An exhibition of charcoal drawings by Emily Nelligan titled “Nocturne” hangs on one wall of a gallery at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. Due to the pandemic, the museum has not been able to receive some of the works it had planned on displaying this season and has had to develop interim exhibits. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

OGUNQUIT — If everything goes as planned, there will be many more than six Emily Nelligan drawings on the freshly painted yellow walls of the Long Gallery when the Ogunquit Museum of American Art opens its doors for the season on July 1.

But in the unlikely event the bulk of the charcoal drawings that are scheduled for display in “Emily Nelligan: Nocturne” do not arrive, Ogunquit curator and collections manager Ruth Greene-McNally is prepared to move forward with the six drawings she has already hung on one wall of the gallery. She will leave the three other walls blank as a silent statement of the toll of the coronavirus. The drawings have been locked in a New York gallery since March.

“Nocturne” is a memorial to Nelligan, who lived quietly on Cranberry Island, and is supposed to be the first significant installation of her work since her death in 2018. A sparse, quiet show would serve as an evocative tribute to the artist and a symbolic salute to all who have died and suffered because of COVID-19, the curator said. “If they don’t come in, one way or another, it makes a very strong statement that this is a memorial exhibition,” Greene-McNally said. “I think six pieces would be very moving. I will put up a label that says why there are six instead of 46. It says something about the pandemic and how museums are coping.”

In whatever final form it takes, “Nocturne” will be among several exhibitions that people can see in person at the Ogunquit museum, and elsewhere, this summer. The Portland Museum of Art reopened Wednesday, the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland opens to Rockland residents on Thursday and to the wider public the next day, and most art museums in Maine will follow soon after – with limited hours, timed admissions, restrictions on the number of people in the galleries and required facial coverings. All are facing the unprecedented circumstances of a pandemic, and Ogunquit is heading into this season of uncertainty with a new director. Amanda Lahikainen, who formerly chaired the art department and ran the art gallery at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, began her duties in May.

Emily Nelligan, “27 Sept 01, 2001,” Charcoal on paper, 7.25 x 10.25 in., Courtesy of the Marvin Bileck and Emily Nelligan Trust, Alexandre Gallery Emily Nelligan

Greene-McNally began working to install the season-opening exhibitions in February. Four months later, she’s still tinkering – and in the case of Nelligan’s “Nocturne,” still uncertain what more she will have to tinker with. “It’s been the longest installation in my career,” she said.

She thinks the balance of the drawings will arrive from New York this week, but has thought that at least twice before. In early March, Peter Whitney with the Maine-based art-moving company Whitney Art Works was scheduled to pick up the Nelligan drawings from a New York gallery. The day before he was to drive to get them, Greene-McNally got a call from the New York gallery saying it was closing immediately. The drawings, she said, have “been on lockdown” since.

Another early June pickup-and-delivery was canceled. The latest plan, or hope, has the drawings arriving at the museum this week.

If not, there will be six. Four of those were hand-delivered by a private collector from Connecticut in early March, before the shutdown. They were not matted or framed, and it took six weeks longer than usual to do the framing because of the uncertainty of handling art during the virus. The other two Nelligan drawings are on loan from the Colby College Museum of Art. The process of transferring art from one institution to the other was complicated by the virus, Greene-McNally said.

Ogunquit again hired Whitney to make the transfer, but he couldn’t directly interact with the collections managers from either Colby or Ogunquit. He picked up the two crated drawings in a secure area at Colby and remotely scanned the necessary documents, then drove the two crates to the portico at Ogunquit. Greene-McNally stood watch behind the museum’s glass doors as Whitney delivered the art and the two exchanged virtual papers. Twenty minutes or so after he left, she carried the art inside and placed it in a climate-controlled environment for 24 hours before handling it again.

Those six Nelligan images – mixed representational and abstract drawings that reflect the soft darkness and light of the Maine coast – required a lot of effort to get on the Ogunquit walls, Greene-McNally said, and represent the backbone of “Nocturne.”

