Midcoast Weekender

Art Walk: Scene and seen

By Louis Bettcher | Jun 17, 2017
Photo by: Louis Bettcher Inside the Harbor Square Gallery in Rockland on June 2.

Rockland — For the past several years Rockland's First Friday Art Walks have become an event frequented by patrons of the arts, tourists and people looking for free wine and a snack.

Anchored between the Center for Maine Contemporary Art and the Farnsworth Art Museum's collection of Maine and New England fine art, the monthly event includes a plethora of art galleries on Main Street, which open their doors to the evening's foot traffic.

Despite passing rain showers, art enthusiasts, clad in rain gear and carrying umbrellas, descended on Main Street in droves on June 2. A popular landmark on their pilgrimage is Harbor Square Gallery, owned by jeweler Thomas O'Donovan. O'Donovan opened the gallery in 1995, refurbishing an old bank building to display his collection of highly imaginative fine jewelry and a selection of paintings and sculpture.

The gallery is arranged over several floors and viewing spaces, and baubles glimmer under glass in the building's original bank vault. The highlight for many visitors is the roof deck, which offers an assortment of sculptures, a fountain and sweeping vistas up and down Main Street.

"It's wonderful the way the community has responded to these art walks. When I opened the gallery 22 years ago, this was the first gallery on Main Street to stay open year round," said O'Donovan.

Across the street is Dowling Walsh, the largest gallery space on Main Street. A crowd of people had assembled near the doorway, waiting to enter the venue, where the night's featured artists, Sarah McRae Morton and Alexandra Tyng, were on hand to describe their work. Morton's oil works depicted evocative elements of storybook fantasy and surrealism, capturing movement and the impression of melting on the canvas.

The scene inside the gallery was rather chaotic. Hipsters mingled with well-heeled collectors, and a large middle-aged contingent filled the space to capacity holding their prized glasses of wine, eating cheese and discussing local politics and gossip, seemingly oblivious to the work on the walls.

"[The art walks] are necessary because they provide a comfortable opportunity for the public to have a social engagement that is directed towards the art. I don't mind if people that come are more interested in the cheese and wine, because it is inevitable that there will be a fringe influence by the art," said gallery owner Jake Dowling.

Outside the gallery, taking shelter from the rain in the alcove of a closed shop, a bearded man sits behind a can labeled "Tips" and sings "this is the hobo song" to passersby.

Up the street at Jonathan Frost Gallery, the space feels intimate as the owner speaks with visitors and a man plays songs on a grand piano. Frost's gallery features work by a number of emerging artists, and his custom framing business also operates out of the location. A collection of frame options are displayed along one of the walls inside. Frost had worked previously as a professional framer at the art supply shop Huston-Tuttle.

"Having a gallery is much more interesting than just a frame shop. I get to help artists, give them an outlet, and I have my own taste -- which may not be shared by other galleries in town," says Frost.

Frost echos Dowling's perspective that although people on the art walk may not be making many purchases that evening, the events give them a chance to feel comfortable perusing a gallery space, and give them a sense of the kind of work available at each venue.

"Just one more for me, I promise," grins a man as he picks up a glass of red wine.

Other Midcoast towns, including Belfast, Damariscotta and Newcastle, have recently joined Rockland in hosting monthly art walks. Belfast's Fourth Friday Art Walks run from 5:30 to 8 p.m., and promise performances from street musicians and "farm to gallery" food tastings. The Damariscotta-Newcastle Art Walk will take place Friday, June 16 from 4 to 7 p.m.

Wooden sculptures and a motor boat appear on Rockland's Main Street on June 3. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
"The Edge of the World," by Sarah McRae Morton hangs in the Dowling Walsh Gallery on June 2. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
Inside Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland on June 2. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
Art enthusiasts take shelter from the rain outside the Farnsworth Museum store in Rockland on June 2. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
Inside the Jonathan Frost Gallery in Rockland on June 2. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
A view of Rockland's Main Street on June 2. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
The rooftop at Harbor Square Gallery in Rockland on June 2. (Photo by: Louis Bettcher)
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