The artists Timothy Wilson and Michael Vermette have spent much of the pandemic outdoors, away from people.

The painters immersed themselves in remote locations across Maine. Wilson, who lives in Portland, traveled the coast for “Maine Coast Sojourn,” a year-long plein air painting residency at Maine Coast Heritage Trust preserves. Vermette, who lives in Indian Island, completed a two-week Allagash Wilderness Waterway Visiting Artist residency, bringing him the remote reaches of inland Maine.

Wilson’s residency stretched over parts of three years, interrupted by the pandemic, while Vermette completed his residency in 202o as the inaugural visiting artist in a new program of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry. Both are showing their work now.

Gleason Fine Art in Boothbay Harbor is hosting “Michael Vermette: 50 plus One” through September, a title that references both the 50th anniversary of the creation of Maine’s Allagash Wilderness Waterway and the number of paintings Vermette completed during his residency, in watercolors and oil.

On Thursday, Wilson opens the exhibition “Maine Coast Sojourn” at Cove Street Arts in Portland, on view through Dec. 13. There’s a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, with advance reservations. A percentage of art sold during the exhibition will benefit Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

Timothy Wilson at work in his studio on one of his “Maine Coast Sojourn” paintings, on view beginning Thursday at Cove Street Arts in Portland. Photo by Greta Rybus, courtesy of Maine Coast Heritage Trust

Wilson, 35, painted in all seasons, working across the wide swath of the coast, collecting field notes and small studies on site and finishing work in his studio. He was energized and inspired painting on site, at the mercy of elements.

“When people consider painting and experiencing the landscape, they think about bright, sunny days – and I love beautiful sunny days as much as anyone. But it’s more interesting and dramatic to be there and when there is rainstorm coming through or when some snow is falling,” he said. “It becomes a spiritual experience almost. … I can see a storm coming on from miles away.”

An example of a painting from Timothy Wilson’s “Sojourn” series from the Maine coast, on view beginning Thursday at Cove Street Arts in Portland. Courtesy of Timothy P. Wilson

One of his early trips for the project was to Boot Head Preserve in Lubec and Bog Brook Cove in Cutler and Trescott, both in October 2019. He called the experience “transformative,” because he experienced a storm that raged so hard to he had to stop painting and retreat. When the storm passed, he sketched rough elements of the storm subsiding and later captured swaying trees and surf. During better weather, he kayaked to Whaleboat Island in Harpswell, where he has returned often. In all, he visited about 15 Maine Coast Heritage Trust preserves.

Wilson, who trained in illustration at Rhode Island School of Design and taught himself oil painting after graduation, will show about 25 paintings at Cove Street, half of which are studies completed on site, the rest finished paintings from his studio.

Vermette is a veteran of Maine artist residencies, having completed one on Monhegan and two through Acadia National Park. His 2020 residency in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, was his most remote and his first time in the area. He spent two weeks at Lock Dam Camp in a one-room cabin on the northern end of Chamberlain Lake. It’s about 10 miles from the boat launch at the southern end of Chamberlain Lake and 60 miles from Millinocket.

He used a canoe with a small motor to get around.

He channeled the American painter Robert Henri, who challenged his students on Monhegan in 1905 and 1906 to race to finish as many paintings as they could in the time they had on the island. Vermette took that idea to heart, splitting his residency into two separate one-week trips. During the first week, he painted with watercolors. In the second, he painted in oils.

He averaged between three and four paintings a day. “There’s a rhythm that comes to painting one after another, and you get into that rhythm after the third or fourth day.”

An admirer of the painter James Fitzgerald – who also had Monhegan connections – Vermette knew Fitzgerald had made a painting of lumbermen shooting the rapids in a canoe in the area and arranged for game wardens to do the same so he could paint the image. It’s a centerpiece in the exhibition at Gleason in Boothbay Harbor. Vermette also will show a smaller sampling of his Allagash paintings at Yarmouth Frame and Gallery in October.

“It was great fun and very intense, and what an honor to be the first artist in residence,” he said. “What a beautiful world that country is. I saw moose, blue herons, all kinds of animals. Eagle Lake is well named. I felt very spoiled. The water was crystal clear. The sunsets were amazing, and the sunrises were great. But you had to make an effort to be there when that happens.”


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