Maine’s Quiet Artist Paradise

Rich with back stories and visual synchronicities, “The Art of Monson” can be viewed through both aesthetic and historical lenses

Alan Bray, "Borestone Mountain from Onawa," 1993, casein on panel, 24" x 30". Collection of the artist.
Geraldine "Gerry" Weymouth, "Miners Being Lowered into Slate Quarry," ca. 1970, oil on canvas, 25" x 37". Courtesy of Bette Holmbom Belmont.
Seth Wyman Steward, "Lake Hebron," ca. 1900, oil on canvas, 19" x 30". Collection of Monson Historical Society.
Mary June Edsell, "Monson Post Office," 1981, oil on canvas, 11½" x 15½". Collection of Van Wentworth.
Leon "Cy" Elliott Wilkins, "Monson Pond Quarry," ca. 1920, photographic print from original plate negative, restored and printed by Todd Watts. Collection of the Monson Historical Society.
Milton Christianson, "Monson General Store," 2021, watercolor 11" x 14". Collection of the artist.
Todd Watts, "Perfidy 1," 2010, photograph, 66" x 46". Courtesy of Caldbeck Gallery, Rockland.

In Monson Art Gallery’s current exhibition, The Art of Monson: A Bicentennial Celebration, curated by Carl Little, there is a sense of time looping and compressing through encounters with paintings, photographs, sculpture, and fine craft created over almost 200 years. In happy contrast with “COVID time”— that wearying collapse of years into a fog—this opportunity to time travel feels fresh and resilient.

While there are a few pieces that speak to the town’s latest renaissance—two oil paintings by Sarah Faragher as well as Monson Polyhedron (2022), a laser-cut slate sculpture by Celeste Roberge, both recent Monson Arts residents—most of the works in the exhibition affirm Monson as a vital place for artists long before a transformative gift from the Libra Foundation established residency and workshop programs there. The painter Alan Bray grew up in Monson, and three of his casein paintings represent his decades-long visual interest in the town and surrounding landscape. In fact Bray, along with Monson Historical Society president Glenn Poole and Todd Watts—a photographer and long-time Monson-area resident who also printed for the renowned photographer Berenice Abbott—helped envision The Art of Monson.

Along with showing his own work, for the exhibition Watts also restored and printed historic photographs from their original plate negatives, including a dizzying 1920s view of the Monson Pond Slate Quarry by Monson photographer Leon “Cy” Elliott Wilkins. Watts also restored and printed an 1889 lithograph by George E. Norris for the exhibition. The print depicts a bird’s-eye view of Monson and functions as a gateway for viewing the gallery, not unlike a beautifully detailed map that Appalachian Trail through-hikers might linger over at a trailhead just outside of town.

Many artworks depict or represent aspects of Monson’s daily life, including a 1970 oil painting titled Miners Being Lowered into Slate Quarry by Gerry Weymouth and an intriguing selection of functional objects handcrafted from slate in the early 1900s, which feel irresistibly in conversation with the Roberge sculpture.

The exhibition offers works by Monson-area contemporary artists John Bozin, Alan Bray, Milton Christianson, Jemma Gascoine, Ed Hoovler, Roberta Weaver Jarvis, and John Wentworth as an invitation to look closely—find the yeti in Jarvis’s map!—and explore more deeply by visiting their nearby studios and galleries or attending a workshop.

The story of coming to Monson from away, of being drawn to the town for its industry or its beauty or both, and staying to see a craft practice evolve or to live out a creative life is shared across generations of the exhibition’s artists. “In the next one hundred years, I predict the art of Monson will expand a thousandfold as artists of all stripes find their muse here,” Carl Little expressed in a curator’s talk in July. “There’s something happening here that is amazing and historical.”

The Art of Monson: A Bicentennial Celebration
Monson Arts Gallery, 8 Greenville Rd., Monson, ME
May 25–October 31, 2022

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