Dozens of party guests enjoyed cocktails and finger foods at an elegant, oceanfront home in Boothbay Harbor on Sept. 2, while across the Atlantic the works of 11 Maine artists enlivened the walls of the U.S. Embassy in The Republic of The Gambia.

This cultural connection linking Maine and Gambia, a small, English-speaking African nation surrounded on almost all sides by Senegal, served as the catalyst for the evening’s festivities hosted by Cynthia and Lowell Watson.

The person responsible for bridging the Atlantic with Maine art is U.S. Ambassador to Gambia Pamela A. White. White is a Maine native and a graduate of the University of Maine, where she roomed with Cynthia Watson and majored in journalism.

Her husband, Steve Cowper, told me that the ambassador is very proud of her Maine heritage. One way she shows it, Cowper said, is by handing out stuffed moose as awards to her staff.

After she took up her post last fall, White had numerous responsibilities, including selecting American artwork to display in the Banjul Embassy under the auspices of the U.S. State Department’s Art in the Embassies program.

She delegated the task of finding the work to her good friend Cynthia, who enlisted the help of her friend and past Farnsworth Museum of Art board member Carol Stratton.

“Pam asked for all Maine artists,” Cynthia Watson told me.

To which Stratton added, “Cindy was very positive on making sure this group of work personified Maine, including the harbors and the mountains.”

When she addressed the crowd, White told us that normally those who select work for an embassy peruse art catalogues, but Watson was determined to do it differently and see the original works in person.

Once the art was selected and installed, White said, “It made the house feel like a home.”

She also spoke briefly about Gambia, telling us that the country is “99 percent Muslim” and “100 percent pro-American.”

Noting that American ideals of freedom and democracy are viewed with high esteem in Gambia, White said Gambians “look to the United States of America as their moral compass.”

She then urged us all to be “proud to be an American.”

The artists whose works were selected to be featured in the Banjul Embassy are Mitch Billis, Rich Dickinson, Morris Dorenfield, J. Thomas Higgins, John Lorence, John Neville, Colin Page, Paul Plante, Carlton Plummer, Marguerite Robichaux and Jessica Stammen. A number of the artists attended the party.

“These artists give this work for two years,” Stratton told me. “It’s a real gift to our government.”

Those of us on this side of the Atlantic can view the art online at Cowper, who has the privilege of living with the art every day when he is in Gambia, told me, “I’ve seen the art and it’s absolutely wonderful. All these diplomats see this art and they ask about it.”

Although the artists don’t get financial remuneration for loaning their work to an embassy, they do get excellent exposure.

“It’s very great for the provenance of the painting,” Robichaux told me. “When a painting has a provenance of being shown at an embassy, it adds to the history of the painting.”

Robichaux, whose work at the embassy features an inland waterway, added how she appreciated that “when Carol and Cindy helped pick out the work they didn’t just pick out pieces of the coast.”

“It’s nice to show off the beauty of our state and the talent in our state,” Robichaux told me.

This is the fourth time both Robichaux and Higgins have had their work selected for display in a U.S. embassy.

In contrast, this was the first time Plummer’s work was selected for the Art in the Embassies program.

“It appealed to me to be part of this because I’ve painted wildlife in Africa,” Plummer told me. “I feel like I’m part of a very big thing.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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