Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s executive director and chief curator Tim Peterson, left, and exhibitions manager and curatorial associate Rachel Romanski. The center will feature work from 35 artists from Maine, or with strong ties to Maine, in its upcoming biennial exhibition. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland has hosted its biennial exhibition 22 times since 1978, but this year marks the first for executive director Tim Peterson and exhibitions manager Rachel Romanski.

It’s a major undertaking that involves installing the work of 35 selected artists that will fill all 5,500 square feet of the museum’s gallery space and even spill outside.

“We have work in virtually all media, but two large trends we’ve seen this year are in sculpture and installations,” Peterson said. “We also instituted a new rule this time to give preference to artists who have not shown with us in the last two years.”

The result is a diverse mix of contemporary artwork from artists who either live in Maine or have strong ties to the state. Many are being exhibited for the first time. The exhibit opens Saturday and runs through May 7.

Selected artists were chosen from 423 submissions by two jurors – Misa Jeffereis, assistant curator at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and Sarah Montross, senior curator at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Montross previously was a post-doctoral curatorial fellow at Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick.

“As a curator, I get invited to jury things regularly, but I have to be selective with time,” Montross said. “But I admire CMCA so much and have followed this show for years. It’s always interesting. This year, there are some artists I know and many more who are brand-new names.”


Peterson and Romanski had the final say over which pieces of artwork will go on display, and they have spent months visiting studios and talking with artists.

“Everyone that we met with, there was a genuine excitement,” Romanski said.

“Validation, too,” Peterson added. “I think being selected among a big group of submissions like this, that’s huge for an artist.”

Ransome, “Invisible Artist,” 2020, arcylic and collage on canvas, 36 x 36 inches Photo courtesy of Center for Maine Contemporary Art

Biennial exhibitions have long been a fixture in the art world – often as a way to showcase up-and-coming or previously unknown talent – but since the Portland Museum of Art moved to a triennial in 2019, the CMCA’s event is the only biennial in Maine.


Pamela Moulton almost didn’t submit.


The North Bridgton artist has been applying for the CMCA biennial every two years going back to the 1980s but was never chosen.

“I was so swamped this past summer, I didn’t think I had it in me,” Moulton said. She had a massive installation in Portland’s Payson Park that took up much of her time.

But an artist friend, Brian Smith, suggested she propose something that she already had complete, just presented in a different way.

So, Moulton drew from her massive pink installation to create a series of prints.

A print from North Bridgton artist Pamela Moulton, whose work will be exhibited at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s 23rd biennial. Photo courtesy of Pamela Moulton

The jurors were swayed. Smith, incidentally, also was chosen.

At 61, Moulton is one of the oldest artists in this year’s biennial.


“If you just stick with it, people take you seriously,” she said. “It can be so hard to deal with rejection being an artist, so you have to just celebrate when something like this happens. I’m overjoyed.”

On the other end of the spectrum are artists like Jenny Ibsen.

Ibsen was born in China and was adopted by an American couple. She grew up in Hamden, Connecticut, and came to Maine to attend Bowdoin College.

“I wasn’t an art major, but I took a lot of art classes,” she said. “I grew up in a house with artistic sensibilities. My dad and brother are woodworkers; my grandfather was a ceramicist.”

A hand-painted pot from Portland/Brunswick artist Jenny Ibsen, who will be among 35 artists shown at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s 23rd biennial. Photo courtesy of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art

She graduated in 2018 and has been working in restaurants while exploring printmaking and, more recently, ceramics. She lives in Portland but works out of studio space at Fort Andross in Brunswick.

This was the first time she had applied for a biennial, but she’s been familiar with the Center for Maine Contemporary Art.


“I feel like one of the sneaky things about becoming an artist that people don’t tell you about is all the back-end work needed to submit for things like this,” said Ibsen, 27. “I’ve never really been in a gallery or in an institution like this, so it’s really exciting.

“I’ve always admired the biennial. There is such a breadth of skill and talent, so as an emerging artist, it’s meaningful to be included.”

Montross said in her experience, many institutions have moved away from a juried process for exhibitions like this.

“It is a subjective process and that can be unpleasant,” she said. “I don’t like thinking about the artists who didn’t get chosen, because they are all so great. But I’m glad CMCA stuck with theirs because it’s truly open.”


The Center for Maine Contemporary Art was founded in 1952 (originally as Maine Coast Artists) and moved into its modern, glass building in Rockland in 2016.


It’s a non-collecting museum, the only one in Maine and one of only a couple dozen nationally.  Essentially, that means it doesn’t have a permanent collection and focuses instead on exhibitions that are rotated regularly.

“That really allows us to put our resources into programming and people,” Peterson said.

Over the years, major artists from Maine or with ties to the state have shown at CMCA, including Louise Nevelson, William Zorach, Alex Katz, Lois Dodd, David Driskell, Robert Indiana and Jamie Wyeth.

In addition to its biennial, which started in 1978, the center hosts solo and collective exhibits throughout the year and has a residency program.

Elaine Ng, “From Guantian to Taipei,” 2021, inkjet print, cast concrete, foam, handwoven cotton, plywood, pine, 21.5″ x 23″ x 8.25″ Photo courtesy of Center for Maine Contemporary Art

Peterson came on board in early 2021 during the pandemic, succeeding longtime curator Suzette McAvoy. He previously was executive director of the Northfield Arts Guild in Minnesota.

One of the things Peterson and Romanski liked best about preparing for this year’s biennial was visiting studios across the state and beyond. Most artists chosen live and work here, but some are from elsewhere in New England and from as far away as California.


“Once the jury process is over, everything turns back over to us,” Peterson said. “So, we were able to visit 33 studios, either in person or on Zoom.”

Although the biennial will feature work from nearly three dozen individual artists, the goal of the curators was to put together an exhibit that felt cohesive and connected.

Romanski said climate change and concerns about climate change were a clear theme that came through. Similarly, many artists used non-traditional and more sustainable materials in their work, like raw, unfinished wood or recycled rubber.

Haley MacKeil, “All Bodies Wander,” 2021, handmade paper, walnut hull dye, iron oxide, methyl cellulose, inline fan, 7 x 5 x 5 feet Photo courtesy of Center for Maine Contemporary Art

“More conceptually, we see a lot of artists dealing with both a sense of belonging and a sense of place,” she said.

For the artists, the biennial could be a springboard to a solo show somewhere, or some other opportunity.

Ibsen, the Portland artist who will exhibit several ceramics, said she’s still getting used to the idea that her piece will be hung on a wall.

“Ideally, they wouldn’t be shown at a gallery, they would be in a kitchen and used for dinner,” she said.

Moulton said she’s eager to meet the rest of the biennial artists and see their work.

“It’s so great to be getting older as an artist, honestly,” she said. “I don’t feel the same pressure anymore, and I really get to focus on the community of artists that’s so strong here in Maine.”

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