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Monson, Maine July Newsletter

Click Here for a printable PDF of this newsletter

Monson, Maine – A place to stop and stay awhile

A View of Lake Hebron

Earlier this summer, artist Barbara Sullivan suggested that I consider a visit to Monson, Maine. She would be teaching a fresco workshop at Monson Arts the week of July 12th and artist Michael Stasiuk would be teaching a found object sculpture class there at the same time. I know both artists very well and have visited their studios and shown their work, but here was an opportunity to visit them in their teaching environments in the beautiful North Maine Woods.

Barbara also encouraged me to contact a few other people that I might enjoy meeting while exploring the area. On her list were Dan Bouthot, director of Monson Arts, photographer Todd Watts, his wife, ceramic artist Jemma Gascoine, and painter Alan Bray. Needing no further incentive, I marked my calendar and asked my friend Susan MacDougall to join me on this two-and-a-half-day, multifaceted road trip.

Monson – A little history

The town of Monson is located three hours north of York and 20 minutes south of Moosehead Lake. The area has been a year-round vacation and outdoor recreation destination since the mid-nineteenth century. In the recent past, one would easily pass through the center of Monson without taking a second look, anxious to reach the ultimate destination of Greenville at the foot of Moosehead Lake.

The town of Monson was founded in 1822. Shortly thereafter, a large vein of black slate was discovered. Soon immigrants from Finland, Sweden and Wales came to Monson to work in the quarries. The Monson Historical Society proudly preserves the records of these early settlers. The slate business declined after WW1 and was replaced by a successful furniture factory which employed over 250 local people. That business ultimately failed in the early 2000s. Like many small Maine towns, Monson has seen better days. Artist Alan Bray, who grew up in Monson, recalls that no matter the ups and downs, the town always had a “can do” spirit and a strong sense of community.

In recent years, the town has been in decline, people moved away and houses and storefronts became derelict and even abandoned. One of the few remaining signs of life were the many hikers who stopped in the town for supplies before the final one hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail, ending at the summit of Mount Katahdin. 

A Transformation – Enter the Libra Foundation

The Portland-based Libra Foundation is committed to projects that benefit the people of Maine. Their mission is “to strive for innovative ways to enrich Maine, empower communities, and enhance the quality of life of all Maine citizens.” Initial funding came from Betty Noyce who received a lucrative divorce settlement from Robert Noyce, co-founder of Intel Corporation. A good motto might be “Divorce Well and Put it to Good Use.” Libra foundation website.

Monson General Store

In 2017, the foundation chose the town of Monson as an ideal location for an artists’ residency and Monson Arts was formed. The foundation purchased thirty-plus buildings and properties in the town, restored and retrofitted them using the skills and labor of the local community. The main street, that not long ago, was lined with boarded-up storefronts and peeling paint, suddenly gleamed with white clapboards and welcoming open flags.

The buildings are now used for studios, offices, galleries, and housing for Monson Arts which offers visual artists’ and writers’ workshops and residencies throughout the calendar year. I highly recommend that you read this article by Amy Sutherland, photographs by Michael Seamans that appeared in the September 2019 issue of Down East Magazine. It gives a full account of the people and challenges involved in this amazing project.

A warm welcome in Monson

The Quarry Restaurant, Chef Marilou Ranta, Students enjoying lunch overlooking Lake Hebron

Barbara Sullivan informed Dan Bouthot, director of Monson Arts, that we were coming to visit and that I would be sharing all that I would see and do with the readership of my newsletter. Because the residency program was not in full swing, Dan generously offered us a place to stay.

We were warmly welcomed, and immediately invited to have lunch with Barbara and Michael and their students. Marilou Ranta, owner and chef of the Quarry Restaurant, prepares three meals a day for workshop leaders and students, while also opening her gourmet restaurant to the general public. We had heard nothing but rave reviews about the cuisine.

After lunch Dan gave us the grand tour of Monson Arts. We began in the Studio Building where Barbara was teaching the art of fresco to four students. The second floor of the building has six private writing studios and a comfortable common area overlooking Lake Hebron. Just down the street is another beautifully restored building that houses offices for Monson Arts and a gallery.

Currently on view in the gallery is “Always Home: Wabanaki Traditional Arts,” an exquisite display of baskets and other fine crafts. Upstairs are more studio spaces, all designed and laid out with flexibility in mind.  For more information on the exhibition Click Here


Michael Stasiuk

Our tour continued down and across the street to the sculpture studio where Michael Stasiuk was sharing his skill and knowledge of found-object sculpture. The space is a renovated barn with extremely high ceilings suitable for creating large-scale work – not necessary for Michael’s workshop but an inspiring space to work in all the same. Michael has almost “rockstar status” in New Durham, New Hampshire, where he has taught elementary-school students for the past 32  years.

Based on the intense focus of the adult students enrolled in his workshop, his inspiration and teaching skills are appreciated at all age levels. He generously shared the contents of his “wooden scraps” bins and displayed joinery samples, construction techniques and finished pieces.

Click Here to view an interview with Michael which appeared on New Hampshire Chronicle, and here is a link to his website.


