As an artist and an arts educator, Donna enjoys writing arts-inspired articles about places she's lived and worked.
Coastal Maine is one of my favorite vacation destinations, and I've been lucky to visit there many times. Nicknamed "Vacationland," the state hosts over 5 million visitors each year and offers a variety of tourist sights and activities to satisfy many interests. Artists and art lovers, in particular, will find some very interesting and impressive art galleries, museums, and organizations to visit.
Maine has around 5,000 miles of coastline, but I will only highlight some must-see visual arts locations from the Maine/New Hampshire border to Bar Harbor. This is not meant to be a complete list of all the art activities in this area. Instead, I hope to share some of the places you shouldn't miss, some you might not know, and a little bit about the other activities around these sites.
For more information about any of these arts destinations, please visit their websites. Their websites will have details about their hours of operation, admission prices, maps and directions, and current exhibitions and events.
George Marshall Store Gallery in York
The George Marshall Store Gallery is a somewhat hidden gem right over the Maine/New Hampshire border. The gallery hosts a changing schedule of exhibitions, focused primarily on current artists from the New England region. These artists work in a variety of mediums including painting, photography, ceramics, sculpture, fiber arts, and more. The gallery does a wonderful job of picking exciting artists to exhibit. In particular, their group exhibitions always have an interesting mix of artists, styles, and materials. I always enjoy stopping by the gallery and seeing what is currently on display.
The George Marshall Store Gallery resides in an 1867 building that was once a general store. The building is part of the Museums of Old York, which consists of a collection of historic buildings closer to the center of York. Further down the road, you will find York Beach. The beach is a busy area and home to the Goldenrod, a candy shop know for its salt water taffy and front windows that show the taffy being made and pulled.
Ogunquit Museum of American Art
The Ogunquit Museum of American Art is the only museum in Maine exclusively devoted to collecting and exhibiting American art. The Museum features both a permanent art collection and changing exhibitions. Their permanent collection includes a number of well-known artists, such as Edward Hopper, Louise Nevelson, and Rockwell Kent, who have ties to the state of Maine. Their changing exhibitions show both new and established artists in a beautiful gallery setting.
Not to take away from the art, but the museum also features a breathtaking ocean view. Across the water, you can see Perkins Cove. Once an artists colony, Perkins Cove is now known as a bustling tourist area featuring shops, galleries, and restaurants. It is also one of the entry points for the Marginal Way, a mile-long paved walking trail that connects Perkins Cove to the shopping center of Ogunquit. The Marginal Way offers a curving walk at the land's edge and beautiful ocean views. Choose a sunny day to visit, wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen, and enjoy a gorgeous walk!
For craft collectors, a visit to the Abacus Gallery in Kennebunkport is must (Abacus also has galleries in Ogunquit, Portland, Freeport and Boothbay Harbor). This gallery and shop offer a wide array of gift items, jewelry, prints, ceramics, sculptures and more. Be sure to check out the handmade kaleidoscopes with tumbled sea glass inside!
Portland Museum of Art
The Portland Museum of Art is Maine's oldest and largest museum, founded in 1882. Today, the museum features over 18,000 art objects that are housed in three different buildings. The museum's permanent collection surveys over 300 years of European and American art. The collection includes significant works by N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Winslow Homer. Their changing exhibitions include artists working in a range of traditional and new materials, including light, sound, and multi-media installations. The museum also has a film theater and is attached to a historical home, the McLellan House, both run by the museum.
Portland itself is a fun cultural center. The city boasts not only great restaurants, nightclubs, and shops, but also the picturesque Portland Head Lighthouse. Construction began on the lighthouse in 1887 to warn ships that they were approaching the rocky coast, and the lighthouse's lantern was first lit in 1791 with the use of 16 whale oil lamps. Now a popular photographic site, the lighthouse is surrounded by 90 acres of park land.
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Winslow Homer Artist Studio in Prouts Neck
In 2006, the Portland Museum of Art purchased Winslow Homer's artist studio in Prouts Neck. After extensive renovations, the museum has opened the studio to public tours. Winslow Homer is considered one of the leading American artists of the 19th century. He is primarily known for his landscapes and watercolors, but he worked in a variety of mediums and depicted many subjects.
