Abby Shahn, a longtime activist-artist from Somerset County, received a standing ovation Sept. 24 as arts nonprofit Speedwell recognized her with its first annual Speedwell Prize for her body of work.

It was a moment long in the making, in part because Speedwell’s retrospective of Shahn’s 50 years of multimedia art opened around the start of the pandemic.

The Speedwell Fete, just around the corner from the gallery at the Woodfords Club in Portland, celebrated Shahn and other visual and performing artists who have benefited from Speedwell residencies or exhibitions.

“I wanted to share this with so many working artists in this room,” Shahn said. “And, as we listened to this program, we are sharing it.”

Speedwell became a nonprofit last year, but it was founded in 2015 by award-winning photographer Jocelyn Lee, who saw a need to “correct the canon.”

“For centuries, the canon of art history has been comprised almost entirely of the work of wealthy and well-educated white men,” Lee said, explaining that Speedwell’s mission is to uplift late-career women artists through comprehensive exhibitions, artist residencies and archival projects. “We are attempting to preserve the works of our artists for posterity.”

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The Fete included a short preview of an in-progress documentary on Shahn and her partner, artist James Fangbone, giving the viewer an intimate look at their creative life in secluded Solon.

One of Speedwell’s goals is that each solo exhibit will be made more permanent by either a catalog of the artist’s work or a documentary.

“These are the kinds of things we are producing that will have a legacy long after the exhibitions,” said board member Katarina Weslien, whose own multidisciplinary work has been cataloged.

“Speedwell has a distinct mission, and it’s filling a gap through its commitment to showing underrepresented artists whose work merits attention,” said multimedia artist Jan Piribeck, whose work was in a group show. “It’s one of the most intellectually compelling venues in Maine.”

“There’s nothing else like Speedwell in the state,” said artist Gail Spaien of South Portland. Looking around the hall, she added, “And these are a lot of the people – curators, gallerists and patrons – who have contributed to the art scene in this area over the past 50 years.”

For more information, go to speedwellprojects.com.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]


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