Barbara Sullivan

We circled back to see how Barbara’s students were progressing. They were hard at work layering wet plaster and grinding pigments with glass mullers. Barbara is incredibly creative and certainly the only person that I am aware of who works in the age-old medium of fresco. Her portable frescos include domestic objects such as kitchen appliances and woodshop tools, food, and wonderful creatures such as animals, birds and insects. Through the end of this year, Barbara has a one-person show at Gemma Gascoine’s gallery just down the street, subtitled “Fresco Bas-Relief Sculptures of Common Everyday Situations.” It is pure delight. To learn more about Barbara, please read this article by Carl Little and visit her page on the Caldbeck Gallery website where she exhibits.

Below: “Bed” Shaped Fresco, approximately 42″ x 50″

Gascoine and Watts

Next door to the General Store is Jemma Gascoine’s ceramic studio and gallery. Jemma exhibits her work as well as other ceramic artists. She also teaches and curates a gallery on the second floor. She willingly shares information about her sculpture, and other work which includes beautiful, functional bowls and platters, many with bright-colored glazes. She retains her charming lilting British accent, even though she has been in the U.S. ever since she met and married photographer Todd Watts over twenty years ago. Jemma’s website.

Jemma and Todd are central figures in the Monson arts community. Berenice Abbott who is best known for her iconic photographs of New York City in the 30s, met Todd a native New Yorker in 1973 and he subsequently printed all of her portfolios in his New York Studio. Abbott, who died in 1991 at the age of 93, lived in Blanchard from the mid sixties until 1981 when she moved down the road to Monson. Abbott convinced Todd to buy the house next door to hers in 1974 and in 1999 he and Jemma Gascoine moved into that house, installed a ceramics sculpture studio and constructed a building to house a state-of-the-art photography studio across the road. 

On our second morning, Todd gave us a complete tour of the large studio which is equipped to make both digital and analog prints. Photographers come from all over the world to work with Todd in his studio. Todd explained, “the artists feel like they are on safari when they come to Blanchard.” Beginning this year, Monson Arts will include a photography residency, the Abbott Watts Residency, in Watts’ studio, thus greatly expanding their offerings in digital and analog photography. Todd Watts Website

Susan and I were immensely impressed with Todd’s large format prints that were hanging in the studio. Art critic and writer Edgar Allen Beem describes Watts’ photographs as “wildly colorful, fantastical images aimed not at capturing the natural world but at conjuring a mystical, metaphorical reality. He doesn’t take photographs, he makes them.” I encourage you to read Beem’s full article about Watts and Gascoine which appeared in Down East Magazine.


Warning: Slippery Rocks and Roots!

Since the students were hard at work, Susan and I decided to explore more of the town and to get some exercise. The Appalachian Trail Visitor Center is in the center of town and it is where the through hikers on the Appalachian Trail check in before they continue into the Hundred Mile Wilderness, the final stretch before reaching Mount Katahdin.  It is described as the wildest section of the Appalachian Trail, and one of the most challenging to navigate and traverse. We decided not to pursue that direction.

Instead, we picked up some local maps and trail descriptions, all of which included the disclaimer “Warning –slippery rocks and roots.” We chose Little Wilson Falls, described as an easy to medium hike that terminates at the upper falls which plunge 39 feet into a slate gorge. It was a misty, slightly wet day and we hummed “slippery rocks and roots, slippery rocks and roots…” while we paid close attention to our footing. The trees along the trail were old growth, very diverse and beautiful and the undergrowth in areas was carpeted in moss and lichen. 

The other hike that we did (attempted) was the Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary, just a few miles outside of town. The first part of the trail is a lovely walk through old growth forest that leads to a pond and staffed visitor center. Beyond there it gets a bit steeper and the final ascent to the summit is best on your hands and knees and grabbing onto metal handholds. We made it just shy of the summit, but were pleased enough with our effort and the views of the ponds below.

For outdoor enthusiasts, there is plenty to enjoy in the area including a boat excursion on Moosehead Lake. The retrofitted 1917 steamship Katahdin has daily tours of the lake. One can also take a boat shuttle from Rockwood, on the western shore of the lake, to Mount Kineo State Park. The trails are described as easy with rewarding views at the summit. (That’s on my list for next time.)


Alan Bray

 Alan Bray, “Trails” 2020, casein on panel, 18×22

Our final stop on our way home was a visit with Maine artist Alan Bray who grew up in Monson and now lives several miles south in the town of Sangerville. Alan paints in casein, a milked-based tempera that, because of its very quick drying time, is not easy to work with. He is one of the few Maine painters who uses it and the skill and patience that the medium requires is well-suited to his landscape paintings.

From what I have read about his work and from our conversations, I realize that he is totally committed to his local landscape and the natural world. His subject matter is the woods, fields and mountains in his immediate area. The paintings are as much about the spirituality of the places as the reality. 

We so enjoyed visiting with Alan and hearing his tales of growing up in Monson, a town he is very proud of. To learn more about Alan, here is a link to his website and two interviews, both very interesting and insightful. Interview 1 and Interview 2

Our drive home was easy and full of conversation as we remembered all that we had seen and done.

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April 17-18 / 48 Hours Artists and Back Roads

48 Hours with Artists and Maine Back Roads

April 17-18, 2021

One of my favorite road trips has always been to head “Down East,” leaving the major highways north of Portland and taking the roads less traveled. The coast of Maine measures 228 miles, but the actual coastal coastline measures 3,478, when you take-into-account the craggy peninsulas, coves and islands. The trip I took last week only took a nibble out of this serpentine trail and included the towns of Bath, Woolwich, Lincolnville and Phippsburg with some favorite stops along the way.

Studio Visit with Siri Beckman

My first stop was in Bath to visit printmaker Siri Beckman, an artist I regret not having exhibited in the past. Originally from the Chicago area, she moved to Stonington, Maine in 1975 and to Bath in 2017.

Although she had a background and work experience in graphic design, it was not until she moved to Maine that she began thinking about becoming an artist. Teaching herself the art of wood engraving, she craved out a studio in her self-built home in the woods. Her small, black-and-white wood engravings capture the beauty and spirit of Stonington, depicting the

landscape, the fishing community and activities on Penobscot Bay. The high contrast and detail of these small prints draw you in and then captivate you by the stories they tell. These qualities led to book illustrating projects like A Week at the Lake, published by Down East Books. For many years she illustrated articles for The Island Journal.

In 1990 she received her MFA degree in print making and book arts from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, which led to teaching and artists’ residencies in six National Parks, including Maine’s own Acadia. View more of her work at The Page Gallery in Camden and The Green Lion Gallery on-line, and the Courhouse Gallery in Ellsworth.

Beckman Prints: Machias Cod / Pileated Woodpecker / Hearts, Button and Fish / Crossing the Field

Over the Sagadahoc Bridge to Tom Paiement’s Studio

There were numerous lefts and rights before I pulled up Tom’s driveway. Although I had misread my directions, knowing that Tom’s background was engineering, the moment I spotted the solar panels and the contemporary architecture of the house, I knew I had found the right place.

Tom grew up in Brunswick, Maine and admits that his exposure to art was nil. He received a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maine and started his working life in the aerospace industry. After numerous serendipitous exposures to art, he realized a need for a creative outlet and took a new path.

He earned his MFA in Printmaking at the University of Iowa in 1985, taught for several years at the Hamline University in St. Paul, before returning to Maine.

His large, brightly lit studio is spotless and very well organized: paintings properly arranged in racks and his paints lined up in order of color. He divides his work into themes and series, with sub sections such as Abstract, Music, Figurative and Entropy Series. This all speaks to the mathematical side of his brain, but the paintings themselves are all heart.

Tom Paiement: Manray Flowers, Mixed media, 72″ x 30″

His paintings are rich in color and texture and there is a strong graphic quality to his compositions. Many of the paintings are made up of collaged papers, newsprint, objects, screen prints and drawings. Although mixed media, the final painting surface reads as one. Quoting Kelley Lehr of Greenhut Galleries his paintings are a “highly authentic and fiercely imaginative take on whatever subject matter he finds himself enthralled with and are equaled by his talent and skill level.” More of his images and background are on his website and his artist page at Greenhut Galleries.

Tom Paiement “View From Above” 10″ x 12″

Off the Beaten Path Specialities

In the summertime, traffic on Route One can be intense, especially through Wiscasset, which boasts being “The prettiest village in Maine.” Some of my favorite detours and stops include Alewives Fabrics In Damariscotta Mills, Beth’s Farm Stand in Warren, and my favorite is Morses’s Saurerkraut in Waldoboro.

In addition to their signature sauerkraut, they produce a variety of traditional crock pickles, relishes, mustards and horseradish. Who would have thought one would find such a wide variety of cured meats, sausages, cheese, craft beer and wine from across Northern Europe on this Maine back road. Their restaurant is closed at the moment, but when it reopens, go for the Apple Strudel “mit Schlag” (whipped cream.) These are all worthy places to stop. Click on their links above for more information.

An afternoon and evening in Lincolnville Center

Routes 17 and 225 are inland roads that run behind the Camden Hills, that this day were frosted with snow. There are numerous large farms and ponds along this route which by- pass the busier sections of Route One. I always make a stop at the Lincolnville General Store, again a surprise off the beaten path. It has become the cornerstone of the community since it was renovated in 2017 by Briar and Jon Fishman (drummer of the band Phish). Read more about the renovation and the Lincolnville Community in this Bangor Daily article.

Although one could make a day trip to this part of the mid-coast, my plan was to spend the night with my friend/artist Barbara Sullivan who had just moved to Lincolnville from Solon, Maine. Barbara is best known for her frescos and I will write more about her work in a future newsletter. Since she was only just getting settled in her new house, and a house guest could be an imposition, I endeared myself by bringing pasta and a White Bolognese sauce for our dinner. Barbara made it a party by inviting artists Sam Cady and Stan Sante to join us. We all were fully vaccinated, and it was a very jolly and back to normal evening.

A visit with Siem van der Ven and Kate Braestrup

Ceramic artist Siem van der Ven and his wife Kate Braestrup live just around the corner from the Lincolnville General Store.

Siem’s ceramics are exquisite and explore many different forms, both sculptural and functional, stoneware and porcelain, gas and wood fired. During my visit he explained his techniques to make his dimpled patterns using German designed tools and vacuum air filters. View more of his work on his website.

He is a very likeable and approachable man and that is summed up in his bio statement. “I follow these threads through my life: making things, cooking, drawing, sailing, teaching, being a father (the very best work I’ve been a part of). I have never let go of the stage in which I learn from my fingertips inward.”

Siem invited me into the house for a cup of tea where we were joined by his wife Kate. I teased him that Kate is even more interesting than he is, something, he says, he hears often. Since 2001, she has served as chaplain to the Maine Warden Service.

Her job includes joining wardens as they search the woods and waters of Maine for lost hikers, snowmobilers, or anyone who has lost their way. Besides providing pastoral care for people in the warden service, she travels around the country to train police and first responders in Critical Incident Stress Management.

Kate is also a national bestseller writer. Her personal journey from grief to faith to happiness is beautifully recounted in her memoir “I am Here if you Need Me.” I have read it once and plan on reading it again. It is a terrific book and has received high praise. More about Kate here.

In Here If You Need Me, I sensed immediately that I was in the hands of an authentic voice – of an authentic human being. Kate Braestrup’s story, and the straight-forward prose in which she tells it, brought me to tears in one paragraph and made me laugh out loud in the next. This is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.”

Anita Shreve

Day Two – Phippsburg and artist Dan Dowd

The only scheduled stop on my way home, was to visit artist Dan Dowd in Phippsburg, a town down the peninsula from Bath. Dan works as a security guard during the week at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and Sundays are the best days to catch him at home.

Dan describes himself as “an artist, rummager, conservationist, and a SAAB driver.” He creates unique sculptures out of found objects and discarded materials. His artistic eye finds beauty in the patina of black, rubber inner tubes, rusted metal bits, old tools, and a wide array of lost – now found- objects. He collages pieces of fabric, old coats, shirts, ties from people he knows as well as strangers, and assembles them into “portraits.”

His studio is a small room in his house, which has a stunning distant view of Atkins Bay and Popham Beach. His art materials, salvaged from the Phippsburg transfer station as well as donated from friends, are piled around the studio within easy reach. His eclectic aesthetic is throughout his house and garden as you can see in this Down East article and The Mainer’s Blog..

Dan moved to Phippsburg in 2001 and for the past 15 years has been an active member of the Phippsburg Land Trust and is currently chair of the conservation committee. He witnessed the encroachment of development on the town in Massachusetts where he grew up and he did not want to see this happen in Phippsburg. There are more than 31 miles of hiking trails on the Phippsburg peninsula and Popham Beach, is hands down, the most beautiful beach in Maine. You could spend days exploring the area and I have heard that the Sebasco Harbor Resort is a terrific place to stay. 

Dan is preparing new work for an exhibition at the Danforth Museum this Fall.

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Peter Brown, Robin Cody, and Brett X. Gamache / Home Again

Studio Visits with Peter Brown and Robin Cody

After 30 years of living in Sarasota, Florida and teaching at the Ringling College of Art and Design, artists Peter Brown and Robin Cody packed up their household and headed north, arriving in Gloucester, Massachusetts on the very day everything shut down due to the pandemic.

Undeterred by these circumstances, they set about renovating the house they had purchased and found studio space in Lanesville Village. They had carefully chosen Gloucester as it was a city/town close to where they had grown up. Peter’s family home was in Lexington, however he spent every summer in York Beach. His grandmother first bought property on the Nubble in the 1930’s and generations followed. And yes, “Brown’s Ice Cream” is a part of Peter’s heritage.

Robin Cody in her studio

Robin’s childhood home was just up the road in Ipswich. She claims remembering the sight and smell of the extensive salt marches of the area are part of what drew her back and are an important influence in her painting.

During my tenure at the George Marshall Store Gallery, I had the opportunity to exhibit work by both artists. I found it intriguing that although they shared studio space, were married, raised two daughters, I thought their work could not be more different each from the other.

Left to Right: Continuum, Progression, Shuffle, all acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 24″

Peter’s formal geometric compositions were initially inspired by Roman floor and wall mosaics which he studied when he was a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome in 2010. His most recent “Woven” series emphsizes the formal aspects of colors and shapes suggesting both depth and movement. The color, placement and repetition of the geometric shapes are unexpected and hold one’s attention almost like a meditation.peterbrownpaintings.com

Left to Right: Blue Pot and Lemons, oil on canvas, 18 x 22 / Houses on a Hill in Rockport, oil on panel, 14 x 16, Primula Japonica, oil on linen panel, 16 x 8 

By contrast, Robin’s paintings are in response to nature and include landscape paintings, both urban and rural, and still life paintings of simple objects and things collected from nature. Part of my reason for visiting Peter and Robin was to return one of Robin’s paintings which I was unable to return before. So, I have been able to enjoy “Papaya and Various Objects” for all these past, many months. In fact, I am looking at it right now, because although my intentions were clear, it was only as I drove over the bridge into Gloucester that I realized that I had forgotten to put it in the car. Oh well, next time for sure. robincodypaintings.com

The more I look at this painting and at the photographs I took while visiting their studios, I do see a connection between their work. When viewed side-by-side, I notice similar color choices and a certain order and calm in their compositions.

