Those who follow the visual arts scene in Maine know that the best time to see art is the fall. Galleries and other venues that exhibit fine art have learned that it’s wise to stay open beyond Labor Day, and many save their best shows for September and October.
Here are five fine-art picks for the fall, featuring venues that are tucked away or new to the scene, showing work by artists you probably don’t know much about, all within an easy drive — or boat ride — of Portland.
Felicity Sidwell has been painting since she came to America from her native England in 1971. But it’s been in the last decade, since she and her husband bought a summer home in Phippsburg, that her work has taken on the character of Maine.
Sidwell makes her studio in the porch of a century-old summer cottage built onto a ledge overlooking the still-unspoiled fishing village of West Point.
Lobster boats ply the water below. Islands, both distant and near, provide ample subjects. But it’s the light, the ever-changing light that illuminates the water and the islands in her immediate view, that gets her up every morning and makes her want to paint.
“The light is always different every morning,” she said. “Everything looks different every day. It’s never the same.”
Sidwell paints her local surroundings in oil. The four walls of her gallery, which will remain open weekends through October, are filled with representational renderings of local scenes: The cove just around the bend from her studio, the house on the island across the way, a fisherman’s boat on its mooring just below her studio window.
She ventures out too — to Cape Elizabeth, Boothbay Harbor and the salt marsh at her year-round home in Brunswick. This past winter she spent time in the western U.S., and she’s showing a few of those scenes as well. The lighter, desert tones in those works are vastly different from the greens and blues of her Maine paintings.
But consistency is present in all her work, no matter the subject. Sidwell’s paintings are sharply focused, detailed and loyal to her surroundings. She paints not only what she sees, but how she feels. Her paintings feel alive, tactile and vibrant.
In her relatively short time in Maine, Sidwell has become part of the community of painters working here, and she knows well that she is a tiny part of a much larger tradition, noting that modernist painter John Marin came to West Point in 1914 and returned to these environs twice before heading up the coast.
“I just paint. Every day. I’m trying to get better and better all the time,” she said.
In addition to showing her work in her own gallery, Sidwell shows her paintings at the Chocolate Church in Bath, the Boothbay Region Art Foundation and River Arts in Damariscotta.
Sidwell Art Gallery, 79 Wallace Circle, Phippsburg. 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday to Sunday and by appointment through October. 389-1031; sidwellartgallery.com
After a successful career in law, Ann Mohnkern decided to explore her creativity. She signed up for a beginner’s art class through the continuing education department at Maine College of Art, and quickly found a talent and passion for applying paint to canvas.
“It was a total surprise to me that it clicked as early as it did,” she said, standing among the 40 or so paintings that she is showing at one of her favorite midcoast restaurants, Mae’s Cafe in Bath. “I look back at some of my early work, and I must say that it stands up well with what I am doing today.”
Some perspective is necessary here. By “early work,” Mohnkern means a decade ago. She has been painting only since the early 2000s. She retired from her legal work just seven years ago, and in that short time has fully immersed herself in her creative expression.
Most of her work is oil on canvas, but she also is partial to painting on linen.
Monhkern is drawn to the sea, though a large number of the paintings on view at Mae’s are Portland scenes. She is adept at painting urban architecture, where the imprint of man is front of center. One painting, a water-level view of the Casco Bay Bridge, has been included in a traveling show of the American Society of Marine Painters.
But the majority of the paintings at Mae’s are of ocean scenes. Mohnkern and her husband, who live in Yarmouth, spent years exploring the Maine coast by boat, and now spend much of their retirement life on a small private island in Casco Bay, not far from Bath.
Lately, she has begun painting en plein air with both brush and palette knife. This past summer, she explored rocks around her island, and how they reveal themselves at different tides and in different light.
“What I really love is the ocean and the shore environment, where much of the hand of man is removed,” she said. “The island gives me the opportunity to spend a lot of great solitary time, just exploring and observing. I have learned to express the ocean as a presence. It has a personality to me that is very real.”
Mohnkern has shown across Maine in various settings, including the Pace Galleries at Fryeburg Academy. She has earned her reputation for her willingness to show in non-traditional art settings, such as hospitals and restaurants.
She loves hanging her paintings at Mae’s, because it puts her work in front of people who are not expecting it. “This space is great, because so many people come through,” she said.
Mae’s Cafe, 160 Centre St., Bath. 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. 442-8577; maescafeandbakery.com
3. BOOTHBAY HARBOR
Just shy of his 50th birthday, Terry Seaman suffered a near-fatal aortic aneurism. He was lucky to survive, and once he recovered, he vowed to paint every day for the rest of his life. That was in 1996. So far, so good.
Seaman and his wife, Heidi Seidelhuber, live in Seattle, where they run a steel fabrication business. Five years ago, they bought a building in downtown Boothbay Harbor and opened a gallery, Studio 53. “The gallery was on my bucket list,” he said.
Today, Studio 53 is a thriving fine-art concern featuring the work of several local artists, including Seaman and Seidelhuber. They are in town only now and again, and turn the day-to-day operation of the gallery over to a half-dozen other artists.
It is run almost as a co-op. Each artist with a stake in the gallery shows his or her own work, and they also feature a local artist who is not associated with the gallery on a rotating monthly basis.
Three of the artists, including the husband-wife owners, are graduates of Rhode Island School of Design. The others are lifelong working artists or second-career newcomers.
“It is happening and building up strength with each year, and we’re now on our fourth,” said Studio 53 member Paula Ragsdale, who hopes that people visiting Boothbay Harbor this fall will take the time to step inside.
“Some of the exhibits have been cutting edge, worthy of New York City,” she said. “My feeling is our building needs to be on the radar outside of this tiny region.”
Other artists who show regularly are Dick and Priscilla Alden, John and Lynne Seitzer and Robert McCay. The work is varied and diverse, ranging from traditional landscapes and seascapes to abstract sculpture.
Each artist has his or her own room to hang work, and Seaman has given himself most of the third floor. This past spring, the gallery hosted a 50-year retrospective of Seaman’s paintings, drawings and other two-dimensional work.
Among the work on view this fall is a series of conceptual pencil drawings that Seaman made based on Bach fugues. Each drawing has 24,000 pencil lines. The drawings are dramatic and precise, and almost mathematical in their execution.
Studio 53, 53 Townsend Ave., Boothbay Harbor. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through mid-October. 633-2755; studio53fineart.com
For most of his art-making career, printmaker R. Keith Rendall has created large-scale prints, woodcuts and etchings of critters and creatures found among the lakes, streams, rivers, bays and other waterways of Maine.
He’s interested not simply in rendering the birds, bees, waterfowl and wildlife of Maine in their natural settings, but is concerned about making those creatures, great and small, look exactly right. He cares about how they move through the reeds and water, how they dive for their food and interact with their environment.
Rendall makes his prints based on years of observation, which involves hiking and canoeing and simply sitting down and watching for hours on end.
“I want to be true to these creatures, and be respectful of them,” he said. “I want people to get a different story about these creatures, and the true essence of them and their habitat.”
Rendell started making prints as a college student in Ohio. He walked into the print studio and fell instantly in love. The smell of the ink turned him on. “I bought my first press before I bought my first car,” he said.
Typically, Rendall makes his prints, shows them in a museum or gallery exhibition, and puts them away in storage. He’ll sell things now and then, but most of his prints end up in and out of public view once they’ve had their initial viewing. Now retired from teaching at Lincoln Academy, Rendall has opened a gallery in the heart of Wiscasset. He wants his work to be seen, and the gallery gives him the chance to ensure that happens.
He opened Rendall Fine Art in August. It’s dedicated almost entirely to his own work, although he also is showing and selling the fine contemporary furniture of Edgecomb designer and maker Eben Blaney.
“I work toward shows, and I always like to do new work,” he said. “I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the years, and it occurred to me to start my own gallery.”
Because his work is so large — Rendall pushes the boundaries of printmaking as much as anyone working in Maine, both in terms of size and subject matter — he’s not had much luck in galleries. Operating his own gallery gives him the freedom to show the work he is most passionate about, and also gives him the chance to talk directly with visitors. People enjoy talking to an artist about the work, he said.
Rendall lives in Wiscasset, so operating the gallery isn’t too much of a stretch for him. It’s close to home, and the space is large enough to give him a small shop in the back. He plans to hold demonstrations and workshops.
Rendall Fine Art, 65 Main St., Wiscasset. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. 350-9322; rkeithrendall.com
5. PEAKS ISLAND
Richard Boyd has been making pottery in Portland for more than 40 years. For the last few years, he’s operated a fine-art gallery on Peaks Island, where he lives. Through September, he and his partner, Pamela Williamson, are featuring art related to work in a show titled “Labor: The Art of Work.”
It’s a group show featuring Kenny Cole, Gordon Carlisle, Wyatt Barr, Petrea Noyes, Gwen Sylvester, Wilson Stewart and Claudia Hughes. In addition, the gallery also features art by its regular artists, all of whom have ties to Maine and often to Peaks.
The Richard Boyd Gallery has been open since the mid-2000s on Epps Street, directly across from Hannigan’s Island Market. The gallery expanded into its current space and format in 2011.
It’s open year-round, and specializes in serious work by serious artists. Island galleries sometimes fall prey to trinkets and pretty little things that appeal to tourists. Not so here.
“I always try to do something related to the issue of the day,” said Williamson, who curated the “Labor” show. “We’re not afraid to show work that some might find disturbing. It’s not always pretty.”
She called attention to a large drawing by Barr, a recent graduate of Maine College of Art. Titled “Robert,” the drawing portrays a homeless person that Barr befriended in Portland. It is one in a series of drawings that Barr created, and it caught Williamson’s attention as soon as she saw it. She invited Barr to exhibit in this show about labor, “Because we’re all one bad investment from walking hand-in-hand with Robert.”
Richard Boyd Art Gallery, 15 Epps St., Peaks Island, Portland. 10 to 5 p.m. daily through October, then weekends and first Fridays in November and December. 712-1097; richardboydartgallery.com
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be reached at 791-6457 or: