Living in New England, one gets used to a certain scenes, depicted again and again in watercolor and pastel. Children play on beaches, ships bob in a serene harbor—these images are everywhere. Done wrong, they are exhausting exercises in cliche, worthy of some sort of Kincaid award for mediocrity. But when done well, these scenes can impart either a sweet, nostalgic familiarity, or sometimes a dark, ominous edge, depending on the will (and skill) of the artist.
At the Sylvan Gallery in Wiscasset, quintessential Maine scenes dominate the walls, from lighthouses to colorful buoys. But while the pieces are linked by subject matter, they vary greatly in style and emotional tone. Some felt cheerful and sun-drenched, but my favorite images had a certain dream-like quality to them, an abstraction that turns a seascape into an otherworldly vista.
“All our work here is representational,” explained the incredibly helpful gallery co-owner Rick Scanlan. With his wife Ann, Rick serves as the director for the small gallery, which houses work by artists from New Haven to Bath. “It has been important to us that all the artists we represent have a good grounding in realism,” Ann added over email. “We think every artist we represent has developed a distinctive style.” This might be more important to the couple than it is to most collectors, since the Scanlans are artists themselves. Rick works as a photographer and Ann as a painter, making them even more qualified to select and judge pieces. After living for years in Philadelphia, they decided to move up to Maine and start selling their art in the Pine Tree State. I, for one, am glad they did.
If they had stayed down in Pennsylvania, I never would have discovered Robert Noreika, whose abstract landscapes burst with vivid color and emotion, or Neal Hughes, who perfectly captures the hazy quality of late summer days on the ocean. “Artists have an intense passion for the Maine landscape,” says Ann Scanlon, when asked about their gorgeous collection. “It’s been the stimulus for generations of artists who have strived to capture the drama of the land and sea.” I was also particularly taken with the pieces by Stan Moeller, an artist who lives in York and identifies as a “modern impressionist.” It’s a fitting label. Every one of his paintings at the Sylvan Gallery played with light and color in a way that reminded me of Mary Cassatt and her contemporaries. And while I’ll never own one of Childe Hassan’s colorful wildflower seascapes, Moeller’s pieces are much more within reach (though I admit it’s going to be a few years before I can start amassing art in my tiny apartment).
While Wiscasset in the early spring is a rather sleepy place, I recommend stopping by to see Rick Scanlan and his wife. And come this summer, Rick will be walking the pier, making crepes for hungry tourists. Stop by if you want to talk art with the sometimes chef, sometimes curator.
Sylvan Gallery, 60 Main St, Wiscasset, ME
Image: “July Air, Monhegan
Island” by Neal Hughes, 22″ x 28. Courtesy of the Sylvan Gallery.