A Look at Two Centuries of Artists in Maine

Initially curated for 2020 viewing at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, “At First Light” was reconceived to include additional artists in 2022

Jeremiah Pearson Hardy, "Abraham Hanson," ca. 1828, oil on canvas. Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy.
Katherine Bradford, "Fear of Dark," 2020, acrylic on canvas. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
Marsden Hartley, "After the Storm, Vinalhaven," 1938-1939, oil on Academy board. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
Winslow Homer, "Sunlight on the Coast," 1890, oil on canvas. Toledo Museum of Art.
Lois Dodd, "Long Cove Quarry," 1993, oil on Masonite. Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine. © Lois Dodd, courtesy Alexandre Gallery, New York.
Molly Neptune Parker, "Flower-top Basket," 2019–2020. Courtesy of the Hudson Museum, University of Maine, Orono.
Andrew Wyeth, "Night Hauling," 1944, tempera on Masonite. Bowdoin College Museum of Art. © 2019 Andrew Wyeth / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Marguerite Zorach, "The Family Evening," oil on canvas, ca. 1924. Gift of Dahlov Ipcar and Tessim Zorach, Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

What does it mean to be an artist in Maine? Specifically, what has it meant to be an artist here over the past 200 years, leading up to, and then including, the historic upheaval of 2020? This is the central investigation of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art exhibition At First Light: Two Centuries of Artists in Maine, featuring 70 Maine artists and over 100 works in a wide range of mediums. “Artists ask us to wake up,” say the exhibition’s co-curators Anne and Frank Goodyear. “They command our attention by bringing into focus a moment that might otherwise pass unremarked.”

The exhibition is not a comprehensive survey of Maine art, and it is not “celebratory,” though it might have been. In 2015, when Bowdoin and other cultural institutions began planning events to mark the bicentennial, it was unknowable that the 200th anniversary year of Maine statehood would coincide with both a worldwide loss of life and a shattering, revelatory examination of social justice in this country. At First Light was curated for a 2020 viewing, and then, with the ability to live through and deeply consider what that year wrought, it was reconceived for 2022. The resulting exhibition reflects a greater inclusion of artists outside of the familiar Maine canon, and a “tightly focused” selection of works that call out subtly, loudly, with seductive beauty, in a new language, our relationship to this place—to ancestral lands, to wilderness and natural resources, to intergenerational notions of home—and insist that we look under the surface appearance of things.

At First Light is enriched by two powerful new works created in the summer of 2020. Fear of Dark by Katherine Bradford is a large, luminous acrylic painting on canvas with figures that feel familial or interdependent and, at the same time, precarious. A Distant Holla from the Mouth of the New Meadows River by Daniel Minter is a material-rich, intimate assemblage of portraiture and artifacts expressing and reflecting on the state of Maine’s eviction and disappearing of Malaga Island’s interracial community in 1912. The exhibition opens with an oilskin drawing from 1868 by Henry Taylor, which documents a wall of 3000-year-old petroglyphs in Machiasport, some of the earliest known Indigenous drawings. Here is a nineteenth-century Maine artist honoring and preserving the mark-makings of people who lived here for thousands of years before statehood.

At First Light can be viewed chronologically, but also thematically. For example, in the Maine Modernism gallery, observe how many artists from away came to settle in the state after studying at the Skowhegan School, or after venturing out to Monhegan Island at the urging of Robert Henri. Also represented here are Maine’s historic and intergenerational artist families—the Wyeths, of course, but also Molly Neptune Parker and her grandchild Geo Neptune, Eliot and Fairfield Porter, Marguerite and William Zorach and their daughter Dahlov Ipcar, and the Caponigro family, to name a few. “The best art transcends its moment to always be relevant,” says Anne Goodyear. “First light” can describe the fleeting, romantic Maine morning, but it is also the first eyes, the first illumination of a thing, and that’s the kind of light that can transcend its moment and stay true and worthy of continual looking.

At First Light: Two Centuries of Artists in Maine is on view now until November 6, 2022, at Bowdoin Museum of Art in Brunswick.

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