Papaya and Various Objects, Oil on linen panel, 16″ x 18″

We concluded the studio visit by taking a short walk down the street to the Harvey Reservation, one of the many sites and trails managed by the Essex County Land Trust.. Offering unparalleled views of Ipswich Bay, including Crane’s Beach and Plum Island, Harvey Reservation is one of the best spots on Cape Ann to sit and watch the sunset. And on a very, clear day your can see Mount Agamenticus and the Isles of Shoals. We said our good byes here and vowed to see each other again soon.


Exploring Gloucester

This was not my first visit to Gloucester and it will not be my last. From York, it is as easy one and a quarter hour drive, with a choice of extending the tour on rural roads. I got off at the Georgetown exit and continued on Route 133, the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway.

The city of Gloucester occupies the tip of the Cape Ann Penninsula . It consists of an urban core on the north side of the harbor surrounded by the outlying neighborhoods of Annisquam, Bay View, Lanesville, Folly Cove, Magnolia, Riverdale, East and West Gloucester. Each neighborhood has a unique character and history of various waves of immigrants including Portuguese, Italians, Finns and others who worked in the fishing industries and granite quarries.

Besides these industries, by the mid-19th century Gloucester became a mecca for artists. By the turn of the century, many artists came to escape the city summer heat and established studios in Rockport. Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, Edward Hopper, John Sloan, Maurice Prendergast and John Twachtman are just some of the renown artists who came.

Their stories and the history of the art colony are exquisitely told in the galleries of the Cape Ann Museum. This is truly a gem of a museum and I recommend it as one of your first stops in Gloucester. Their holdings include the largest collection of works by marine artist Fitz Henry Lane, galleries dedicated to the history of the fishing, maritime and quarrying industries, a contemporary art collection, prints, blocks, textiles and archives of the Folly Cove Designers, a First Order Frensel Lighthouse lens, and in short, there is something for everyone.

Collage of images from the collection of the Cape Ann Museum.

Selected works from the Cape Ann Museum

Popovers at Passports Restaurant

Absorbing culture always builds an appetite and the best remedy is lunch at Passports at 110 Main Street, a five minute walk from the museum. After ordering, you will be presented with the restaurant’s signature — a huge, hot- from- the- oven popover. There is lots to choose from, but I can never pass up on the Adriatic Seafood Stew. 

Cape Ann has the reputation for some of the best fried clams in the region. Leaving Gloucester on route 133 you will pass J.T. Farnhams “award winning clams with a view.”

From the length of the line out the door, it must be good and you can eat either inside their diningroom or at a picnic table overlooking the Essex River and Great Marsh.

Interior of Goodlinens Studio

Just a few doors up the street from Passports is the Goodlinens Studio, a beautifully curated store of “useful goods for kitchen, bath, home and gifts.” Their specialty is linen and linen towels that they design locally and source in Lithuania, a region known for fine linen production. 

Inspired by the quality, durability and natural character of the product, I came away happily with a small linen towel which I plan to keep in my car as my “car napkin.” It is my sister Kitty’s idea to always keep a cloth napkin in the car – very handy when you can’t resist getting a road coffee with a buttercrunch donut. 


Brett X. Gamache

A Busy Life

Brett Gamache by coincidence, also spent his summers in York Beach, where his parents now keep a year-round home. Brett, his wife Kerri and their eight-month old son Quin, live in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Life is very busy for Brett and his family. Kerri teaches English at Middlesex Community College and Brett divides his teaching time between Endicott College, Massachusetts College of Art, and the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Between semesters and at the end of many workdays, Brett heads to the dunes at nearby Crane’s Beach or the breakwaters in Rockport.

“I particularly like the late afternoon light,” explains Brett. “I have to work quickly and move the paint with a pallet knife.” When weather or time does not permit, he uses the same techniques to paint colorful still lifes in his downtown Ipswich studio.

Brett’s website: Brett X. Gamache

The Green Studio

Hoping to get a different perspective of the landscape, Brett has created a self-directed residency. He traded a painting with Kerri’s uncle for a small flat bottom boat and applied to the John Anson Kittredge Fund to buy an electric motor. He refers to this as The Green Studio and hopes to launch the boat with its quiet electric motor in the weeks ahead. 

Brett X. Gamache

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Leah Woods & On the Rocks

Leah Woods – A Professor on Sabbatical

Leah Woods in Studio

If I were responsible for casting the role of Peter Pan, I would look no farther than Leah Woods. She is petite in stature, has short-cropped red hair, an infectious smile, twinkling eyes, and seems to be balancing on her toes as if about to fly – especially when she is talking about her work and her plans for the months ahead. But do not be fooled by this description; this is a woman who can weald a mean chainsaw and has command of a wide range of power tools.
Leah is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of New Hampshire where she teaches woodworking and furniture design. In December, I casually asked when and if school would resume, only to learn that she was just beginning her sabbatical from teaching. When I asked how she would be spending this planned time away from the university, I was so impressed with her answer, I decided to highlight her in this newsletter.

