When Susan Bickford thinks of a hero, she thinks of a farmer.

“Our organic farmers are heroic in my mind,” said the artist. “They are feeding us in this very direct and humble way. They are picking and they are planting in relationship to the earth and its seasons. It’s direct and honest and heroic at the ground level.”

Bickford, an adjunct art professor at the University of Maine-Augusta, is the impetus behind “The Collaborative Portrait Project: Farmers’ Edition” on view in the Danforth Gallery at Jewett Hall at UMA. It opens with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, and is on view through Feb. 21.

The show involves 10 large portraits of local organic farmers produced by more than 200 students from 10 Maine schools.

Each portrait started with a photograph of the subject by Allison McKeen of Gardiner. That was enlarged to a 4-by-4-foot square, then divided into 36 8-inch squares. Each student was given one square to interpret using various techniques, then the squares were reassembled to form tapestries of portraits.

The portraits honor farmers and celebrate collaboration, Bickford said.

The idea evolved from Bickford’s participation in an exhibition at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell in 2012, “CSA: Community Supporting Arts,” which matched 14 artists with 13 area farms. Bickford worked at the Goranson Farm for a year, chronicling a farmer’s life.

She wanted to dig in.

“When I went to the farm, all I wanted to do was put down my camera and help. I kept having to stop myself, because my job was to do something else,” she said.

The “CSA” project resulted in a series of exhibitions across Maine, and from that experience comes this show at UMA.

What Bickford appreciates most about this project is the collaborative nature of the art.

Students worked together in class and across districts to contribute.

Meg Gipson, the art teacher at Gardiner Area High School, said she was “blown away” at the opportunity to collaborate with her peers. “Art teachers in rural areas are often their own department,” she said. “We go long periods of time without having interactions with others who do what we do. This was an amazing experience to come together and make work.”

A local farmer, Dalziel Lewis from Dig Deep Farm in Gardiner, spoke to her students about sustainability, community agriculture and organic farming, she said.

“The students had the opportunity to meet a working farmer (and learn) why eating local is important,” she said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes