With the exception of Portland, Maine’s art centers tend to be in charming little towns dispersed along the coast. The areas around these towns are full of artists in need of venues for their work. And when they don’t find them, they often create their own.

Co-ops are galleries run by groups of artists with the goal of showing and selling their own work. While it makes sense, or even seems like an obvious approach in a state dedicated to local color, co-ops are often looked down upon by the most uptilted noses of the American art world.

Then again, Maine isn’t particularly known for elitist snobbery.

Maine is known, however, as a haven for artists. It is also known for craftsmanship, hard work and honest charm.

The Stable Gallery in Damariscotta is an interesting mix of co-op and professional consignment gallery: It is run by a board of eight members, who show their own work along with works by other artists whom they select.

The gallery fits handsomely in its quirky digs — a walnut-lined Victorian stable in a period mansion just a block off of Damariscotta’s dreamily quaint Main Street.

Stable’s new exhibition, “Horizons,” features work by all of the gallery artists — so there are literally hundreds of works on display: paintings, ceramics, sculpture, fiber, jewelry, furniture, photography, glass and more.

The space is lushly dense with art that ranges from serious painting to jovial craft. That the blended range is so comfortable says a great deal about the local culture: Both the most ambitious and the most playful works share that respectful Maine art ethic — it’s all good stuff, made well and meant to last. It is not kitsch simply designed to soak a few bucks from tourists.

While this kind of exhibition has a retail flair, it echoes the simple idea that the co-op gallery is a place where artists can sell their own work — so the retail element comes across as honest clarity.

I actually like summer group shows in the big commercial galleries as well as the more artist-oriented spaces like Stable: You can find out about the range of the gallery in a single visit.

My favorite works now at Stable are the paintings of Kathleen Mack — especially her “large still life” and her 30-inch by 30-inch “Ravens.” Both feature thick and chewy surfaces over which wet paint and medium have been stretched, pushed and lovingly coaxed into solid forms that graciously share the light.

(Mack has also been heavily involved with Damariscotta’s fabulous River Arts — now headed by new president Rolf Winkes, a professor emeritus of art and archeology from Brown University, who brings institutional savvy as well as some serious intellectual heft.)

There are plenty of works in “Horizons” that didn’t interest me, but I found myself drawn to the works I liked. For example, several of Priscilla McCandless’ landscapes were a bit jazzy for me in terms of rhythm, but her “Queen Anne’s Lace” is a strong and very unusual landscape that seems to be pouring out of the golden center of the canvas. As well, while some of William Hallett’s brashly colored landscapes seem like a lot of color in the service of not much, his “South Bristol Aerial” is sprightly, bright and joyously terrific.

Fiona Washburn’s $160 hand-painted scarves are worthy of any wall — and would sell, no doubt, for thousands at Bergdorf Goodman. Ingrid Bathe’s hand-formed porcelain plates, bowls, cups and decanters are organically gorgeous and brilliantly simple. Sandi Donnelly’s ceramics blend upbeat fun with a full serving of design intelligence.

Another of my favorite pieces is Guy Marsden’s “couch table,” a beautiful cherry and maple-shelved side table with four sets of tripled legs. It touches the Asian side of Arts & Crafts design with a rather sophisticated wisp of Deco.

There’s a lot more work that I liked, such as the paintings of Ann Sklar and Rosalind Welch, but I couldn’t possibly cover all of it here.

Damariscotta is an adorably quaint town with comfortable restaurants, interesting shops and plenty of good art. Stable Gallery is one of Damariscotta’s bright spots — a big, tasty dollop of local color.

 

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

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