Image: Leah showing me a model of a bench she is submitting for a competition

Her Journey to Woodworking

Wood sculpture by Leah Woods Detail

Leah grew up in a military family and lived in over 19 different cities and states before going to college. In 1995 she attended the SOFA (Sculpture,Objects, Functional Art and Design) Expo in Chicago where she was “blown away” by the work of Wendell Castle, the renowned American furniture designer and craftsman who challenged the traditional boundaries of functional design.
“I had taken some woodworking classes at a local lumber yard and had hung out at community woodshops run by the Park Service, but I now knew there was so much more to learn and try.” With the encouragement of her family, she earned her master’s degree in Woodworking and Furniture Design in 2000 from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

sculpure by Leah Woods
Left to Right: Untitled in Amarillo, In and Down and Up and Out, The Perfect Pair: A Cabinet for Shoes and their Corresponding Handbag

She began by designing and building one-of-a-kind furniture before transitioning to conceptual and sculptural forms. She has built several bodies of work including: A Personal Wardrobe – Cabinets investigating clothing and the female form, Footloose – A series of cabinets for high-heeled shoes, Structure – An investigation of mannequins and dress forms, and most recently, Navigation – An exploration of autobiographical maps.  leahkwoods.com

Tools to build self-confidence

A sabbatical is a gift of time that many artists will use as uninterrupted studio time, a time for reflection, a time to travel, to write and to create new work. Leah has chosen to use this time to continue to teach, something she is extremely passionate about. Instead of teaching university students, she is designing a program for women in the New Hampshire prison system.

As a member of the New Hampshire Furniture Masters, Leah was aware of their Prison Outreach Program (P.O.P.), established over 20 years ago, that teaches woodworking skills to men in the New Hampshire prison system. She first asked back in 2009 if a similar program could be designed for women. Outreach programs for women did exist but didn’t have the vigor that a program in woodworking could provide. “Learning how to use a new tool, build things for herself is incredibly empowering for a woman,” she explains. Many of the women who are incarcerated have children at home. “To begin, we will do simple projects like chip-carving name placques, spoons and toys and then build woodworking and design skills.”

Finally in early 2020 plans were underway to build a dedicated woodworking shop for a new women’s prison in Concord. Leah was planning to teach her first class on March 18 and make it the focus of her sabbatical. Then the pandemic hit and everything was put on hold.

Since in-person classes were not possible, Leah made her first instructional DVD to get the program started. She can’t wait to teach her first class at the facility. The recent issue of Fine Woodworking Magazine has an excellent article about the program and concludes with this statement from Leah.

“The best contribution you can make to society is to do something you enjoy and that you are good at,” she said. “Learning a craft fosters community, gets you out of your own head, and teaches you to focus, And that’s invaluable for a person who is incarcerated, but also for when they eventually rejoin the outside world.” Read the full article here

Leah Woods
Leah in front of her “new” workshop on a cold day

Leah is a first-time home-owner, and has purchased a duplex in Dover, New Hampshire. She is very excited about the two-bay garage which she plans to renovate as her own woodworking shop.

Leah Woods
Leah with a vision

At the moment, it is bare bones, no heat, no electricity. But as she enthusiastically described her plans for the space, I had no doubt, that with her energy and can-do attitude, it will be another accomplishment during her sabbatical.

On the Rocks – Recommendations for outdoor adventures

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.

John Steinbeck “Travels with Charley”
Kenyon Hills South Berwick

I know many people don’t care for the winter months but they have always been my favorite time of the year. Perhaps it is because things slow down a bit and expectations are lowered.
With fewer museums, galleries and other venues open, I have been spending a lot of time out-of-doors. While most vegetation is dormant and buried under the snow, rocks and cliffs stand out like sculpture in the winter landscape. Two local walks with interesting rock features are Orris Falls Conservation Area and the Kenyon Hills Preserve, both properties of the Great Works Land Trust in South Berwick
The terrain in the Kenyon Hills is indeed hilly. The one-mile loop takes you through dense forest, past wetlands, and a side trail will take you to the headwaters of the Ogunquit River. Children of all ages will want to scamper around and climb the many enormous granite boulders. More information on the Kenyon Hills.

Balancing Rock Orris Falls conservation Area

The Orris Falls Conservation area is a lovely walk anytime of the year. Waterfalls are always an attraction, but it is the Balancing Rock that is most impressive. The area is full of history, beaver dams and other signs of wildlife. Before you go, I recommend that you read Dianne Fallon’s post called Travels on the White Rose Trail to Orris Falls. You might also consider reading the literary sketch The White Rose Road by Sarah Orne Jewett. And if you prefer to visit virtually, watch this “Windows to the Wild” PBS video hosted by outdoor enthusiast Willem Lange.

Image of Balancing Rock by Dianne Fallon

Madison Boulder

If I’ve piqued your interest about rocks, here is one more to put on your list. The Madison Boulder in Madison,New Hampshire is the largest known glacial erratic in North America, and among the largest in the world.

Madison Boulder

Whenever I am in the Conway area, I take a little detour over to Madison and pay my respects to this Natural National Landmark. Here is a link to the brochure.

