My uncle headed a bank in Saco that served many tourism-driven businesses, and he long ago noted that deposits were shifting later and later every year. The tourist season in Maine used to run from June through August, but at some point, it traded June for September.

As the economy changed, so did Maine culture. This has been a good thing for everyone involved with art – artists, industry and audience alike. And it makes fall a great time of the year for day and weekend trips to art destinations.

There are excellent galleries throughout Maine, so even if you are headed someplace remote, you might be well-rewarded by a little preparatory research (keeping in mind your smartphone might let you down in the deep woods). To get to Baxter State Park, for example, you must drive by North Light Gallery in Millinocket (256 Penobscot St., artnorthlight.com) which is owned and operated by former Greenhut Galleries director Marsha Donahue, who also happens to be one of the state’s leading watercolor painters.

Portsmouth is cute enough to roil some envy bubbles in Portlanders. But, while I happened on a fantastic Carly Glovinski show at Nahcotta (110 Congress St, nahcotta.com) this past summer, the New Hampshire town pales as an art destination compared to its more cultured northerly cousin.

The commercial art center of Maine is Rockland. Anchored by the Farnsworth Art Museum (16 Museum St., farnsworthmuseum.org), which will soon be joined by the Maine Center for Contemporary Art, it features the biggest and many of the best galleries in Maine. The intriguing Shaker show (reviewed in this column on Aug. 3) runs through Jan. 4 at the Farnsworth. Other highlights include the Lois Dodd and David Dewey shows at Caldbeck Gallery (12 Elm Street, caldbeck.com) and the 19th-century-inspired painterly wildness of Sarah McRae Morton at Dowling Walsh Gallery (365 Main St., dowlingwalsh.com).

As picturesque and hospitable as it is, Rockland is the obvious choice – but maybe too obvious for some. And with so much to see in Maine and New England, why not mix it up a bit?

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My favorite area art trip of the year began with a visit to the West Branch Gallery in Stowe, Vermont (17 Town Farm Lane, westbranchgallery.com). It’s a large gallery featuring an excellent sculpture garden and a particularly strong roster of painters. Henry Isaacs and Craig Mooney, whose two-person show brought me there in the first place, are included in the autumn group exhibition “Landscape Traditions.”

The highpoint was the Shelburne Museum (6000 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, shelburnemuseum.org). It has been less than three years since Tom Denenberg left his post as curator of the Portland Museum of Art to become director at Shelburne, but he has done amazing things in that short amount of time. Most notable is the new Pizzagalli building by Ann Beha Architects. While it is nothing amazing from the outside, it’s a great building for art. The foyer and the auditorium are impressively spacious, open and light. The stairs to the lower level use the same materials – granite, glass, riverstone, metal, etc. – as the Bowdoin College Museum of Art’s entrance, but Beha’s building features superior spatial grace and far more comfortable proportions than the Bowdoin’s new basement.

Although it just closed, Shelburne’s exhibition “In a New Light: French Impression arrives in America” was one of the most satisfying shows I saw anywhere this summer. But Denenberg’s best personal gesture is not going anywhere: He hung Andrew Wyeth’s masterpiece “Soaring” in a dark wooden room alone with a single pew.

The summer’s other top historical exhibition was “Turner & the Sea” at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts (161 Essex St., pem.org). While that show closed Labor Day, I am particularly looking forward to seeing “Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic” which will run through Jan. 4. One of the top museums in America, the Peabody is a cultural behemoth with 1.8 million objects and 22 buildings – and it is less than two hours from Portland.

While its gallery scene also pales compared to Maine’s, Boston has great museums. The permanent collection of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (25 Evans Way, gardnermuseum.org) is world-class, and it would be worth the drive just to see John Singer Sargent’s dancing tableau “El Jaleo” – arguably one of the greatest American paintings ever made. Also, if you haven’t visited the Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave., mfa.org) since its expansion, you should. Through the end of the year, you can see Jamie Wyeth’s first retrospection in decades; it’s been a controversial show insofar as it appears to be the typical fare that has defined Director Malcolm Rogers – corporate tripe excruciatingly over-marketed as populism. (This mirrors a local Maine problem, but that’s a topic for a later date.) The Wyeth show is an extraordinary opportunity to see what Maine looks like from the outside. He may be a weird mix of wacky and worldly, but it’s worth asking if Jamie Wyeth is getting a fair shake.

The most exciting thing happening in the Boston area, however, is that Renzo Piano’s new building housing the Harvard Art Museums (the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum all under one roof at 32 Quincy St., Cambridge, harvardartmuseums.org) will open to the public on Nov. 16. Moreover, the first show features paintings by Mark Rothko whose vaporous abstractions are no less powerful than they are popular.

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If you want foliage for your Massachusetts art trip, head to the Berkshire Museum (39 South St., Pittsfield, berkshiremuseum.org). Farther south, Stockbridge is home to the Norman Rockwell Museum (9 Route 183, nrm.org) and several excellent galleries. Most notable is Shantz Galleries (3 Elm St., schantzgalleries.com) which took over Kenn Holsten’s world class glass gallery. With works by many of the top glass artists in the world, such as Lino Tagliapietra, Dan Dailey and Dale Chihuly, this gallery is far more exciting than many regional museums. It even acts more like a museum than a gallery (except that it is free to visit): At any given time, works by all of their major artists are on view.

Closer to home, I am most looking forward to heading up to the Littlefield Gallery in Winter Harbor (145 Main St., littlefieldgallery.com), just minutes away from the incomparably picturesque Schoodic Point. It is a handsome gallery with strong painting and sculpture. The September show features the excellent emerging Maine painter Lori Tremblay who can apply her precision with equal aptitude to geometrically Platonic abstractions as to Grant Wood-inspired street scenes such as the flag-lined-square night scene that graced this year’s Portland Show at Greenhut.

Art venues in the most picturesque parts of the state now tend to be open at least through Columbus Day – and we have the leaf peepers to thank for that. With the from-away crowds bringing their boisterous broods back for school, this is probably the best time of the year to see art in Maine.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. Contact him at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @dankany


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