During fall foliage, any excuse is a worthy reason for the hour drive to Norway from Portland. No, we’re not talking about the land of Vikings, but a charming artsy town at the tip of Pennesseewassee Lake.

Since 1962, Norway has been the home of the Western Maine Art Group, founded by a Hungarian art professor, Lajos Matolcsy (1926-’89). Soon after its inception, the group created a gallery and arts center in the old one-room schoolhouse that is now named for Matolcsy.

My own personal take on American art — which is specifically tied to the reason I think Maine is a critical block in the foundation of our shared culture — follows the idea that our world view is deeply steeped in Romantic philosophy.

Veronica Cross’ “Love Letters to an American Gothic” is a smart and even tantalizing exhibition of collaged paintings that reminds us about the need to understand what it means for us New Englanders to have a cultural foot in the past.

Cross’ paintings seem to be easy landscapes when wildflowers creep their green and quiet reach through a forgotten car’s hood. But when a creepy tree leans down to grab a tiny shack with the muted anger of autumn’s naked reach, we remember that this is the land of Ichabod Crane. These abandoned cars remind us that nature might be slow, but it’s unrelenting, and that no matter how quiet, it will never be fully silenced or stilled.

American artist Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) permeates Cross’ paintings. Everywhere, we taste bittersweet memory, but nowhere do we suffer for nostalgia. The rain that falls is the stuff of thirsting flowers or rhythmic cleansing. Yet while Burchfield’s weeping skies tend to drizzle on our tin dream roofs, Cross often (spiritually) rouses us with unexpectedly dazzling bursts of waking sun (like over a humble shack in Lubec or through a Down East window at 5 a.m.).

Cross’ paintings helped me finally appreciate Burchfield, whom I had wrongly taken as naively nostalgic rather than as more broadly concerned with envisioning a personal edge to American culture. The lesson alone deserves thanks, but Cross delivers a full set of American voices — not just the deeply sighed breaths of lovers or artists in awe, but also the silently unspoken words of Americans working alone in a gritty landscape: pious, serene and thoughtful.

Are Mainers — so staid by reputation — actually Gothic? Are we the people in Grant Wood’s famous “American Gothic” — bespectacled and suffocatingly withheld? Or are we Romantic in the sense of being opposed to Enlightenment rationalism?

Cross might not be screaming emotional oaths over Heathcliff’s blazing gables, but even her ostensible silence swells with anticipation: “Onward” declares one canvas and “Until Again” whispers another. The only other canvas with words (of the 15 in the show) waits as well: “With Bated Breath.”

It’s a gorgeous drive to Norway, and Cross’ small show adds another worthy layer of reason to visit. 

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