Long Island jeweler Martha Whitener spoke for many island artists when she said, “summer is a great boost.” It is the time when “people are here to buy what we’ve been making in the winter,” said Peaks Islander Kathy Newell, a decorative painter. One might think that with Portland so close by, Casco Bay artists would have no trouble showing their work, particularly in the summer. Such is not the case. According to painter Suellen Begley Roberts of Peaks Island, many Portland galleries won’t show islanders’ work if it is also shown anywhere on the island because it is too close. So what’s a Casco Bay islander to do?

“Two or three years ago there was a gallery where we could all exhibit,” said Roberts, “but the building sold. Space is extremely limited in the village [of Peaks Island.] It has always been the same struggle. Where can we [artists] be as a group? Where do we go? I think I am one of the lucky ones on Peaks Island because I am able to have a gallery,” said Roberts. “That’s always been my dream.”

Originally Roberts wanted to show and sell other artists’ work in her gallery, but Peaks is considered a neighborhood of Portland, and Portland licensing won’t allow it in a residential area. “I would love to see on Peaks some place where all the artists could be together, an open studio or co-op,” she said. Both Whitener and Newell take their work to inter-island shows and fairs during the summer (and sometimes fall) months. Events such as the Diamond Cove Restaurant show on Great Diamond, PeaksFest and the Annual Fifth Maine Regiment Community Center Art Show on Peaks, and the Art and Soul show on Long Island keep many island artists happy and busy during the season. “It takes most of the winter to build up stock,” said Newell. “In the summer there is enough business that I don’t have to go to the mainland.” However, the artists agree that the logistics of taking their work off-island are very difficult.

Some island venues show local artists’ work. Vicki Todd of Chebeague owns and runs the Artisans’ Icehouse gift shop and gallery. Once the season starts, she is open six days a week through the summer, and sometimes into the fall, depending on the year. Todd tries to show work by artists and artisans from many different islands, including Long and Cliff. In the Icehouse, Todd shows everything from pottery to quilts to watercolors, including Whitener’s jewelry. She estimates that she has 30 different artists showing in her shop.

Chebeague Island artists are also able to show work at the Chebeague Island Inn as well as at the library. Chebeague native Sandra Rice shows her watercolors at the library each year, as well as painter and sculptor B.J. Abrahamson. While Rice is happy to have a couple weeks at the library each year, she feels the same as Roberts does. “I would love to see a small gallery here in the summertime,” she said.

It’s difficult to develop an art community if artists have few places to show their work. Some Chebeague Islanders have come up with one answer to this problem. According to Rice, there is a group of painters that meets once a week with Abrahamson. They go to different sites and paint together. If it’s a bad day, they paint in a member’s home. “It’s a nice way to get out and share ideas, critique each other, and paint together,” said Rice. “[The group] gives me a weekly incentive to work. There is a lot of encouragement shown.” However, Rice concedes, “we don’t have an organized ‘art community’ on Chebeague.”

Peaks Island artists almost literally stumbled onto another way to create a sense of community among themselves – chairs. Newell, who works at the Peaks Island School, found herself walking past a pile of old wooden chairs in the basement each day. “I said to myself ‘what are we going to do with these chairs?'” she recalled. Taking a cue from Rockland’s Lobster Maine-ia project and now Portland’s Lighthouses on Parade, Newell decided that the chairs should be decorated, and then auctioned off to benefit the school’s art program. According to Newell, “there are tons of artists of all kinds out here.” The organizers of Peaksfest, where the chairs will be auctioned, recruited 25 of these artists to each decorate a chair in any way they saw fit.

According to Roberts, the chair project has played a big part in bringing Peaks’ artists together as a community. The knowledge that others were working on a similar project, and the simple act of asking how it was coming along, or telling each other they couldn’t wait to see their chairs was very important in developing a sense of togetherness. “I don’t think Kathy realized how important it was for the artists,” said Roberts.

Roberts has lofty goals for the Peaks art community, and the chair project is a small start. “My dream is for Peaks to be somewhat like Monhegan,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful for people to walk off the boat and visit artists’ studios. I only know of three here. It would be wonderful if more would do it.”

Until that time comes, Casco Bay artists will have to continue to rely on themselves and each other to promote their work. “People are very supportive,” said Whitener. And why not? It’s the island way.