August 4, 2013

Maine's magnetic mountain

A new exhibition in Portland illustrates the long-standing power of Katahdin to attract diverse artists.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

A painter with a fondness for Mount Katahdin, David Little comes to his passion for Maine's sacred mountain through his lineage.

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William Kienbusch, one of the artists in the exhibition at the University of New England Art Gallery in Portland, used a series of triangles and geometric shapes to capture the mountain in his “Mount Katahdin” from 1949.

Courtesy photos

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A Michael Vermette painting shows camp caretaker Al Cooper fording Sandy Stream on horseback.

Additional Photos Below


WHEN: Through Oct. 27

HOURS: 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday; 1 to 7 p.m. Thursday

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


INFO: 221-4499;

WHAT ELSE: Painter and co-curator David Little will discuss the exhibition from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 28 with John Neff and Howard Whitcomb, authors of "Baxter State Park" and "Katahdin, Images of America."

His uncle was William Kienbusch, a painter himself -- and one of some note. Kienbusch paintings are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all in New York.

Kienbusch is closely associated with Great Cranberry Island off the coast of Maine, but the mountain in the northern part of the state also held his imagination. He visited Katahdin for the first time in 1948, very likely, Little suspects, as a tribute to another Maine painter Kienbusch admired, the great Marsden Hartley. A Maine native, Hartley danced with Katahdin.

From Hartley and Kienbusch to Little, Katahdin-inspired works are part of a wide-ranging exhibition that has just opened at the University of New England Art Gallery in Portland.

"A Mountain Rises: The Art of Katahdin" is on view through Oct. 27. It includes about 80 paintings, drawings and ephemera associated with the mountain, and serves as a complement to Little's book, "The Art of Katahdin," published earlier this year by Down East and edited by his brother, Carl Little.

The mix of work in the UNE exhibition is impressive. Contemporary painters are well represented and make up the bulk of the show, but the exhibition also includes paintings by a large number of 19th- and early-20th century painters such as James Fitzgerald, Carl Sprinchorn, Maurice Day and George Hallowell.

There are glass renderings, comical drawings, photographs, views of the mountain from many vantage points, and scenes from across the Katahdin region in all seasons.

UNE gallery director Anne Zill describes Katahdin as a "natural wonder" because of its shape, size and grandeur. It dominates the landscape in the Baxter region, and has held allure for sportsmen, naturalists, artists and explorers for hundreds of years.

Henry David Thoreau wrote about it, and Frederic Church spent years painting it. It has inspired artistic endeavors for generations, and remains something of a conquest.

"Our native people got it right when they referred to it centuries ago as a sacred mountain," Zill said. "It's the grandeur of it all. I think that word encapsulates it. The word 'majesty' also comes to mind. It has a richness of detail, and it changes so much over the seasons.

"Different views from different locations bring different perspectives. It represents an endless pursuit for artists."


Zill climbed Katahdin for the first time in 1970 with her twin daughters, who were 5 years old at the time.

They spent all day scrambling up the Abol trail, which is one of the more difficult hikes up the mountain, and returned on the Cathedral trail. It was dark when they made camp, and that night, they were visited by a black bear.

"We had the full Katahdin experience," Zill said, noting that she had lunch with her daughters last week while the show was being installed. They reminisced about their adventure more than 40 years ago, and Zill said it has remained a bonding moment between them ever since.

That is part of the legacy of the mountain, she said.

Little, who co-curated the show with UNE professor emeritus Stephen Halpert, climbed Katahdin for the first time in 1978, and has done so many times since.

Each spring, he volunteers to clear trails associated with the mountain. He has flown around it in an airplane, and studied it from many vantage points.

Despite his familiarity with it, he said it remains a challenge to paint "because of its size, how you decide to paint it and how you choose to frame your subject. It's different every time."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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“Flying Shadows” by David Little.

Courtesy of North Light Gallery

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“Snow Falling on Katahdin” by Evelyn Dunphy.

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A small oil sketch of Katahdin by Sanford Gifford was made in the fall of 1877 during an excursion to the mountain with Frederic Church and other painters.

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