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BCMA unveils long-awaited Maine art exhibition

September 2, 2022

Alex Spear
MAINE MAIDEN Bowdoin Museum of Art’s exhibition “At First Light” chronicles the history of art in the state, displaying over 100 pieces.

On June 25, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) opened its new exhibition “At First Light: Two Centuries of Artists in Maine.” The exhibition, curated by the BCMA Co-Directors Anne and Frank Goodyear, features over 100 pieces by more than 70 different artists.

“The exhibition explores the lands, the peoples, the industries and the crises that Maine has grappled with,” Frank Goodyear said. “I think one of the underlying sorts of tension in the exhibition is between the romance of Maine, its extraordinary natural beauty and the history of resource extraction and the way in which people have used these lands. It gives us moments to pause and reflect about the diverse people who constitute this state.”

The exhibition was originally scheduled to coincide with Maine’s bicentennial in 2020, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was pushed back two years.

“We are thrilled that we were able to open [‘At First Light’] this year,” Anne Goodyear said. “I think, in many ways, the exhibition has been enriched by what it has meant to move through the pandemic, through the heightened attention to a need for social justice…As a result of these recent historical events, the exhibition is able to not only reflect Maine’s past but also I think in many ways springboard into Maine’s future.”

Starting in the 19th century, the gallery moves chronologically through Maine’s history and features objects ranging from the first map of the state of Maine, which was crafted in 1820, to contemporary Wabanaki baskets made by Geo Soctomah Neptune, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe.

“It was really cool to learn about Maine’s history and feel more connected to Bowdoin,” the BCMA curatorial intern Ingrid Astley ’24 said.

In addition to featuring work from artists such as Alex Katz, Ashley Bryan, William Zorach and Andrew Wyeth, “At First Light” also includes art by Bowdoin faculty and staff.

“I think students will be very excited to see [the exhibition], especially the professor [art] room,” Astley said. “You never think about the work that your professors are doing outside of class and their own interests.”

A major theme of the exhibit is  the idea of a “Maine artist.” “At First Light” consists of works by not only native Mainers, but also those who settled in the state later in life. In order to make the distinction clear, the birthplace of artists is displayed.

“As I think we all well know, Maine has been a destination for people from around the world,” Frank Goodyear said. “We wanted to point out where people have come from to find the space [in Maine] to develop their artistic practices. It’s exciting to see that this exhibition [features] people from around the country, indeed around the world, who have come here over the last 200 years.”

Similarly, the exhibition investigates what themes unite Maine artists and how work created in the Pine Tree State separates it from other geographic locations.

“We do pose the question, ‘what does it mean to be a Maine artist?’” Frank Goodyear said. “Is there a particular subject matter, style or attitude that characterizes art making in Maine? We pose it because it’s an interesting way to think about how artists have related to each other over the last 200 years.”

Accompanying the exhibition is a book that features Maine artists and documents their Maine-based homes and studios where they created their work. This book, according to Anne Goodyear, gives visitors a more intimate look at the spaces where artists drew inspiration from.

“The catalog traces 27 Maine artists from the early 19th century, opening with Jonathan Fisher up to the present day with artists like Lois Dodd and Richard Tuttle,” Anne Goodyear said. “Unfortunately, some artists who were living at the time that we undertook the project, including David Driskell, Molly Neptune Parker and Ashley Bryan, are no longer with us, which makes the fact that we were able to document them as part of this project even more precious than the book.”

Since the opening of the exhibition, the BCMA has received positive feedback from the public.

“We’re delighted that we’re getting lots of visitors to this show, and we’re thrilled that the press has also been very responsive to the exhibition,” Anne Goodyear said. “I feel like this show is really introducing people to aspects of visual culture that had not been familiar to them here in Maine.”

For the Goodyears, there is still one question remaining as to why artists become captivated by Maine.

“One of the things that has really stood out to Frank and me is the degree to which so many artists who have come to Maine for a short time have ended up staying here,” Anne Goodyear said. “People just seem to want to drink up Maine.”


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