Dateline: Portland, Maine
We’d visited Portland Maine on two prior occasions, in each case a quick stopover, once on the way to Nova Scotia, the other on the way to downeast Maine. This time, we made a point to stay two nights, so we’d have at least one full day in town.
It wasn’t enough, yet in another sense it might have been more than enough. Portland’s harbor is, it seems, given over almost entirely to tourism; as a bellwether of change, a fine bookstore has tipped the balance of its stock too far in favor of tourist trinkets. There are oases, to be sure, harbor areas as yet unreconstructed, food inventively prepared and served with panache in establishments frequented by local cognoscenti, and an elegant, welcoming place to stay nestled within a residential neighborhood where the primary attraction might be someone walking her dog.
This “on the one hand, on the other hand” was a conundrum we encountered everywhere we went: how to get past the touristic surface and discover what lay beneath. We didn’t succeed, but in Portland—and throughout our stay in Maine—I came to think a powerful measure of Maine’s vibrancy lies in the work of its visual artists: artists including Neil Welliver and Lois Dodd, whose works don’t simply reproduce the landscapes of Maine, but locate within it colors and patterns to create visions of their own; Lauren Fensterstock, whose meticulous assemblages limn the fraught interplay between human and natural worlds; and Rose Marasco, who forages in the flotsam and jetsam of Maine to produce singular works of photographic art.
The dazzling Portland Museum of Art was not the sole repository of accomplished and imaginative work. At the Portland Art Gallery, a multitude of talented artists, including Jane Dahmen, Richard Blanchard, Jill Hoy, and Erin McGee Ferrell, drew on domesticated and wild landscapes of Maine to create a cornucopia of fine art. And at Greenhut Galleries, Sarah Knock’s paintings, taking as inspiration sojourns in her kayak, conveyed the complicated commingling of surface reflections and what is glimpsed beneath.
Where we stayed: West End Inn
An extensive interview with Neil Welliver may be found here.
Claude Debussy: La cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral), from Préludes, Book 1 (1910)
Credits: As always on the blog unless otherwise indicated, the photographs are mine. (The photograph of Knock’s painting, “Herring Under the Kayak—Perfect Timing,” was taken from the postcard announcement of the exhibit “Water – The Passage of Time” at the Greenhut Galleries.)