Stephen Burt’s “New Morning” is one of the prints by Maine artists that will be on display during an art exhibition at Aomori Citizen Culture Days celebration in Japan as part of the Maine-Aomori Printmaking Society art exchange. Courtesy / Friends of Aomori

PORTLAND — Aomori, Japan is more than 6,250 miles away from Portland, but for the last five years that distance has been bridged by Friends of Aomori, a city-based cultural exchange program.

“Approaching Nebuta Festival” by Emiko Seki is one of the many prints that have been exchanged over the years as part of a program between Maine and Aomori, Japan. Courtesy / Friends of Aomori

Jeff Badger, president of Friends of Aomori, will be leading a group of local artists to Aomori from Oct. 17-23 to host an exhibit featuring prints done by Maine and Japanese artists at the Aomori Citizen Culture Days. The group includes David Wolfe, owner of Wolfe Editions, Pilar Nadal, owner of Pickwick Independent Press, Lisa Pixley, owner of Printcraft and local artist Lydia Badger. The local artists will meet with their contemporaries, as well as representatives from the Aomori Contemporary Art Centre and Jiro Ono, director of the Munakata Shiko Memorial Museum of Art.

The trip will be a dream come true for Wolfe as well as Pixley, who has been studying Japanese woodcutting since she started printmaking a decade ago.

“I’ve been influenced by Asian art ever since I started. It’s been a dream for me to go,” Wolfe said.

Badger, a resident of Cape Elizabeth and chairman of the Southern Maine Community College fine arts department, said since launching the Maine-Aomori Printmaking Society art exchange in 2015, more than 20 shows have been done between Maine and Japan.

Badger said the arrangement offers a great learning opportunity for the public.

“They learn a little bit about Japan. They learn a little bit about printmaking and about this unique relationship between Maine and Japan,” Badger said.

The art exchange program, Wolfe said, helps people to understand and appreciate printmaking, while Nadal said it has helped put Maine’s art scene on international display.

“Maine is a place where people like to come to retreat from the world and make art,” she said.

This is the first time Maine artists have gone to Japan as part of the exchange. Ono brought a group of four Japanese artists to Maine for a week-long residency in 2016 and Raegan Russell, a teacher at Berwick Academy, visited K-6 art classes in Aomori in fall 2018. Lyda McCann-Olson, a teacher in Cumberland, will take a similar trip next month.

A retrospect of all 120 prints in the Maine-Aomori Printmaking Society collection will be hung at the Lewis Gallery at the Portland Public Library in fall 2021.

Aomori has been Maine’s sister state since 1994, but the two areas have a much longer history. On Oct. 31, 1899, the Cheseborough,  a three-mast ship built in Bath, was returning from a delivery to Japan when it crashed into the coastline of Aomori during a fierce storm. The ship was destroyed, but the ship’s crew and passengers were saved, brought to shore and aided by the residents and government of Aomori. As the 100th anniversary of the event approached, the governments in Bath and Aomori developed a sister-city program, paving the way for John McKernan, Maine’s governor at the time, to forge a sister state arrangement with his Japanese counterpart.

 

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