The Prouts Neck studio is where the artist lived and worked from 1883 until his death in 1910 at the age of 74. There, he created some of his most important works, including many marine subjects and seascapes.
I have yet to visit the Homer studio, but it's on my list of things to see. Tours of the studio are only offered at certain times of the year. Please be sure to visit the website for tour information and policies.
Edgecomb Potters is another great craft gallery in Maine. Richard and Chris Hilton started the gallery in 1976 to sell their own beautiful handmade pottery. Now, Edgecomb Potters features many artists who make a variety of crafts, including ceramics, glass, jewelry, lighting, and other items. The gallery has also expanded to three locations: in Portland, in Edgecomb (close to Boothbay Harbor) and in Freeport.
The Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath
The city of Bath has been experiencing an urban revitalization. More and more tourists are coming to visit the city, and enjoy the restaurants and shops. Part of that revitalization is due to their arts community and the Chocolate Church Arts Center is a perfect example of the thriving arts scene. Located in a renovated church, the Arts Center includes a gallery, performing arts center, children's theater, and educational programs. The visual arts gallery focuses on exhibiting Maine artists and displays a variety of art forms. Their performing arts venue has played host to nationally known folk and jazz artists such as James McMurtry, Shemekia Copeland, and J. Geils. It's always interesting to stop by the Chocolate Church and see what's going on.
Bath is also known for its shipbuilding history. It is the home of the Maine Maritime Museum, a large campus of museum and historic buildings which illustrate the long legacy of shipbuilding in the area. The Maine Maritime Museum also runs trolley tours of the Bath Iron Works, which currently builds two classes of destroyers for the U.S. Navy. Both sites are interesting, but reservations are required for the Bath Iron Works tour. Please check the website for details.
The Olsen House in Thomaston
In 1948, artist Andrew Wyeth painted one of his best-known paintings, Christina's World. The figure in the foreground of the painting was Christina Olsen, a friend of Andrew Wyeth's. In the background of the painting was Christina's family farmhouse in Thomaston, Maine. Christina suffered from an undiagnosed degenerative disease and lived her entire life with her family in the house. She was cheered by regular visits from Andrew Wyeth, who enjoyed spending time with the Olsens and painting around their 1700's wooden framed house. For years, he often used one of the upstairs rooms as his studio.
The Olsen Home is now owned by the Farnsworth Art Museum and open to the public. The home exists as it did when Christina and her brother lived there and does not have any of Wyeth's artwork. However, walking through the rooms you get a sense of the quiet and simplicity Wyeth was able to capture in his paintings. When you see the pastoral setting and the ocean views from the house, you'll understand why Wyeth loved painting there.
The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland
The Farnsworth Art Museum is a fun, welcoming museum that features an interesting mix of exhibitions in their galleries. Most of the artists on display, both emerging and established, have some connection to the state of Maine. In addition to their changing exhibitions, the museum has a special focus of the Wyeth family of painters; N.C., Andrew, and Jamie. The museum owns a large collection of Andrew's work, which is often on display in the main building. In addition, the museum campus includes the Wyeth Center (open seasonally), which always features an exhibition related to Jamie or N.C. Wyeth.
While at the art museum, be sure to spend some time walking around Rockland. It is a charming city with an artistic atmosphere. Rockland has some wonderful shops and galleries and is home to the Strand Theatre, a performing arts venue. Past performers at the theater include many well known musical acts, such as Ani DiFranco and Martin Sexton.
The City of Bar Harbor
Sitting by the water, at the base of Acadia National Park is Bar Harbor. During the summer season, the city can be quite busy with tourists. But it is beautiful and picturesque, and still a great place to visit. For art lovers, there are a quite a number of galleries to enjoy. Some of the many art galleries and shops include the Argosy Gallery, Artemis Gallery, Evergreen Pottery, and Island Artisans.
Maine is a wonderful place to visit, and these are just a few of the arts-related activities that the state has to offer.
© 2013 Donna Herron