SKOWHEGAN — As fall took its seasonal brush to the wooded routes of Somerset County – creating a natural palette of reds, yellows and oranges – art lovers had a reason to hit the road Saturday, not only to see what Mother Nature had to show off, but also to visit artists across the county who opened the doors to their studios and workspaces for the day.

The countywide open studios were part of the Wesserunsett Arts Council’s seventh annual Open Studio Tour. The tour featured more than 20 stops from Mercer to Solon, including artists’ home studios, galleries, barns, storefronts and a mural atop the back of a building in downtown Skowhegan.

For the participating artists and those who attended the open studios, the tour offered a more personal art viewing experience than simply going to a traditional art gallery opening or show.

“(The tour) gives the viewer a chance to see (art) in a more personal way,” said David Staber, of Norridgewock. “To get right into the environment that the artist lives in, and meet the artist and be able to spend time with the artist, that will really open up whole new possibilities about understanding an artist’s work.”

When Staber stopped at the Central Maine Artists’ Gallery in Skowhegan, he came upon Iver Lofving working at the front at the gallery, where he had numerous oil paintings on display. With Saturday’s tour providing a one-on-one experience with the artists, Staber was able to talk with Lofving not only about art but politics as well.

“(The tour) is fun. It’s more fun because you get to talk to people about your artwork and what things are about. You get the chance to interact with people,” Lofving said.

Artists Linda Swift and Forest Meader also were at the Central Maine Artists’ Gallery as a part of the open studio tour. At the West Front Street location the artists displayed their work and mingled with tourgoers.

Swift, who works in oil paints and pastels, said using the gallery space as their version of an open studio gives artists who might have small studios an opportunity to have a similar open studio tour experience.

“Using this place for two or three of us is because we have studios at home, but most of them are small and wouldn’t hold more than two people at once. So coming into a public space like this, it allows two or three us of to set up,” Swift said.

At the back of the gallery Saturday afternoon, Swift was working on a small oil painting of a mountain scene she said was inspired by images from northern Maine. This year was Swift’s second year participating as an artist in the tour, though she had done the tour in earlier years as a spectator. From both perspectives, she said, open studios offer a more personal art experience.

“I’ve gone on the tour myself because I wanted to see everyone else’s studio,” Swift said. “That’s fun; it really is. You know these people and you know what their work looks like, but to get into their studio, you get a whole different idea of what they’re doing because you see a lot more of their work. They have it all over the place.”

At the Mount Pleasant Avenue home of artists Ryan Kohler and Danielle Harker, tourgoers were welcomed as house guests to a spread of refreshments and the ability to walk around the first floor of the couple’s home, viewing dozens of their paintings. Having just moved to Skowhegan from Oakland in April, Kohler said making their home a stop on the open studio tour was a nice way to introduce themselves to the local art community.

Harker, a Skowhegan native, said that since they are both artists, their entire home already was like a studio, so opening it up to tourgoers seemed natural.

“I went to (an open studio) in Portland and it was great. I loved seeing how people work and what they do. I knew I wanted to be a part of one someday,” Kohler said. “It connects the community.”

Organizers say the idea of the open tour is to have people meet and visit with local artists and experience the connection each artist has with her or his rural Maine setting. Visitors get to see the artists and where they live and work.

Lauren Abbate can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

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Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate