If you like the Maine landscape, there isn’t anything better than seeing the real landscape in person. And while it might seem obvious that galleries would thrive in the places visitors go to experience the Maine landscape, having artists lead the way is an often overlooked benefit. That Homer, Hopper, Hartley, the Wyeths and so many of America’s greatest artists have chosen to work in Maine could hardly be a better advertisement for Maine’s craggy coastline, our puff-dotted late summer skies, our crystalline lakes, our impenetrably dense forests and the weather-wizened piles of granite we call mountains.

Usually our coast gets top billing, but there is something fundamentally monolithic about Mount Katahdin. This is a particularly good time of the year to visit Baxter State Park: The tourists and mosquitoes are mostly gone, and the fact that foliage appears there weeks before it does in southern Maine extends our state’s most beautiful moment of the year.

With the proposed national park adjacent to Baxter and the renewed life at Katahdin Mill, Millinocket is now a place of particular interest to Maine’s future. It also has a gallery or two of worthy note. Marsha Donahue’s North Light Gallery shows some of Maine’s best painters. I frankly don’t care if they sell books, jewelry, calendars and a few art supplies as long as they present quite a few of Maine’s better artists – which they do.

Donahue herself is the gallery’s best-selling artist. Her watercolors, in particular, are crisp and appealing in part because she often handles the medium like an oil painter rather than a watercolorist. Her “Fast Water,” for example, depicts lively white water torrents frothing through a rocky drop. The saturated palette plays up the formidable solidity of the stream’s granite boulders in such a way that celebrates not only the weighty resistance of the stone, but also the insistent power of the cold water onslaught as well.

Donahue’s color sense also matches her painterly substance: Instead of an intimidating sense of white-knuckled cold, her “Winter Campground” revels in the deliciously deep blue tones of the frigid river and late season sun.

Donahue, however, is not alone in terms of talent. She also shows quite a few of Maine’s best painters, such as Connie Hayes, Michael Vermette, Abbott Meader and Milton Christianson. Moreover, North Light features several excellent fine craft artists. Laurie Stearns’ wood sculpture presents both a softly artistic sensibility and a wood artist’s strong hand; Madeline Beaudreau’s hand-woven rugs clearly earn their place on the wall rather than the floor through their hearty textures and surprisingly subtle sense of color; and Nancy Meader’s ceramic vessels perfectly match their muscled proportions to her sweeping shifts of glaze tones.

I usually associate Connie Hayes with the sophisticated Rockland scene, but she looks even better in Millinocket among artists dedicated to the Maine landscape. Her “Moment of Recognition,” for example, has all of the quiet understatement of Martin Johnson Heade, but the gray-skied tones are rendered with a liquid brush logic reminiscent of Fairfield Porter.

My other favorites include a small but deliciously dense winter view of Katahdin Lake by Vermette; a vibrant pair of Christianson’s small, vertical stream paintings; a swirly, scrumptious acrylic by Jean Frieman; a suite of collaged paintings by Abbott Meader; and two lake scene pastels by Caren-Marie Michel (I think her acrylics are weak, but her pastels are really nice).

Two blocks down Main Street from North Light is Moose Prints Gallery, which almost exclusively shows the photographic work of owner Mark Picard. While Picard’s work has a commercial feel, its appeal is undeniable, and a few of his images are impressively iconic. While some, like a baby moose “kissing” its mother or a moose nuzzling a heifer, seem to ride on charm, Picard proves his sense of observation with images such as a young moose on a lake that appears to be riding its mother and an amazing rookery of dozens of herons among whom can be seen a cooper’s hawk and a cormorant.

Picard isn’t yet on par with Donahue’s artistry, but he is very good at a popular form of wildlife photography, and I found myself enjoying it more and more the closer I looked. Also, Picard doesn’t edition his work, so it’s fairly reasonably priced as well as approachable.

North Light, in particular, is a formidable gallery and a necessary stop if you are fortunate enough to head up to Baxter State Park as the foliage season comes on.

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