Where It’s At

‘Working Maine’ celebrates Mainers and their livelihoods

This Maine Art Gallery show runs through Aug. 13
Fri, 07/21/2023 - 2:15pm

    The first image directly in front of you as you enter Maine Art Gallery is the color photograph of Kaleb, a Bath Iron Works shipfitter taken by Bath photographer/artist Heather Perry. Kaleb is taking a final draw on his cigarette, barely more than a stub. Kaleb is looking straight into the camera. His is a hard job – hard on the body and spirit being crammed into small spaces welding and grinding, but he looks young and strong. Perry has a triptych photograph entitled, “Lunch Break at South Gate BIW” that is even more compelling: the expressions on the faces of the workers as they are moving fast through the doors to get outside in the light, cigarette lighters at the ready; if only it was quitting time …

    “Working Maine,” the current show at MAG, was the brainchild of former president Wendy Ross two years ago. And it is a must-see. There are 75 artists in this show – 16 invited, 59 juried in, exceptional artists all working in oils, watercolor, pastels, assemblage, photography, acrylics, wood, charcoal and more. While Perry’s work is, in my humble opinion, the most hard-hitting, gritty, in your face work (photography is like that) focused on shipbuilders, her fellow artists depict other Maine vocations – lobstering, fishing, worm digging, farming – sheep, flowers, vegetables, potatoes; restaurant/bartending, shipbuilding, the rebuilding of Boothbay Harbor’s 1,000-foot footbridge, pleasure boat trip companies, ice harvesting, and more.

    It’s a fascinating show that I intend to go back and see early next month. Boothbay Harbor artist Andre Benoit was asked to be juror for the show, but he chose to ask artists Mark Coates, chairman of the exhibition committee and curator of the show, and artist Sarah Greenier to jury the show with him.

    Said Benoit about his decision, “Most galleries have a judge, not a juror or jury, and it’s not really the fairest way to decide who is going into a show. A minimum of three people is the fairest way to do it. This was my first time at the other end of the stick. It was a real privilege to be part of this. I felt all of the work was very interesting, hearing of the theme. I hope everyone was happy with the show. It’s a wonderful reflection of the theme.”

    “We got quite a wide variety – an overwhelming response – limited space,” Coates added. “About 110 entries; it was a difficult process but we’re pleased with the variety. We span the state – including someone from Jonesport who sent her work in.”

    Greenier invited artists – friends and casual acquaintances whose work she’s loved for years. “I love meeting the artists and seeing art work and I am so impressed with the artists juried into this show,” she said outside the gallery during the speeches portion of the opening reception program.

    This was Benoit’s first experience as a juror of a show. As such, he talked about the importance of maintaining objectivity, of not letting personal likes and dislikes influence the decision-making process of who’s in and who’s not. “(Decisions) should be based on thematics, something that really depicts the work ethic, workmanship, quality and uniqueness of the work.”

    “I think a lot of people don’t want to judge, they don’t want to run into someone whose work wasn’t chosen,” Benoit said. “An artist has to eat humble pie once in a while. There’s a lot of humility in being an artist; you look at what’s been submitted to the show and you try to be fair about the work and about your own that wasn’t accepted.”

    But now – back to the art in this show … “Lost Claws” is a fascinating piece – the Portland landmark depicted complete with human figures, lobstering folk and tools all composed of wood, paper, composite plastic, paint, etc. It was just enchanting! I couldn’t help thinking that I’d seen the same detailed work entered in the annual Gingerbread Spectacular at the Opera House in Boothbay Harbor every December.

    Mark Coates’ “Second Shift BIW” was painted this past winter. He kept going up onto the Carlton Bridge this past winter painting the scene he saw from above at Bath Iron Works. He reckoned he went back six to eight times, painting 2.5 hours each visit. Oddly enough, regardless of canvas size, he never puts in more hours.

    Catherine Bickford’s oil paintings gave me a lift. “Sheryl and Josie” are in a colorful flower garden and those colors! So vivid. So bright. So energizing. And why not? The two women are working with earth energy, they are in sync with nature and are bringing forth flowers for Mainers; two other Bickford paintings are equally bright and dazzlingly colorful farming scenes.

    Roy Smith’s “Digging Bloodworms” is a perfect addition to a show that has quite a bit of fishing, lobstering, boat building, marinas and wharves depicted. Here’s a Maine profession you don’t hear too much about, but one that is vital to the fishing industries around the world. It is dirty, back-breaking work performed year-round by men and women here in Maine. Thanks to Smith for painting it and to the judges for including it. And, yes, a dear friend’s husband, now in his late 60’s has been a digger most of his life and it’s a hard living.

    “South Bristol Sunrise” by Susan Johnson is lovely watercolor leading to the drawbridge – a scene many a fisher/lobsterman sees on the way to their boats. It’s quintessential Maine.

    Jillian Herrigel. Wow. “Hauling the Catch” is an acrylic painting in Impressionist style. And it is no surprise that it was sold early on at the July 15 opening reception. Three boats, five faceless fishermen … the movement she creates with her brushstrokes is what called me to the painting first, the colors of those strokes – whites, grays, blues … black. Love it.

    Pam Cabanas’ charcoal drawing “Stop at the Store” of seagulls hovering around lobster traps is 60’’ x 80” inches of motion and gull cries you can feel and hear standing before it.

    Stephanie Berry’s “Potato Girls” (another sold painting at the reception) … the expansiveness of this Aroostook County potato farm, the quiet, the solitude of the scene. A mother and young daughter (perhaps) are in a section of field digging up potatoes ready for harvesting. The old truck, the farmhouse in the distance … again, the solitary nature of this predominantly Maine livelihood really reaches out and grabs you.

    This thought-provoking show that encompasses all manner of occupations in our great state runs through Aug. 13. Maine Art Gallery, at 15 Warren St. in Wiscasset, is open Thursday – Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with special extended hours through 7 p.m. on Wiscasset Art Walk night July 27.

    Don’t miss this show … it’ll be talked about, remembered, for a long time.