Three New England States in One Day

Date of Trip April 22 / Newsletter June 11, 2021

Aerial view of Harrisville, New Hampshire

Road Trip with my friend Grant Drumheller

Several weeks have passed since my one-day road trip to southern New Hampshire and Vermont with my friend, the artist Grant Drumheller. Grant had suggested the trip with the goal of visiting Harrisville Designs, a very special yarn store in the historic village of Harrisville, New Hampshire. Beside being a wonderful painter, Grant is a superb knitter and uses his knowledge of color and design to create beautiful garments for his wife and daughters. Even Fanny, his Jack Russell pup benefits — she proudly sported an intricate cable sweater this past winter. More about Harrisville further on in this newsletter.

To make a day of it, my goal was to visit some artists along the way. Steady conversation made Route 101 West zip by. Beyond Manchester, I let the GPS navigate us to Newbury, New Hampshire where ceramic artist David Ernster lives. When I first visited David over a dozen years ago, the final miles were on dirt roads. Pavement has now reached his home, although his surroundings remain rural, wooded with views of nearby hills. 

David is a maker, a builder, an artist. His house, studio, and kilns were all made by his hand. He grew up in the upper midwest along the Mississippi River and came to New Hampshire after receiving an MFA in ceramics from West Virginia University in 1989. Since then, he has worked professionally as a potter, goldsmith, independent studio artist and educator.

His studio, show room and storage area are filled with his work and include both functional and sculptural pieces. He constantly explores new forms and glazes that range from simple thrown cups and mugs to large, slab-built sculptures. We oohed and aahed over his yellow glazes, but then the new sapphire blue and rich reds caught our eye. Grant commented that David applies his glazes and decorative drawn lines much like a painter. Needless to say, we both came away with a few purchases.

David is an active member of The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and often demonstrates at the annual Sunapee Fair that will run this year from August 7th through the 15th. I encourage you to visit David’s website, where he also invites you to visit his studio.

So many beautiful ceramics to look at.

Studio Visits Build an Appetite

The Restaurant at Burdick’s in Walpole, New Hampshire.

From Newbury we continued west to Walpole – our destination being lunch at Burdick’s. You are still in New Hampshire, but the atmosphere and menu will transport you to France and a gourmet bistro. Many travelers make the restaurant their sole destination as I have done on numerous occasions.

One is also apt to spot Ken Burns eating lunch at the counter, as he is a silent co-owner of the restaurant and has lived in Walpole since 1979. We both enjoyed cups of French Onion soup and shared Ken Burn’s signature salad with salmon. A stop after lunch in the Burdick’s chocolate shop next door is always rewarding.

Read more about Ken Burns and Burdick’s Here

We crossed over the Connecticut River into Vermont. New Hampshire and Vermont, often referred to as twin states, could not be more different. Vermont is considered a separate and unique continent and indeed, it actually is. For those who might be interested in the fascinating geography of the two states this article explains it well.


Duncan Johnson and the Art of Reclaimed Wood

 Artist Duncan Johnson is a part of the revival. He has restored and converted an industrial building into his studio, gallery and living space. The building is spacious with huge windows looking over the canal that runs through the downtown.

Duncan uses discarded wood gathered from Vermont construction sites and landfills to create his “dimensional” paintings. The work has aspects of sculpture, drawing and painting and it references his interest in quilting and architecture. He prepares his palette by sanding and seaming pieces of wood and arranges them neatly for easy access.

Grant and I both expressed our admiration for the work and Grant couldn’t help having “studio envy” for the beautiful space, large work-tables, cutting and nailing tools, air filtration units, storage racks and well-lit exhibition walls. Duncan is currently working on new pieces for an exhibition this summer at the Kobalt Gallery in Provincetown. Duncan’s web site.

With no other confirmed appointments, we headed east in the direction of home, but with the intention of stopping at Harrisville Designs.

Duncan with his tools
Admiring work and storage space

Newsletters

January – Paul Heroux and Anna Dibble Studio visits and discovering Pineland Farms

On my way, on a blue-sky day – January 15, 2021

Maine artist, Paul Heroux had kindly lent me four small pedestals that I used for several exhibitions in the gallery. They were taking up considerable room in the back of my car and I wanted to return them to Paul in New Gloucester, Maine where he lives. My goal was to go on a blue-sky day and combine the visit with cross country skiing at the Pineland Farms touring center. More about Pineland in a bit.

Yesterday presented the blue-sky day but I knew there wasn’t significant snow in New Gloucester. The decision to take a road trip was made easy when I was informed by the power company that we would lose our electricity for several hours while they replaced a pole in the neighborhood. When the power was cut off and our smoke detectors started their piercing chirping every 30 seconds, I grabbed my keys and was on my way.

First Stop – Paul Heroux – Maine Ceramic Artist

Paul Heroux is one of Maine’s standout ceramic artists. He received both his undergraduate and masters degrees from the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and taught at Bates College for three decades. His impressive resume lists his work in numerous museum and private collections. I had the privilege of showing his work at the George Marshall Store Gallery and he has recently exhibited at the June LaCombe Gallery, Corey Daniels Gallery and Cove Street Arts.

