Collector: Sam Mitchell


by Suzette McAvoy
Photography Irvin Serrano

A big collection brings joy to a small home


“I respond here first, then it goes up to here,” says collector Sam Mitchell as he taps his chest and then his head. “It’s more gut and heart than brain.” Before he will consider adding it to his collection, a work of art must to speak to him viscerally and emotionally. “It’s absolutely how I look at art.”

This passionate collector—who owns more than 200 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by many of Maine’s best contemporary artists—was for many years reluctant to acknowledge that he was, in fact, “a collector.” Although Mitchell was a bit embarrassed by the term’s highbrow connotations, at some point, he says, “I had to admit that, yes, I did have a collection.”

Mitchell is a real-estate agent for Town & Country, Realtors in Belfast, where he was born, and to which, after years away, he returned in the mid-1980s. His homecoming coincided with Belfast’s emergence as a burgeoning “art town” with three important galleries—the Frick Gallery, Gallery 68, and Artfellows, a thriving artists’ cooperative. Mitchell credits these galleries, and Frick Gallery owner Rose Marie Frick in particular, with cultivating his interest in “good Maine art” and educating his eye.

Some of the art Mitchell purchased early on from Frick are still among his favorites, including works by Dozier Bell, Kathy Bradford, Fred Lynch, and Dennis Pinette. He now owns multiple works by these artists, as well as more recent acquisitions by Alan Bray, another favorite. “I like having more than one piece by an artist; it helps me to see their work better,” Mitchell says. “And there are a lot I have two of—if I couldn’t decide which I liked best, I bought both.”SamMitchell_w

Remarkably, Mitchell lives with his art—all of it beautifully displayed—in a condominium of less than one thousand square feet. Artwork seems to be everywhere in his small home, arranged in groupings designed to bring out the formal relationships among works. “I really like living with these things,” he says, “I like handling them, arranging them, moving them around…I get joy out of them every day.”

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