Posted: August 29, 2018
Get up close and personal with Maine’s art history
Written by: Mary Ruoff
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Dramatic landscapes, luminous natural light, rural quietude, the camaraderie of like-minded others: All this has drawn artists to Maine since the 1800s, some coming just for the summer months and others settling in full time. Their legacy isn’t found only in museums and galleries, but the places where they worked and lived – in the same communities where many modern-day artists still do. Follow this roadmap to the homes, studios and sights that showcase Maine’s rich art history, live on as unique memorials to some of country’s best-known artists and continue to inspire artists today.
A museum docent on footbridge to Perkins Cove leading a tour of the former art colonies.Photo courtesy of Ogunquit Museum of American Art
OGUNQUIT ART COLONIES
Two art colonies thrived in the early 1900s at Perkins Cove: the Ogunquit Summer School of Drawing and the Summer School of Graphic Arts. What had been a simple fishing village fueled the growth of American modernism as artists retreated here to ply their craft, socialize and unwind. Today, Ogunquit is a bustling tourist destination known for picturesque beaches, the rockbound Marginal Way path and, yes, art galleries and plein air painting. Open daily from May to October, Ogunquit Museum of American Art – a legacy of the colonies and a 10-minute walk from Perkins Cove – leads colony tours with two weeks' advance notice (and scheduled tours in summer). Or plot your own with the map, site descriptions and photos at the museum's website. Make one of the stops the Ogunquit Art Association-affiliated Barn Gallery, whose predecessor was a yellow barn. But this is a modern 1950s structure, as is the museum, where ample sculpture gardens overlook the sea. It hosts Maine poet Wesley McNair for a reading on Oct. 7.
The Olson House was the subject of Andrew Wyeth's most famous painting, "Christina's World." Photo courtesy of the Farnsworth Museum
This three-story, steeply roofed home with unpainted clapboards presides over a rural coastal point below Thomaston, yet it's familiar to many as the setting of "Christina's World," the iconic Andrew Wyeth tempera painting that depicts a young Christina Olson sitting on the grass, legs to one side and leaning uphill toward a graying farmhouse. The famous painting is displayed at New York's Museum of Modern Art, but Rockland's Farnsworth Museum owns the Olson House, along with many works by Wyeth, his father, N.C., and his son Jamie (the family has lived seasonally in the midcoast for years). Tours run on the hour from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend. Visitors learn about the late 1700s home, the workings of a saltwater farm, and the close relationship between Wyeth and Olson siblings Christina and Alvaro. The artist produced 300-plus works depicting their residence and had a studio here for a time. Interesting as that is, the journey this way through quintessential coastal Maine is a big part of the home's allure. Plan a stop at Langlais Sculpture Preserve (georgesriver.org), which opened last year in Cushing. Among Bernard Langlais' large, fanciful wood sculptures is "Local Girl," aka Christina Olson. Besides the Farnsworth, downtown Rockland is home to the Center for Maine Contemporary Art and numerous galleries. This year's final First Friday Art Walk is Oct. 5. For more on the arts in Rockland, visit artsinrockland.org.
Inside the South Solon Meeting House, painted with frescoes by students of the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture. Photo courtesy of the Maine Office of Tourism
SOUTH SOLON MEETING HOUSE
South Solon, southsolonmeetinghouse.org
With paired front doors, white clapboards, and a square tower topped with four small spires, this meetinghouse garners attention for its classic New England exterior, but the doors are left unlocked to invite you in for a delightful surprise. Colorful frescoes of bible scenes adorn the walls and ceiling. The building, which has box pews, was built as a nondenominational worship and public meeting space in 1842. In the 1950s, a student at Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, a summer artists residency still in existence, led a school-supported effort to have the interior frescoed by a group of painters. The meetinghouse is at South Solon and Meeting House roads, east of Route 201, which is the Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway from Solon north to the Canadian border – a spectacular fall foliage drive. River Roads Artisans Gallery south of Solon in downtown Skowhegan sells art and handcrafts by numerous artists. Studio Six Fine Art on Main Street in nearby North Anson features owner Gil Prevost's hyperrealism paintings and prints of Maine and New England scenes.
The view from Winslow Homer's studio in Scarborough's Prouts Neck. Staff photo by Gordon Chibroski
WINSLOW HOMER STUDIO
A geometric balcony enlivens this former carriage house, which prominent Portland architect John Calvin Stevens redesigned as the artist's home and studio. The renowned marine painter lived and worked at this property on Prouts Neck's rocky shore from 1884 to his death in 1910, absorbing images of pounding surf and changing skies on walks and from his second-story overlook. Portland Museum of Art renovated the 1,500-square-foot, shingle-style National Historic Landmark before opening it for public tours in 2012. Homer photographs, art and furniture are displayed, and guides imbue visitors with a "deeper understanding" of the artist and what inspired him. The Portland museum has an extensive collection of Homer's paintings. Perhaps after a tour of his studio you will see them in a new light. Tours are reservation-only and held on select days between April and October. Visitors depart from and return to the museum by van (total excursion time: 2.5 hours). Admission drops from $65 to $55 in the shoulder seasons – that's Oct. 18-31 in the fall.
Monhegan Museum overlooks the island that's an artist's – and art lover's – destination. Photo by Bob Keyes
ROCKWELL KENT-JAMES FITZGERALD HOUSE & STUDIO
Monhegan Island, monheganmuseum.org
It's a big year for art on Monhegan Island, the mystical (and largely seasonal) artists' haven and fishing community 10 miles off Maine's coast. In February, Monhegan Museum of Art & History's Rockwell Kent-James Fitzgerald House & Studio was accepted into the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Historic Artists' Homes and Studios program. Kent built the simple structures in the early 1900s. Fitzgerald later acquired them, and the painters kept up a correspondence. Open late June through September, tours ($5 donation) are Tuesday and Saturday in the early afternoon, though calling first is advised. A studio demonstration shows how Fitzgerald thickly layered paint, and the home has many original Kent furnishings. The 50-year-old museum's main base is the island lighthouse station ($10 admission, open daily during the museum's season, 1:30-3:30 p.m. in September). "An Island Treasure: Celebrating 50 Years of the Monhegan Museum," this year's art show, has works from the 1850s to the early 2000s by some 70 artists, including Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth. Lupine Gallery, uphill from the town wharf, is open until Columbus Day (and by chance or appointment off-season). For island artists' public studio hours, visit artmonhegan.com. Island visitor information, including links to passenger ferries from the midcoast, is at monnheganwelcome.com.