Artist Eric Hopkins is famous for his paintings of Maine islands and coastlines. They’re prestige pieces, typically priced in the thousands of dollars. If there were a TV drama set at a Maine business, the CEO should definitely sit at a desk with great big huge Eric Hopkins canvas behind them. But this summer, the North Haven resident did what he calls a “freebie,” creating a piece of art to be put on a Maine-made Sea Bag, and sold partly to benefit Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s current campaign to raise $125 million. On the eve of the bag going on sale, and the opening of a new show with Philip and Matthew Barter at the Portland Art Gallery, we talked islands, what role the walk on the moon nearly 50 years ago played in his own environmentalism and (ugh) Lyme disease.

NO MAN IS AN ISLAND: Maine Coast Heritage Trust protects a lot of them (322 at last count). Hopkins paints a lot of them. It’s his thing. Why is that? It goes back to the first manned missions into space. Hopkins became smitten with the whole space program as a child on North Haven. “I was 10 years old when Shepard and Glenn went up in 1961 (and 1962). We sat around in a three-room school house, listening to this thing that was a combination record player and radio.” He had 11 classmates, he said, and all were just as intent. “It was a big deal and guess what? It is still a big deal.” The iconic NASA photo “Earthrise,” taken on Christmas Eve, 1968 from Apollo 8, gave him the perspective of earth itself as an island. “It had a profound impact on me growing up.” Meaning it inspired his artistic prospective, so often of the Maine coast, seen from above? “Only a billion percent!”

FLY ME TO THE MOON: Back then in North Haven, the trash got tossed off the dock where his great grandaddy’s store was. But he felt the world awakening to a greater consciousness about environmentalism as a result of that photo of Earth from space. He spent his high school career “looking out the window, looking at the gulls on the athletic field.” And thinking about flying. “I knew that I probably wouldn’t get to the moon.” But he could fly. “At least I can go 2,000 feet in the sky.” When you grow up on an island in Penobscot Bay and get high up, you see a lot of islands, and the water between. “Islands have a reputation for being isolated, but that (water) is what connects them.”

CONNECTIVITY: Hopkins said he’s a frequent target for organizations wanting items to auction off and such. “I get hit up almost every day.” But he’d allowed Maine Coast Heritage Trust to use an image of one of his paintings for the cover of its annual report in the past, and he has a relationship with Rich Knox, the nonprofit’s communications director, so when Knox asked last winter if he’d be willing to make a Sea Bag, Hopkins said yes. He liked the fact that the bag makers use old sails as a primary source of materials, and that he could bring visibility to the trust. “I just read the 2016 annual report and they were thanking 3,000 people for contributing. I thought, 3,000, is that all, in the whole state of Maine? It is great that 3,000 people contribute, but in terms of 1.3 million people, I think we could do better.” Even though the trust has a long history in Maine (it was founded in 1970) Hopkins said it deserves more public recognition. “It is sort of quietly in the background, but a lot of people don’t really know what it is or what they do.”

TOTE TIME: Is it a different approach to paint something destined for a bag? Yes, somewhat. “I deconstructed a bag and then tried to think about how it would fit together.” He wanted it to be a wrap-around image. He sent a few examples to Sea Bags and got the answer back that he was basically overthinking it. “I was making it too difficult. I didn’t try to make it difficult, but it just came out that way.” In the end, he settled on an island and coast scene that doesn’t technically exist. “I didn’t want it to be a specific island. I wanted it to be very broad.” To speak to the gift of islands, where they allow people to really get away. “When you go to lose yourself, you can also find yourself.” The view on the bag could be anywhere in Maine. And everywhere.

PRICE TAG: Sea Bags is selling the bags for $200, with 20 percent of the sale going to Maine Coast Heritage Trust. A limited edition of 20 come signed by the artist; those cost $300. Finally, Hopkins gave the original watercolor – titled “Maine Coast Bird’s Eye View” – to Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Near the end of the campaign, likely in late 2019, the trust will auction it off. Hopkins gets some visibility, the land trust gets a cut of the profits and Sea Bags gets the sales plus the boasting rights of working with a prolific and successful Maine artist. “Everyone likes a win-win situation, but I would much rather have at least three wins or more,” Hopkins said. “So I think this is the jackpot.”

DIGGING DIRIGO: When it comes to Maine’s environment, he’s 100 percent behind the mission of Maine Coast Heritage Trust, to protect and care for Maine’s natural coastal resources, while allowing the public access to enjoy them. “When I was growing up we could go to islands more or less, and it was okay. But growing up on North Haven, there were a lot of places we couldn’t go.” Private property, that is, with owners who let Hopkins and his friends know: “We’ve got more money than you do so you don’t belong.”

MAROONED: What is the last Maine island, stewarded by Maine Coast Heritage Trust or not, Hopkins has visited? “I don’t go anywhere.” Really? Too busy? “I looked at my boat log today. I have almost 50 hours in my boat this year since late June and all the trips are between North Haven and Rockland (where he has a gallery).” He’d like to get out of that rut (acknowledging that it is a good rut if you’ve got to be in one) but he’s beholden, like so many, to tourist season. “It is a 40-day economy, basically.” He also came down with Lyme disease, which limited his fun. “It made me stupid. I am much better, but it really did just knock me out.”

IN THE BAG: Would he carry one of the Eric Hopkins Sea Bags? “Oh yeah, absolutely.” And he had one, but he passed it off to his intern. “She is heading off to London. She did a great job and she’s going to be studying art history and arts administration, so that was one of her going-away gifts.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

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