salon-style on the walls, adding bursts of color and energy. There’s an old wood stove along one wall, a handful of free-standing sculptural pieces and racks of jewelry, cards and other small handmade objects.

Dominating the scene is a Conrad Machine Co. hand-pulled relief press, with a large wheel that artists use to pull the plate through the rollers. Beaudoin left a lot of material behind, including ink and more than 50 of his woodcuts.

A few weeks ago, Coughlin and a handful of gallery artists cranked the press for the first time since his death.

“It was a really good day for me to see that press roll again,” Coughlin said.

Blackbird takes its name from a woodblock print of Beaudoin’s. A color version hangs on an exterior wall, announcing the gallery’s presence to traffic on Route 9. The gallery is across the street from the entrance to Noble High School.

 

Coughlin hopes to take advantage of the growing art scene in this part of the state and the seacoast of New Hampshire. She met a year ago with the newly formed Berwick Art Association to share ideas about the gallery and opened in the spring with an inaugural show that featured her late husband’s work.

Most of the member artists live in Berwick, North Berwick and the surrounding area. They pay $40 a month to show at the gallery.

They’ve formed a creative bond, using the gallery and studio as a gathering spot for regular meetings to talk about their work and trade ideas. On Oct. 4, they’ll have a plein-air painting day in the fields behind the gallery, followed by music. The Blackbird artists are inviting other artists and anyone interested in the gallery to come out for the event.

Coughlin is scheduling classes for printmaking, photography and watercolor painting.

She plans to stay open through the holidays and then reopen in the spring after a break.

The art changes monthly, giving member artists the chance to rotate work regularly and an incentive to stay productive. The current show, “September Song,” has about 60 works, mostly paintings, and is on view through Oct. 16.

“Having the support and encouragement of other local artists is invaluable,” said member artist Erin Duquette, a painter. “We push and challenge and inspire each other to keep working. It’s a truly great group of artists ready and willing to work together to improve and grow the budding art scene in Berwick.”

Berwick artist Gloria Houlne said she appreciates the opportunity to work communally and hopes the gallery will infuse the rural community with artistic energy.

“I personally have been working in isolation for a long time and craved for a community to bounce ideas off of and work collaboratively,” she said.

Coughlin and Beaudoin moved to North Berwick from Massachusetts in 2000. Beaudoin converted the farm building into a studio but got sick before fully realizing the potential of the space. The co-op advances his vision to the next level, Coughlin said.

“What artists want is the opportunity to be taken seriously,” Coughlin said. “It’s not just about selling the work, but sharing it with people who appreciate it. That’s what we are trying to create here. This is about community and connecting with one another.”

 

“SEPTEMBER SONG”

WHERE: Blackbird Studio and Gallery, 387 Somersworth Road (Route 9), North Berwick. www.facebook.com/blackbirdnorthberwick

WHEN: On view through Oct. 16; regular hours 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; 752-1339

HOW MUCH: Free

OTHER EVENTS: On Oct. 4, Blackbird will host “Lady Blackbird,” a plein-air painting day featuring models dressed in black. Painting and modeling will take place between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., followed by a gathering at the gallery with music and food. All artists are welcome. On Oct. 18, Blackbird will feature work by member artists created during the live painting day.

MEMBER ARTISTS: Gloria Houlne, Rick Burns, Bob Farrell, Connie Eppich, Anne Vaughan, Daryl-Ann Hurst, Ruth Ann Bleau, Erin Duquette, Beth Wittenberg, Jean Coughlin, Christine Kfoury, Kristen Dolloff, Christy Bruna, Bailey Lewton.

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