Spectators, skimmers, and even sombreros were de rigueur at the Portland Museum of Art Contemporaries’ midsummer soiree last Thursday night. Titled “Tipping Our Hats To Modernism,” the gathering of more than 270 guests was treated to modernist-themed cocktails, live music by Portland string ensemble Flight of Fancy and, thanks to a little rain, the magnificent backdrop of the William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism.

As museum director Mark Bessire welcomed the Contemporaries, a stylish group of young movers and shakers turned out in their warm-weather, festive best, the mood was jovial and the ambience warm and engaging.

“It’s great to have young people who are interested in the arts, who appreciate the arts and who want to support that,” said a beaming Betsy Critchfield, praising this group of like-minded individuals that she recently joined. “I love being a part of the art scene in Portland. It’s a very up-and-coming city and this exhibit in particular is remarkable.”

Michael Cain, a Web developer for WordPress, and Meredith Perdue, a professional photographer, are two southern transplants who now call South Portland home. They have recently become Contemporaries.

“We just joined,” said Cain, who with Perdue writes a successful blog called Map & Menu. “We love the museum. We’ve enjoyed every exhibit we’ve seen and we want to be a part of the cultural future of Portland. The Contemporaries seemed like a great way to go about doing it.”

Bree LaCasse of Portland, co-chair of the Contemporaries and a trustee of the Portland Museum of Art, sums up the group’s mission nicely.


“It’s a remarkable group of over 500 members, aged 21 to 45,” she explains. “Our role is to get people to engage and support an important institution in our community and cultivate an appreciate of art, but also encourage a culture of philanthropy and giving. We believe deeply a strong art scene is critical to a vibrant and livable city, so we try to foster that.”

LaCasse was joined by her husband, Chris Moore, and friends Emily and Duncan Bruce of Portland.

“I’m happy with the way it has evolved and sustained itself,” said Ben Willauer of Freeport, one of the founding members of the Contemporaries. He was joined by friends and neighbors Scott Barksdale and Amy Kustra Barksdale.

But back to those chic chapeaus. Beneath the widest of brims, a peek-a-boo of plumage or the sporting look of a newsboy tilted just so was a veritable sea of friendly faces enjoying a fabulous time. As the summer rains subsided, the party moved outside to the Joan B. Burns Garden. Party-goers spilled about the grounds, breathing a sigh of relief, happy to be outside in the warm evening air.

Mara Higgins, formerly of Mainely Mara and now with L.L. Bean, chatted with friends Amber Leenstra of Portland and fellow L.L. Bean colleague Carrie Dudley of Falmouth.

Alison McGrath of Cape Elizabeth shared a laugh with pals Michaela McCoog and Sally Anderson of Portland.


Louisa Donelson, an educator at the Children’s Museum in Portland, was joined by her friends Nick Callanan and Krystian von Speidel of Cape Elizabeth and Hartford, Conn.

“I think Portland is one of the most energetic, vibrant and youthful cities in the United States right now,” said von Speidel, clearly enamored. “It has a can-do attitude and a spirit of welcome and encouragement. It’s a city where young people put their mind to something, know it can happen, and then make it happen.”

In that same spirit, Ken Murphy of Murphy Empire Design, who was joined by Maureen Duffy Peary of Scarborough, shared a friendly embrace with Bessire, an old friend.

“You know what’s great?” said Bessire. “This is the next generation … this is the pipeline to the next generation of leadership.”

Garden chic indeed.

For more information about the Contemporaries, please visit www.portlandmuseum.org.

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at:



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