Exploring “The Great State of Illustration in Maine”

The Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk reveals the work of over 70 Maine illustrators

Tom Booth, "Pine."
Lewis Rossignol, "Tyler the Creator."
Sam Onche, "Aluminum City."
Megan Kudlack, "Buddy the Bullfrog."
Rockwell Kent, "Moby Dick."
Isabella Rotman, "Like the Tide."
Alexandra Thompson, "A Family for Louie."

At a recent international conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a panel of art directors lamented a practical efficiency of our digital world: they rarely set their eyes on the original artwork from which their illustrated books are created. Instead, it’s the on-screen, often Photoshopped version they see. In many ways, then, The Great State of Illustration in Maine is an art director’s dream.

Born out of an open call for art from published Maine illustrators, this is the sixth major public exhibition presented by the Illustration Institute, a nonprofit organization established in 2016 to heighten appreciation and awareness of illustration art. The exhibition features original illustration art (or artist’s proofs of digital illustrations) from more than 70 contributors. All works are presented as stand-alone pieces, independent of the picture books, cover art, advertising materials, and other published works for which they were made. (Many of these illustrated books and materials are also on hand in the gallery for viewers to browse.) Illustration fans will enjoy the opportunity to look closely, finding the hairs of the paintbrush, the graphite-dust haze, or the layers of dimensional collage and other marks of the illustrator’s hand. For everyone, this is an opportunity to discover intriguing synchronicities across generations of illustrators who have made their home here. The Great State includes works by celebrated giants, present and past, and winners of all the major awards in the field of illustration as well as lesser-known masters of the craft and emerging illustrators.

At the time of this writing—weeks before the show opening, as artworks are still arriving at the gallery and waiting to find their place on the walls—Illustration Institute founder- artists Nancy Gibson-Nash and Scott Nash and exhibition curator-artists Imogen Moxhay and Alex Rheault are in nail-biting conversations behind the scenes. For reasons of impos-sibility, the vast exhibition is “not comprehensive.” Still, they are determined not to leave out any artist whose work should be included. In fact, the thought of forgetting someone is so terrifying to them that they will make room for new work and also expect the exhibition to change and grow when it travels to the new Paul J. Schupf Art Center in Waterville in the spring of 2023.

Inclusiveness is essential to the vision of The Great State. Students and aspiring or early-career illustrators will encounter works by Maine professional illustrators that they can relate to and learn from. The majority of the participating artists are contemporary, and they’ve filled the rooms of the exhibition space with stories in progress, story fragments, and moments, in traditional and unexpected forms and media, suggesting that this is a very exciting time for an art form that merges fine visual art and narrative. “Can we make a case that Maine, in its quiet, steady way, is building a treasure trove?” Scott Nash wonders. “With a deeply felt influence and unbreakable connection to Maine’s celebrated art history, are we looking at a new golden age for illustration?”

The Great State of Illustration in Maine is currently on view at the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk until February 26, 2023. The exhibition will then travel to the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in Waterville, where it will be on view from April 17 to July 16.

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