He is primarily a maker of vessels with surface decorations referencing plant life, erotics, landscapes and other changing influences. Some recent work subtilty uses the spiky image of the Corona virus and he kindly asked me to choose a small vase with that motif to take home.To learn more about Paul and see images of his work Click Here for his website.

For all his accomplishments, Paul is a very modest and soft-spoken man. His aesthetic is apparent in his surroundings: the charming house and studio that he built and the sloped gardens. On this bright winter day, the ground is partially covered in a crusty snow. The structure of the garden is punctuated with dried grasses, evergreens and the red stems of shrubs – a beautiful winter garden. A soothing sound comes from a small water feature which bubbles gently, powered by a hidden solar panel. I have seen the garden in the summer and the fall and can attest to its year-round artistic beauty. 
Click Here to view images from my visit.

A beautiful public art project in Charleston, South Carolina

In 2015 Paul designed and was involved in the production and installation of a 32 foot by 3 foot tiled water feature in Theodora Park in Charleston, South Carolina. I have always wanted to visit this historic city and now have additional incentive to see Paul’s work.
To learn more about the park Click Here.

Tiles used on the walls and floor of the water feature

Discover Pineland Farms

Cows at Pineland Farms

From Paul’s, I headed down the road to Pineland Farms. As I approached the numerous large red barns and brick buildings stood out in bright contrast to the rolling snow-covered hills. Pineland Farm is a 5,000-acre working farm, diverse business campus and educational and recreational venue that operates year-round.

The history of the farm is fascinating. It originally was opened by the State of Maine in 1908 as The Maine School for the Feeble Minded. Part of the history is quite sad but thanks to the Libra Foundation who purchased the property in 2000, it is now an incredible resource for the community and the region.
The brochure I picked up list the Welcome Center and Market, Dairy Barn, Heifer Barn, Calf Barn, Smokehouse, Education Barn and Family Farmyard, Chicken Barn, Equestrian Center and Gardens & Grounds. There are both summer and winter recreation activities: hiking and biking trails, Disc Golf, orienteering and tennis, cross county skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, fatbiking and skating. While I was there, families were ice skating, sledding and enjoying lunch in the market and the outdoor plexi igloos.
There is extensive information on the Pineland Farms website.

There was no skiing for me that day but I do plan on going back once the snow gods deliver. As it was getting close to noon, I ventured into The Market, which sells fresh fruits and vegetables, gourmet products, books and gifts, local craft beers and locally produced meats and cheeses.

I picked up a delicious grilled pastrami and swiss sandwich, a ginger cookie, and a small frittata to bring home for dinner. You can find many of Pineland products in your local grocery store. I encourage you to choose a blue-sky day of your own and venture forth to Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, Maine.

Anna Dibble – New to Maine and making her mark

Anna Dibble in her studio

From Pineland I headed east to visit artist Anna Dibble in North Freeport. Anna is fairly new to the state of Maine, coming from Vermont in the Spring of 2015. It isn’t always easy to start over in a new community, but with her positive and out-going personality she has made a name for herself as a hard-working artist and friend.
She describes herself as a self-taught artist however she studied at the Parsons School of Design, The New School, The Boston Museum School, The Vermont Studio Center, and the Pittsburgh Art Institute. Her paintings are colorful, filled with animals and profiles of figures moving through imaginary landscapes.

Painting titled Migration

One might describe them as naïve and reference aboriginal art. Many suggest a narrative that questions our relationship with nature and the universe.

Yet again, another modest person. Among her many accomplishments, she was a freelance writer, music composer, and co-designer for multiple animated shorts on Children’s Television Workshop’s Sesame Street. She designed and created sets for opera and theater, taught workshops in both visual art and writing in Vermont and Maine schools. In the 1980s and ’90s she worked in commercial and independent animation in Los Angeles – feature films, television specials, theatrical shorts for Disney, Marvel, Hanna Barbera, Murakami-Wolf, Don Bluth, among many others.

She describes her current series, ‘Intrepid Voyagers’, as responding to “both the pandemic and the climate emergency. It emerges from a sense that all living beings are now refugees of a kind – traveling virtually and literally in search of something elusive, something enlightening perhaps. The paintings address our strong biological urge to survive, hold hope and curiosity close to our hearts, and keep trying to follow unanswered questions, no matter the odds.”
Click Here for Anna’s website

There is always more to do – like building a Right Whale

Besides her studio practice, in 2018 she designed and launched a multi-year collaborative public art/ocean science initiative: The Gulf of Maine Ecology Arts Project, which focuses on the changes in biodiversity in the Gulf due to climate change and other human impact. The central piece – a large scale sculpture installation featuring an artist & student-built Right whale, and other endangered marine animals made from recycled, re-purposed materials. The first venue will be the Bigelow Laboratory of Ocean Science, Boothbay, Maine – Summer/Fall 2021. To read more about this project Click Here.

Where to next…

I have a number of ideas about where I will go next and some of the artists that I plan to visit. This newsletter and future ones will be posted on my website. Please feel free to email me. I am always open to ideas and suggestions. Mary Harding mhardingart@gmail.com