August 11, 2013

At UNE, a mountain of a show


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"Bell Pond," by Susan Siegel

Courtesy photo

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"Sleeping Giant," by Michael Boardman

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Additional Photos Below


"A MOUNTAIN RISES: THE ART OF KATAHDIN" -- An exhibition of contemporary and historic art and documents curated by "Art of Katahdin" author David Little and UNE professor Stephen Alpert

WHERE: University of New England Art Gallery, 716 Stevens Ave., Portland

WHEN: Through Oct. 27

HOURS: 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, until 7 p.m. Thursday or by appointment

INFO: 221-4499;

BOOK PANEL: At 5 p.m. Aug. 28, Little will discuss the exhibition and his book, and John Neff and Howard Whitcomb will discuss their new book, "Baxter State Park and Katahdin, Images of America."

ARTIST PANEL: At 5 p.m. Oct. 2, a panel discussion by artists in "A Mountain Rises" will be held at the gallery.

Little distills this idea through a combination of first-hand and source materials, because there is no story of Katahdin except through the awed lens of human experience. This is both the reason and the effect of the spiritual discourse about Katahdin.

While Little doesn't ignore the geological fact of the mountain, what he finds is myth -- a local, spiritual culture writ large in visual art.

Unfortunately, "A Mountain Rises" doesn't include any original works by Church, but there are interesting pieces by notable artists such as James Fitzgerald, Marsden Hartley and Carl Sprinchorn. George Hallowell is particularly well-represented by some deco-infused watercolors and an extraordinarily rendered Teddy Roosevelt-ish guide.

Sam Cady's large-shaped canvas of Knife's Edge over Chimney Pond impressively greets the entering viewer. I know the place well, and clearly, so does Cady. But the strongest work on the first floor is William Kienbusch's 1949 stylized-but-serious gouache of the same scene that exerts both anthropomorphized pride and claustrophobic power.

There is a fascinating group of textured detail images, including Vincent Hartgen's watercolor close-up "Katahdin Crevice" and Abbott Meader's energized but insistently quiet pastel of the forest floor near Daicey Pond.

Two of the show's strongest works are watercolors on the second floor by Alice Spencer and Susan Siegel.

Spencer's "Katahdin" is a swirling though strangely stolid wet-textured image of the granite boulder path towards the far-off peak. Siegel's "Bell Pond" is a circus-bright watercolor whose boldly saturated palette almost completely camouflages a brilliantly strategic structure and some extraordinary drawing.

There is also a number of surprisingly kitschy works selected for story rather than strength. Some are funny and some are campy, but some are undeniably atrocious paintings. This will challenge certain viewers, but the group reveals the footing in popular culture necessary for mythmaking -- a key to Little's Katahdin narrative.

One painting that smartly expands this range of modes -- by de-romanticizing the myth gap between Katahdin pilgrims and Millinocket locals -- is Marsha Donahue's "Katahdin from the Granite Street Bridge."

Little has included his own paintings. While usually this is ethically uncomfortable terrain, he is right to fully reveal his engagement. His jaunty oils explain a great deal about the show's quirky footprint.

"A Mountain Rises" acts like a cultural history when in fact it is a spiritual history of Katahdin's apostolic artists. While it follows a weird and seemingly meandering visual narrative to convey the conundrum of Katahdin, Little has tapped into something unassailably authentic.

It's a fascinating show.

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


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Additional Photos

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Sam Cady's shaped canvas of Knife's Edge over Chimney Pond

Courtesy photo

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A view of the mountain by James Fitzgerald.

Courtesy photo

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"Heading to Baxter," by Caren-Marie Michel

Jay York photo

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