Alison Evans Ceramics

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In Yarmouth, Maine, I had a chance to visit Alison Evans’s ceramics studio.  Alison’s work is influenced by the organic shapes and textures of ocean life, and she has some really beautiful pieces.  (How stunning are these shell-shaped teapots?)

The space itself has a great energy — lots of natural light floods the room, which includes a selection of furniture and paintings by fellow Maine artists, in addition to Alison’s own work.  The studio itself occupies the back two-thirds of the shop, and even the floorboards bear the chalky traces of this ongoing artistic production.  Alison wasn’t there the day I stopped in, but I got to talk to her assistant, who was working on some pieces in the studio that morning.

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I’ve been interested in arts entrepreneurship recently, and in the ways that people are able to create a life and livelihood from their creative work.  Alison’s example struck a cord with me.  About five or six years older than I am, she has made grounded choices: to leave New York and root her life in Maine, and to build a collaborative business that stretches to hold her family and her own creative experimentation.

The shop at the front of the Yarmouth studio sells pieces from various collections, along with occasional seconds.  She’s been doing an oyster series I really like, and I picked up a small piece from the collection while I was there.

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Alison’s oyster dish now lives in my kitchen and holds teabags and the occasional mixing spoon.

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I especially like the detail on the back of the dish, which sits next to an actual oyster shell — brought home earlier this summer from the oyster cellar down my street in Baltimore.

Wyeth

One day when I was in Maine, I went up to Rockland to see the Farnsworth Art Museum.  By pure luck I happened to make this trip the day the museum stayed open late.  Which meant that I got to explore the museum’s main building at leisure, take a break for lobster, and then head back over to the museum again.

Andrew Wyeth -- In Her Room

The Farnsworth has a number of good exhibits and collections — including an interesting special exhibit on Shaker design — but its collection of Wyeth paintings is really the heart of this museum.  I’ve known Andrew Wyeth’s work tangentially over the years, but don’t know that I gave his paintings as much thought as I might have.  In person I found his work deeply compelling.  There’s such a subtlety in his brushwork, a patina that requires in-person viewing to fully understand.

The museum also does a great job contextualizing Wyeth’s work, both through its placement in galleries and special exhibits, and through thoughtful interpretive plaques.  I especially appreciated reading Wyeth’s reflections on his own creative process, which struck me as grounded and generous.  On his use of tempera, he wrote:

 “I love the quality of the colors: the earths, the terra verde, the ochers, the Indian reds, and the blue-reds. They aren’t artificial. I like to pick the colors up and hold them in my fingers. Tempera is something with which I build — like building in great layers the way the earth was itself built. Tempera is not the medium for swiftness.”

When I got to the Farnsworth’s Wyeth Center, a satellite gallery located in a repurposed old church across the street, I was the sole remaining visitor for the museum’s last hour.  Which meant that I had the galleries — and a small group of dedicated exhibit docents — to myself for a little while.  It was helpful to learn more about the entire Wyeth family — work by all of whom was on display — and to have long, solitary moments in front of paintings like In Her Room.

Part of what appeals to me so much about the Farnsworth’s Wyeth paintings is their predominantly Maine context.  The light and coloration and portraits of lobstermen resonate with me.  Perhaps in part because of my own long and early connection to that landscape.  But there’s also something deeply meditative about the experience of these paintings.  After leaving the museum, I walked along the long stone breakwater, out into the dimming night.  Local men were walking barefoot along the rocks to fish, rain was coming.  It felt like the space I needed to digest these paintings, this experience of place.

Wyeth’s reflections about the creative process are so often true across form and genre.  “I dream a lot,” he wrote.  “I do more painting when I’m not painting.  It’s in the subconscious.”  So true of writing, too.

 
p.s. For those of you not able to get to the Farnsworth, the National Gallery also has a special exhibit of Andrew Wyeth’s window paintings titled Looking Out, Looking In, on view through November 30.  I’m so looking forward to stopping in DC to see it.
   

Maine Studio

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When I was in Maine last week, I spent my mornings re-immersing myself in my book.  I’ve been doing some work on the last two stories in the collection, slowly unearthing their threads and helping them find their shape.

It was a beautiful place to write: with spindling pine trees outside the window, and between them the bright blue spark of the cove, dotted in bouys.  Inside, a long low bookshelf cluttered with well-worn books, and my own stack of afternoon reading.  I miss waking up to that view, that stretch of time with my manuscript.

Bookshopping: Longfellow Books

Longfellow Books is one of the two best bookstores I visited during my recent trip to Maine.  Located in the arts district of Portland, about a block from the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow house, Longfellow Books is an excellent example of a hardworking urban bookstore with a core focus on serving its local community.

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Run by a team of booksellers who clearly know their literature, the bookstore is organized with tables of notable fiction and non-fiction, shelves of new releases, the bookstore’s own bestsellers, and a large table of suggested books along with handwritten recommendations.  They don’t rely on outside lists or picks or national bestsellers — an approach that speaks to the store’s confidence in its own selections and in its readership.

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There are extensive shelves of new and used fiction, a section devoted to Maine titles, a cluttered community bulletin board, and a large, airy children’s room with a plush green couch.

Longfellow Books is also home to a foster cat, Prince, who is up for adoption.  When I stopped in, Prince was nestled up on the couch with a young girl, who was completely absorbed in her novel.  A group of fellow children made a point to introduce me to Prince: they knew a lot about him.  He likes the couch in the children’s room, and the children, who sit with him reading.

With equal interest and authority, they told me about what they were reading.  (They didn’t have favorite books, though, they were careful to tell me.  “It’s too hard to choose,” one said.)  One of the children slipped and referred to the bookstore as a library, then caught and corrected herself.  I could see why she made the mistake: the bookstore, and especially its children’s room, had the comfortable, worn-in feel of an excellent library.  It’s a place where children come to discover great books and then lose themselves in them, already three chapters in and completely immersed by the time they leave the store with their purchases.

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Longfellow Books knows its literature, its readers, its community — and the store reflects that easy, comfortable confidence.  They refer to themselves as “a fiercely independent bookstore.”  And in our current bookselling world, thank goodness.  Luckily for those of us who live too far afield to curl up with Prince on a regular basis, Longfellow Books also publishes an excellent newsletter with recommendations.  For the latest, check out their website.

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