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The Maine Attraction

By Kirsten A. ConoverStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 4, 1997



BOSTON

If Who's Who published a book of all the artists who have ever worked in Maine, entries would appear endless.

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From Winslow Homer, Fitz Hugh Lane, Robert Henri, Marsden Hartley, and Marguerite Zorach to the Wyeths, Neil Welliver, Alex Katz, Lois Dodd, and more, artists have come to Maine to create.

Why Maine? "The short answer is, the land, the light, the solitude, and more or less the affordability," says Bruce Brown, curator for Maine Coast Artists, a nonprofit organization based in Rockland. "Maine is an art mecca," Mr. Brown says. "It's close to the bone, it's fundamental, elemental; it is 'the essence.' "

Traditionally, artists have favored summers in Maine, when the days are long and the weather is kind. Yet in the past five to six years, Brown has seen an influx of artists coming here to live year-round. "More artists are finding more work in Boston and Maine" than in the past, he says.

A large proportion of artists live within 25 miles of the coastline, where rocky shores, unpredictable surf, and intense sunlight and moonlight buoy inspiration.

Realist painter Lois Dodd lives in Cushing, Maine, known for its jutting peninsulas and beautiful coves, not to mention Andrew Wyeth's home and the Olson house that he made famous in his paintings.

In light of the strong art tradition, Ms. Dodd says what's interesting is you can go out and see other people's paintings, and see the same clouds that are in a Marsden Hartley painting. Then you go out and see something of your own to paint. "Besides the physical place and the light here, there are the economics," notes Dodd, who works out of a studio in her barn.

One institution that has played a major role in the Maine-artist tradition has been the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture based in Skowhegan, Maine. Countless artists - many from New York, including Alex Katz - have been introduced to Maine by way of Skowhegan during the past 50 years. Since the school is located in the central part of the state, woods, lakes, and rolling hills have served as subjects for landscape painters.

"It's been this long tradition that they come up for the summer, and then they end up looking for a house," says Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of program at Skowhegan. "Artists come here for privacy, but also to have connection with other artists."

In "The Allure of the Maine Coast" (1995, Portland Museum of Art), Portland Museum of Art curator Jessica Nicoll talks about painter Robert Henri's love of Maine, particularly Monhegan Island, which he introduced to students Rockwell Kent and George Bellows.

"For Henri, Maine was a foil to life in New York; in it he sought simplicity, purity, and honesty as a counterpoint to the complexity, excess, and modernity of his world....." No doubt, many contemporary Maine artists could relate.