The Imprint of Creative Collaborations
PROFILE- OCTOBER 2008
By Joshua Bodwell
Photography Irvin Serrano
During the act of creation, the idea of selling one’s art is often a distant thought. The artwork as product recedes from view, and the process becomes an end in itself.
Yet the creative cycle cannot continue unless the art is sold: money exchanges hands, materials are purchased, food is consumed, the rent is paid, and more art is produced.
In the end, the selling of art begets more art.
For the better part of her adult life, Patricia Nick has been one of those rare individuals who are able to turn the promotion of other artists into an art form in itself. Today, at the age of 79, Nick remains driven by a boundless, youthful energy that keeps her perpetually busy, whether she is working from her stylish Portland apartment or her home on the island of Vinalhaven.
Although she is an artist herself, Nick has spent the greater part of her life championing the arts. She held positions at several museums around the country and at the New England Museum Association for several years. Her most significant mark on the art world, however, was made here in Maine: from 1985 to 2002, Nick ran Vinalhaven Press, an influential art publishing house.
Born in Massachusetts, Nick always created and adored art, even as a young child. “When I made art, I hummed,” she remembers. “I was just so content.” Following her passion, Nick—who grew up summering on Vinalhaven, where her family roots go back 200 years—eventually enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. After earning her degree, Nick took a series of increasingly interesting jobs in the world of art administration, including positions at the Ringling Museum in Florida and the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
With her career gaining momentum, Nick married the architect Don Nick in 1968. The couple settled in New York City’s Upper West Side, where Don worked as a city planner and Pat as a consultant to museums on their education programs. “At the time, I think Don was a frustrated painter and I was a frustrated architect,” says Nick.
When Don Nick died suddenly at just 54 years old, Nick threw herself into her work, setting up programs for the Smithsonian Institution and then later as the director of the New England Museum Association.
“One morning I woke up and thought: this isn’t what I set out to do,” recalls Nick. She wanted to be closer to the artists and their work.
While visiting Vinalhaven during this time, Nick saw the island’s abandoned and derelict century-old schoolhouse with new eyes. “I knew that the great artists of the time, people like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, were not editioning their own prints. That’s no fun. So I thought, why not fix the place up and be a print publisher.”
Vinalhaven Press was born.
Nick assembled a team of master printers and was soon producing editions of etchings, aquatints, lithographs, monotypes, and other media by artists such as Robert Indiana, Robert Morris, Yvonne Jacquette, Charles Hewitt, and Mel Chin, to name just a few. The press’s reputation grew quickly, and museums and universities scrambled to purchase the limited-edition prints for their collections. After only two years in existence, the Portland Museum of Art mounted an exhibition of the press’s prints.
In the summer, master printers and visiting artists flocked to Vinalhaven, drawn as much by the sense of artistic community blossoming around Vinalhaven Press as by the island’s majestic beauty. At the end of the season, the artists went home and Nick moved her operations to New York City, where she ran Vinalhaven Press showrooms first in SoHo and later in Chelsea. “I felt like I had a tiger by the tail and I went wherever it led me,” says Nick of those heady years.
While the summers of printing and camaraderie were wonderful, Nick says that the constant travel between Maine and New York and the self-imposed pressure to sell more and more prints finally exhausted her. In 2002, Nick closed the press. Yet in her desire to remain true to her island roots, Nick turned the wistful closing into a positive event: she raised money for further renovations to the old schoolhouse, then gave it back to Vinalhaven for use as a new town hall.
Never one to slow down, Nick recently teamed with fellow artists Charlie Hewitt and Alison Hildreth to redevelop another languishing property, this time in the heart of downtown Portland. The Congress Street building, which now includes twenty-three condos and three commercial spaces, was imaginatively redesigned by architect James Sterling and recently received an Honor Award from the Maine Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
In Nick’s own studio apartment in the building, art abounds. Even on the hallway wall just outside her door, she has hung a big black-and-white rug emblazoned with the Hindu symbol for love—a gift from her old friend Robert Indiana, the pop artist revered for his iconic sculpture, LOVE.
Inside, her overflowing art collection includes massive paintings by Hildreth and Hewitt mixed in with a print collection chronicling Vinalhaven Press. Each print is a tale Nick loves to tell: which master printer worked with which artist and the story behind the print’s subject.
Even as she nears her ninth decade, Nick is busily preparing to publish “multiples,” limited-edition reproductions of art objects by Indiana, Hewitt, and Randy Regier. And, in her quiet way, Nick has been working on her own art. You can almost hear that contented youthful hum rising up within her. “In my heart of hearts,” she says, “I think I really need to come back for a second life to do everything I’d like to!”
High on the wall across from her bed is a bright comic-strip-like monotype by Vinalhaven Press artist Peter Saul. It shows a blond and busty superwoman practically bursting off the page. “I look at that and I like to imagine it’s me!” says Nick with a self-effacing laugh.