Hung in a row against the soft yellow wall, they are drawings that visitors will see first when they enter the gallery. But the first thing people see when they enter the museum will be scavenging foxes, which are part of an installation by South Portland artist Andy Rosen called “After Party” that involves his interpretation of the morning after a smoking beach party. Rosen presents his work as a tableau of beach stones and smoldering bittersweet, with foxes scavenging the remains of the all-nighter – lemon rinds, cigarette butts. He frames it all against the backdrop of the museum’s glass wall looking out on Narrow Cove.

Larry Hayden, preparator at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, works on the exhibit “After Party” by Andy Rosen at the museum. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Rosen created a positive public-art stir in 2015 when he installed “Unpack” on the Portland waterfront, placing lifelike dog sculptures atop existing pilings as a statement about man’s impact on the natural environment and human encroachment on animals and their lands. “Every day the natural world keeps telling us that we’re not the only game in town. My work is an attempt to balance this awareness with the desire to pretend otherwise,” he says on his website.

“After Party” continues the theme. Rosen collected all the elements of the piece from Narrow Cove, and offers it as an homage to the artists who came to Ogunquit in the early 20th century and helped shaped American modernism – and hosted legendary beach parties while doing so. It’s also a reminder that we need to be better and smarter stewards.

For a bicentennial exhibition, the museum constructed a life-size diorama of the studio of one of those Ogunquit art luminaries, Charles Woodbury, the Massachusetts-born painter who came to Perkins Cove in the 1880s and established a summer art school that led directly to the evolution of the Ogunquit art colony. Woodbury’s original studio is near the museum overlooking Perkins Cove, and the Woodbury family loaned the museum the artist’s brushes, easel, paint box and several of his paintings, including one unfinished painting that is displayed on his easel, as well as some of his furnishings, sculptures, drawings, books and other ephemera.

A replica of Charles Woodbury’s studio, including some of his brushes, his easel and one of his unfinished paintings, is part of an exhibit featuring the work of Woodbury and some of his students at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“That makes it personal, and makes it kind of come to life,” said art preparator Larry Hayden, who built the replica studio and said it was a thrill working with Woodbury’s family on the project. “Charles Woodbury: Open Studio” is the centerpiece of the museum’s long-term installation of local paintings, “The View from Narrow Cove.” On the backside of the diorama, the museum is hanging more of Woodbury’s paintings from Ogunquit, as well as those of his students.

Ogunquit is also showing the luxurious still-lifes of contemporary floral painter Kathleen Speranza of Lynn, Massachusetts. The exhibition, “Vanitas Vita,” feels like a return to the time of Dutch masters.

And this summer, the museum continues its ongoing focus on museum founder Henry Strater and his relationship with artists of the Lost Generation. In previous years, the museum has focused on Strater’s friendships and interactions with James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. This year, “Light Southerly: Henry Strater in Verde Valley” examines his relationship with the American Southwest and places his experience in the context of writers and artists of the art colonies of Santa Fe, Taos and Monterey.

Henry Strater, Pasture at Soda Springs Courtesy of Ogunquit Museum of American Art

Strater spent winters in Verde Valley, Arizona, from 1931 to 1938. The exhibition includes his paintings from the Southwest, sketchbooks and archival materials, as well drawings by the artist Arthur B. Davies, who traveled the region, a Marsden Hartley painting from New Mexico from 1919 and photos by Western photographer Edward Curtis. There’s a first edition of “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley and a collection of poems by Charles Lummis, “A Bronco Pegasus.”

What “Light Southerly” does not include is the painting that gives the exhibitions its name. Stater made the painting “Light Southerly,” a sweeping view of the familiar Nubble Light, soon after his return from Arizona. Greene-McNally sees it “as his elegiacal ode to the Southwest’s distinctive topography.” It was immediately selected to represent Maine in the World’s Fair in 1939. The IBM Corp. bought the painting in 1940, and it was shown many times over many years, including at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art in 1981. According to the museum, IBM deaccessioned the painting in 1985 but there is no record of it being sold or auctioned.

Greene-McNally is highlighting its absence – and its mystery – with a label but no painting.

“It is my greatest hope, through this exhibition we find out who may have purchased it, and wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring it back on loan for the future?”

Just as long as that loan doesn’t happen during a pandemic.


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