The Muse in Maine-
An essay on painting coastal views and towns of Maine- Brian Keeler
The fresh air, the beautiful 19th century buildings, the rugged coast, the brilliant light, or the traditional ways of life are all part of the appeal of Maine to me and many others. The artists who have trail blazed the coast way ahead of me include such luminaries as George Bellows, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, Andrew and N.C. Wyeth along with Jamie Wyeth. Iconic works of Maine have been created by Rockwell Kent, Winslow Homer and more recently Fairfield Porter, Neil Welliver and Alex Katz.
My first visit to Maine was as an artist but not so much to paint the landscape but as portrait artist in a group of artists that toured the shopping malls of America. This group was called the Artist’s Touring Association and I joined them on several gigs including one at the Maine Mall in Portland, Maine in 1978. I drove up with an odd display rack system made by a carpenter in my hometown that looked more like a chicken coop than a gallery display. My vehicle was an old right hand drive US Postal van that my uncle John had purchased as a delivery vehicle for the family newspaper. It had aweful oversteer and was risky at speeds over 50- I made it back alive obviously.
My first extended stays for painting came decades later at the invitation of my friends from Wyalusing, Marvin and Nancy Baker. They were friends with the Porter family, that included Fairfield, the painter and Elliott Porter, his brother the photographer. I spent a week on Great Spruce Head Island in the large Porter home there. It was a wonderful week with plenty of opportunity to get to know the land and the beauty of the sea. The meals prepared for our group in the big dining room were incredible. I visited again the next year with my girlfriend Sharon who was also a painter. We painted the views there on the island and other locales.
Eventually, I started going to Maine on an annual basis or sometimes even a couple of times in a year. My primary location for inspiration was on Deer Isle and the town of Stonington. This little fishing village is reportedly the lobster capitol of the world, so told to me by a local who should know.
My first stay there in Stonington was at a B&B run by an elderly woman, Penny Parkinson. When I arrived, she said she could not rent me a room as she was all filled up, but offered a couch in her studio in a little builiding out back for free. We returned to stay as guests at Penny's on a few other occasions.
Stonington has been the inspiration for numerous canvases, many plein air and a number of larger studio paintings as well. The town reminds me of my hometown in some ways, as it is about the same size and feel. Stongington also has a very active opera house, which Wyalusing had at one time as well. We had the very good fortune of seeing a Broadway quality production there one year that was very relevant to the town’s history. It was called the Last Ferrymen (I believe). It was a musical centered around the divisive building of the now iconic two-laned suspension bridge. The bridge made the ferry obsolete and changed the Island out of it’s island status.
Other areas where I have found the muse included Monhegan Island, Port Clyde, Cranberry Islands, Portland, Acadia National Park and Camden. The islands, like Monhegan have a special appeal for being the source of inspiration for many artist like Bellows, Henri and Kent. There are wonderful canvases of brushy exuberance by Bellows and Hopper that are tour-de-force expressions of the Atlantic.
The Museums are always part of our visit to Maine as well. Beginning with the Olgonquit Museum, as it is close to the New Hampshire border is good starting place on the northward drive. Then on to the Portland Musuem of Art, then the Farnsworth Musuem in Rockland, Maine. There are wonderful galleries in these towns too that carry wonderful painters like Bo Bartlett- at the Dowling Walsh Gallery.
The Olson House Museum is a special treat too as it is where many of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings were created including his memorable canvas of Christina’s World, now in the MOMA in NYC.
As I now have gallery representation in Bar Harbor at the Argosy Gallery, this has provided an outlet for my scenes of Maine. The gallery handles primarily small to mid-size canvases by accomplished realist who also specialize in paintings of Maine. The gallery has been operated by Amy and Charlie Sidman for over 30 years.
I have found delight in painting several of the lighthouses of Maine including doing two new plein air paintings of the Nubble Light house on this last trip. I does not matter to me that lighthouses as a motif have attracted many other painters. They still seem timeless and the experience is like discovering something new. The sea and craggy coastlines have a timeless appeal that cannot be undermined, even by thousands of tourist that may visit each year. In fact, I always enjoy conversing with the passersby who take interest in my work. At the Nubble for instance, one of the fishermen that I was painting came over to inspect the work. We had a great conversation about many things including Ireland. His wife eventually purchased the work as a surprise Christmas gift.
I did two versions of the Nubble on this most recent trip. The one mentioned above was done in the morning with brilliant October light. I painted the fishermen as they stood and walked about on the big rocks. Doing moving figures en plein air is always challenging. On the return trip, we stopped again, just before sunset. I scurried out away from the crowds with my easel and paints to be at the perfect spot with sunlight quickly disappearing. The golden light moving up the steep rocks on the island was the main appeal here. The transitional light between day and night was captured quickly and later developed in the studio. I eventually included a figure, a fellow feeding raucous gulls. He was portrayed in the half-light too.
The Acadian Park is also spectacular even though it too gets a huge amount of tourists each year. The raw beauty of the coast is undeniable. I have painted on many locations around Acadia and Bar Harbor including Schoodic Point and the little fishing village north of there, Corea,
So all in all, the coastline of Maine is endlessly inspiring to me and I suspect it will be for some time.
To view some videos of plein air oils being created, check out these Youtube links: