Whenever Christine Maclin immersed herself in Chinese brush painting, her husband, Waite Maclin, watched quietly from the sideline. Art was her thing. Waite supported and encouraged his wife by giving her the space she needed.

He recognized the soul-deep importance of creativity in his wife’s life, as well as the singular nature of an artist and her work. When Christine died in January 2016 at age 71, Waite immersed himself in art just as his wife did, not so he could learn to make the delicate rice-paper paintings that Christine perfected over a dozen years of pursuit, but in his appreciation of what she accomplished and how hard she worked to do it.

Acting as a grieving husband and novice curator, he arranged an exhibition of Christine’s paintings, opening this week in a second-floor hallway at Maine College of Art in Portland, where Christine studied. The exhibition is a way to honor his wife and participate in a part of her life that he didn’t when she was alive. “I was always on the periphery of her art,” Maclin said. “My doing this is one more way I can connect with a great woman. For me, it’s a way to keep her spirit right out there in front of me all the time.”

At his home in a condo on High Street, Maclin maintains a shrine for his wife that includes photos of Christine and her family, books and other mementos of her life – moments from Asia, flowers from the tables at the reception at the Cumberland Club after her memorial service and a list called “What I like,” which she wrote in April 2006: “A good cup of cafe au lait, Waking up in a new place, The New York Times, Flowers, Cooking simple Italian food, Pesto, Arugula, Good red wine, Making dinner with my husband and chatting, Walking, Bookstore … anywhere, Gardens, Language, Museums … anywhere, Color, Red, Chinese Brush Painting.”

Some of the rice paper paintings created by Christine Maclin during her years of practicing Chinese Brush Painting. ;Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Front and center of the shrine is a piece of paper printed with three of her life mottos: “Never Give Up,” “Don’t Make Excuses” and “Have Fun.”

A woman who was known for her energy and strong opinions, Christine Maclin made her career as an interior designer and always made a place for art in her life and work. She was a member of the Portland Museum of Art and an active collector who specialized in Asian art.

Her interest in Asia began when her husband served as a training officer in the Peace Corps in the 1980s in the Philippines. Christine became instantly enamored of Asian art, culture and spirituality. She was “gobsmacked by Asia,” her husband said, and traveled extensively – to India, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, China and Hong Kong.

Her pursuit of Chinese brush painting was a natural extension of her desire to dive more deeply into Asian culture, said MECA professor Gan Xu, who served as Christine’s teacher and guide. He loaned her books, talked with her for hours about Asian history and culture, and traveled with her to China with other students.

He met Christine when she signed up for a continuing studies course about Chinese painting and calligraphy. The course was his way to introduce Eastern culture and art to a new audience and explore its history. “Christine showed up for the first class, then another class, and then another class,” Xu said. “She took the class nine times, exactly the same class.”

“It’s a way to keep her spirit right out there in front of me,” Waite Maclin says of the show he curated to honor his late wife. ;Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

The bulk of the class involved hands-on work with ink and brushes. Christine quickly developed skills and distinguished her paintings with an authentic, artistic flair that was both original and rooted in tradition. When she made a really good painting, it looked like it was painted by someone from China. “If you mixed her work in with Chinese work, no one would see it as done by a Western artist,” Xu said. “On a scale of 1 to 10, she was an 8.5 or a 9 – very good, very high. She was eager to learn, practiced a lot, and not only in class and outside of class, but she practiced at home.”

When Xu took a sabbatical and announced the class wouldn’t be offered one year, Christine objected and said they would hold the class without him, channeling his spirit and relying on her knowledge of the subject, the texts and his techniques. When he taught a Chinese art class for bachelor-level undergraduates, he recruited Christine as his teacher’s assistant. She demonstrated for the students and became their role model because she was an example of a non-Asian artist who perfected the art form, Xu said.

“She studied very intensely, carefully and hard and became one of the experts,” he said.

Xu assisted Waite Maclin with the exhibition, helping him choose about two dozen paintings from among the hundreds Christine completed over the years. In Chinese brush painting, greatness is achieved not by reproducing the subject in a realistic fashion, but by capturing its essence and spirit. Christine would often lapse into a meditative state when she painted, Xu said, allowing her to tap the internal energy of her subject and express it quickly and with a flourish. It’s a difficult style of painting to master, because it requires precision and perfection. Black ink and rice paper are unforgiving, Xu said.

“Rice paper is designed to preserve any movement and every detail of your brush. There’s no hiding and no correction. You make a mistake, you cry and you grab another piece of paper.”

As a veteran of the class, Christine always told new students the importance of investing in good brushes. About four months after Christine died, Maclin donated her brushes and her painting paper to Xu’s class. Xu introduced Waite to his wife’s classmates, showed pictures of Christine and her work, and then the students lined up and came forward one at a time, almost as if in a processional, to select a brush from her supplies.

It was a profound moment in Maclin’s grief process and helped him move forward with his goal of honoring his wife’s artistic accomplishments. Maclin said he felted guided, or ordered, by his wife to deliver the supplies. “When I found this treasure trove of the implements, it made perfect sense to donate them to Gan and his class,” he said. “I felt so good and positive about doing it.”

Waite and Christine Maclin divided their time in Maine between homes in Portland and Cushing. Photo courtesy of Waite Maclin

HEART IN MAINE

Christine was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, but her heart was always in Maine. Her parents purchased a small island in Cushing in the 1960s, and Christine and her siblings spent long, lovely summers on the island in a simple house with their mother. Their father came up on weekends. It was there she fell in love with Maine and there, in Cushing, where she and her husband made their own home away from Portland, a place where they both went to get away. “For her, just as it is for me, Cushing is a place she could be centered, relaxed and away from work,” Maclin said.

He and Christine married in 1979 in Portland, two years after they met in Virginia. He was an Episcopal priest and she an interior designer. They shared an interest in world religions, a love of travel and a quiet aesthetic that extended to all aspects of their life together, especially in Cushing, where they tended to 80 or so apple trees.

They moved to Maine in 1978 and, when not in Cushing, spent most of their years in a big house on Deering Street in Portland, where Christine loved to entertain. After her cancer diagnosis, they downsized to an in-town condo.

Drew Hodges, who also teaches at MECA, met Christine through her job as a designer. He owns a house in Cushing and hired her for design work. At the time, he worked in New York and came to Maine on weekends. On a boat ride to Monhegan, a mutual friend recommended Christine to him. She accommodated his schedule, meeting him at odd hours and off days, and they became close friends.

It was Hodges who suggested that Christine should have an exhibition at MECA. Professors can request wall space for student exhibitions, and Hodges thought Christine’s example as “a passionate student” made her a perfect candidate for a show. As her professor, Xu arranged the show and assisted Maclin in selecting the art. The exhibition at MECA marks the first time her paintings have been shown publicly. Hodges thinks his friend would appreciate the attention. “I think it’s something that she would have loved but probably would have been too shy to do it. She was not a shy person, but she was humble in her brush painting,” Hodges said.

Maclin agrees that his wife would welcome the spotlight on her paintings, quietly. “On one level, she would be very demurred about it, but I think she’d be thrilled. Just the simple mounting of the pieces so they could be shown, she’d be so pleased.”

The process of finding a way to share the joy in his wife’s art helps Maclin with his grief. “It takes me out of my ongoing sadness, knowing that I’m doing this for her,” he said.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes