When Monhegan Island’s renowned artistic heritage is invoked, it is more often than not an all-male roster of painters that is trotted out: Kent, Bellows, Hopper, Winter, Tam, Wyeth, et al. “On Island: Women Artists of Monhegan,” on view at the University of New England Art Gallery in Portland (through Sept. 23), goes a long way toward demonstrating that this gender imbalance no longer holds.
And it really hasn’t for half a century now. The likes of Sarah McPherson, Jacqueline Hudson, Elena Jahn, Francis Kornbluth and Lynn Drexler, among others, have been instrumental in turning the tide, so to speak, creating exceptional work inspired by the island (all but the first-named are represented in “On Island”). Today, the group Women Artists of Monhegan Island, or WAMI, adds an exclamation point to this welcome shift.
While island views continue to bring out the best in landscape painters — see Carol Raybin’s fine rendering of Manana, Monhegan’s “nursling” island, for example — figures and interiors are also favored subjects. Alison Hill’s portrait of a lobster woman named Angela is straightforward — not the “heroic” image of island fishermen offered by earlier painters. Likewise, Corlis Carroll’s neatly oblique Morning Cribbage is a far cry from the iconic card players in Emil Holzhauer’s mid-century paintings.
Monhegan has always brought out the best in watercolor painters. Sylvia Murdock’s Horned Pout and Yolanda Fusco’s Images of Monhegan are especially lively. Elaine Reed, Joan Rappaport, Helen Prince and Joanne Scott offer memorable landscapes and elemental images.
The island also nurtures creative work not necessarily tied to any specific motif. Dyan Berk’s Deep Fun #4 is a Mylar and colored gels piece that recalls Miro in its abstract whimsy. In a darker vein, Kate Cheney Chappell’s womb-like Earth Envelope/Evolution speaks to spiritual/environmental issues that may arise out of a Monhegan mood. Frankie Odom’s dynamic Ocean Currents brings to mind William Manning’s evocations of island rhythms.
UNE Art Gallery director Anne Zill looks upon the show as an opportunity “to right a wrong…to demonstrate that women’s artistic talents are just as good as their male counterparts.” This argument could have been further fortified by including a few of the dozen or so women who have been Carina House artists in residence, among them, Sarah Knock, Connie Hayes, Marguerite Robichaux, Karen Adrienne, Lynn Travis, Carol Sloane and MaJo Keleshian.
Even without these individuals represented, the point is well made and well taken: women artists have come a long way on the island (the Monhegan Museum’s 2005 show “A Century of Women Artists on Monhegan Island” provided further evidence). As Emily Grey, Monhegan Museum curator, states in her introductory essay for the “On Island” catalogue, women artists are “an essential part of the art community on Monhegan today.” In many ways, they are actually creating that community — a most fortunate happenstance.
Located at 716 Stevens Avenue, the Art Gallery at UNE is open Wed., Fri., Sat. & Sun., 1-4 p.m.; Thurs., 1-7; and by appointment (207-221-4499). Admission is free.
For information visit, www.une.edu/artgallery.
Carl Little is the author of The Art of Monhegan Island. He is on the board of the Monhegan Artists Residency Corporation.