The midcoast art scene is booming. Galleries have sprung up everywhere, from downtown streets to unlikely outposts between towns. As more and more art seekers take a detour from Route 1 to visit the Fox Islands, island artists are benefiting. The tried-and-true galleries are experiencing increased foot traffic, and many new ones have opened as well.
North Haven painter Herbert Parsons feels that the biggest change in the North Haven art scene over the past 30 years is the number of new galleries. Traditionally, North Haven artists have depended on the annual North Haven Art Association’s Arts and Crafts Exposition each August to show their work. Both North Haven native Eric Hopkins and Parsons, who summered on North Haven from the time he was an infant, began their artistic careers at the Expo as young boys.
Now, however, North Haven artists have additional local galleries in which to show their work. Hopkins’ mother, June, runs the North Haven Gallery, which will embark on its 25th season this year. To celebrate, she will run a family exhibit the second week in July.
The North Haven Gallery is often booked a year or two in advance, a testament to its popularity among island artists. “Lots are repeats,” says June Hopkins. The artists do well in the centralized location, and they enjoy their time there. Summer residents of North Haven show at the North Haven Gallery, as well as some Vinalhaven artists such as George Bartko and Amy Bird. Occasionally, artists “from away” show at the Gallery as well. Hopkins remembers fondly a “very talented 16 year-old-boy from away, with connections to North Haven” who had a show at the Gallery two years ago. He wanted to book another show but she was filled up for the coming season, so he will be back in another year.
Hopkins saves 10 days each June for the North Haven Community School to hold its annual art show. In addition, the Art Expo got so big that it needed to expand, and she reserves a week each August for that event.
Parsons’ Calderwood Hall Gallery features artists and craftspeople from both North Haven and Vinalhaven, including Sue Staples, Elsie Brown, Bob Brown, Anne Strout, Elaine Crossman and Buckley Smith. This year Parsons will share space with Mickey Bullock’s North Island Fiber Shoppe. According to Parsons, the Fiber Shoppe brings a “fresh look” and a “positive contribution” to the gallery.
Andrew Anderson Bell, an artist and part-time North Haven resident, runs another gallery affectionately known as “Etta’s Place” in which he shows his own work, as well as others’.
Though the names and locations have changed over the years, Vinalhaven has consistently had several places where artists can show their work locally. The Haven Restaurant has perhaps shown art longer than any venue on the island. According to owner Torry Pratt, The Haven has shown art since the early 1980s when her predecessors opened a gallery in the front room. The front room was eventually turned into restaurant space, but when Pratt took over she wanted to continue showing art. Unlike many galleries, she doesn’t charge artists for the use of her walls, nor does she take a commission. “I just love seeing all the art,” she said. According to Elaine Crossman, Pratt has done local artists a “wonderful service.”
Pratt has offered her walls to many artists over the years, regardless of their experience or name recognition, and has shown the work of numerous island native and summer artists including Michele O’Keefe, Crossman, Pamela Grumbach, Susan Day, Esther Eder, Joan Wye and Robert Indiana, and North Haven’s Anderson Bell, among many others.
Crossman, primarily a painter, opened a gallery of her own two years ago, called the New Era Gallery. Because of its Main Street location, New Era has become a gathering spot for artists. Crossman, who spends winters secluded in her small studio on the edge of Sands Cove, feels that summer is a time when the Vinalhaven art community “comes out from under a snow bank. We see more of each other,” she said. “I get to have conversations with other artists.”
According to Crossman, “Part of the excitement of having the gallery is bringing [art] back to Main Street. Having space on Main Street brings it to the fore,” she said.
As the midcoast art scene grows, so will the island art communities continue to expand. “The Farnsworth has always been at the center of things,” said Michelle O’Keefe. “Now that funding has come in, it makes Rockland an area that has to be dealt with. That makes Vinalhaven interesting to other people.” The same is true of North Haven, as well as neighboring island communities.
The fast pace of modern America contrasts with the slower pace of island life; add the intermingling of traditional island occupations to the growing counterculture of the art communities and it all becomes downright fascinating.