In the summer of 2016, Scott Nash stood in front of a crowd of people at a Peaks Island social club, giving a talk about his vision for an illustration institute. He hoped to shine a light on the work of illustrators – the creators of art that helps tell a story – in part by bringing them to the island each summer for working vacations.

Sitting in the audience that night was longtime Peaks summer resident John Faison. His wife, Marilyn, a New York-based shoe designer and lover of all things creative, had died a year earlier, and he had been trying to think of something substantial he could do to honor her memory. Nash’s talk gave him an idea. He would donate two, 100-year-old cottages he owned on Peaks – which were built as part of an artsy, bohemian enclave – to Nash’s institute as places for the illustrators to stay and work.

Scott Nash and Nancy Gibson-Nash outside one of the homes used to house Illustration Institute artists during their residencies on Peaks Island. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Three years later, using Faison’s cottages and property to help entice people to Peaks, the Illustration Institute has hosted more than 50 illustrators from around the country for its summer residencies. The institute allows the artists to spend a week or two on the island, for free, while working and giving talks and workshops around Portland. Some who have been part of the Marilyn Faison Artist Residency this year include children’s author and illustrator Barbara McClintock, cartoonist Liza Donnelly and magazine illustrator Mark Ulriksen. Others who’ve come in the last few years include cartoonist Emily Flake, children’s book illustrator and author Lizzy Rockwell and painter and illustrator Anita Kunz.

Artists are invited to take part in the residencies, which take place from May through early September. Organizers hope to get about 16 artists each year.

“She would have loved this, all these creative people coming here and sharing what they do,” said Faison, 80, of his wife.

‘A MONHEGAN FOR ILLUSTRATORS’

Faison has agreed to sell the two cottages and surrounding property to the Illustration Institute for $1, once they raise $500,000. So far, the organization has raised about $360,000, said Nash. Once the goal is matched, Faison, who is on the institute’s board, will donate $500,000 to the group for its long-term operation.

The idea for an organization to shine a light on and provide help to illustrators had been on the minds of Nash and his wife, illustrator Nancy Gibson-Nash, for many years. But it’s Faison’s property and money that has allowed the idea to become reality. While there are residencies and retreats for artists in general, as well as writers, the Nashes wanted one to focus on the sometimes under-appreciated work of illustrators. Illustrators include people who create the art for magazines, children’s books, graphic novels, scientific websites or text books and a host of other media.

“Our mission is to increase appreciation for the art and work of illustrators, and we want this residency to be a sanctuary, a place to create,” said Nash, 59, whose own work includes the Flat Stanley children’s books. Referring to another Maine island long-known for resident artists, Nash said, “I hope this is not hyperbolic, but we’d like this to be something like a Monhegan for illustrators.”

Nash and Gibson-Nash met in high school on Cape Cod. They lived in the Boston area for years, where Nash worked in graphic design, before moving to Maine about 20 years ago, and now live on Peaks Island. Nash has taught at Maine College of Art and has illustrated more than 40 children’s books, including “Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp!” and the Flat Stanley series, and has written and illustrated several of his own books. Gibson-Nash is a mixed-media collage artist and illustrator and has done work for Atlantic Monthly, Bloomberg, Christian Science Monitor and many other publications and businesses. The two work on the nonprofit Illustration Institute together, with Nash doing promotion and organizational work and Gibson-Nash booking and working with the artists.

The institute organizes free talks and workshops by illustrators, including those who come for the residencies and some who already live in Maine. These are often held at the Maine College of Art in Portland or the Portland Public Library. Some of the illustrators scheduled for upcoming events include Loveis Wise, whose work has appeared in the The New Yorker, on Tuesday and pop-up book artist Shawn Sheehy on Thursday. Later in the fall, talks will be given by Maine illustrators Kevin Hawkes, Chris Van Dusen and Melissa Sweet, as well as Megan McDonald, author of the Judy Moody children’s series.

John Faison donated historic houses he owned with his late wife to the Illustration Institute for their artist residencies. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The institute launched in 2016 with an exhibit of illustrators at the Portland Public Library, and the group continues to mount illustration exhibits, including “The Art of Cute” this year at The Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk.  Then, in 2017, the residency began on Faison’s property, which included two cottages – the three-bedroom Guest House and the two bedroom Stone House – as well as a barn and the remains of an observation tower. This past winter, a new 900-foot studio was built on the property for illustrators to use during their stays.

The tower and the houses, built by Frederick Whitney of Boston before 1920, were part of a bohemian enclave for artistic-minded folks and others near Spar Cove at the north end of the island. The tower was built so that Whitney could see the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

The Faisons first learned of the Peaks enclave through Charles Wright, who became friends with Marilyn Faison when they were at the Rhode Island School of Design and who owned the Stone House, John Faison said. So the Faisons started visiting Peaks. They eventually bought part of the enclave for themselves and have been coming to Peaks ever since for more than 45 years.

Marilyn Faison began her career designing shoes for Viner Brothers Shoe Company in Bangor and later worked for Bandolino and Mile High, which brought her around the world, to Italy, Spain and China. She also designed clothes and, with John, owned a Windham antiques store, The Ruby Slipper. While she loved her work, she also loved sharing her knowledge and teaching people about design, said John Faison. And she especially loved Peaks Island and the time she spent there.

Illustrators who’ve spent time in the institute’s residency have also found Peaks Island to be an easy place to love.  They get to work on their art without distractions, on a quiet and lovely part of a Maine island, while living in charming, 100-year-old cottages.

Barbara McClintock, a children’s book author and illustrator from eastern Connecticut, said she enjoyed being unplugged during her residency in July of this year. The property has no internet access, so she resorted to working as she used to, by researching things in books and doing a lot of sketching and jotting down ideas. McClintock, whose books include “Adele & Simon” and “Dahlia,” was working on ideas for a new book series. She found the peace and quiet very helpful.

The newly constructed studio to be used during Illustration Institute residencies. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“I didn’t realize just how productive and wonderful it was until I got home. I had spent 10 days away from news and the constant bombardment of social media,” said McClintock.

Emily Flake, a  New Yorker cartoonist who lives in Brooklyn, has done the residency with her husband and 6-year-old daughter. (Other artists have brought their families too.) She worked on final edits of her new illustrated book “That Was Awkward: The Art and Etiquette of the Awkward Hug.” She said being on Peaks helped her get a different perspective on her work. For her daughter, it was an island vacation that included trips to the ice cream stand.

Lizzy Rockwell, a children’s book author and illustrator from Bridgeport, Connecticut, has stayed on the island twice. Both times she worked on her new book, “How Do You Feel?” which will go on sale in the fall. The first year she used the island’s quiet and isolation to begin tapping into her memories of emotion as a child and making drawings based on those emotions. The next year she spread out proposed pages of her book in the Stone House and worked on them with acrylic paints.

“I’d have breakfast on the terrace, go looking for stones on the beach, and then sketch what I saw,” said Rockwell. “I was on an island, untethered from the rest of the world. It was just so peaceful and inspiring.”


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