Creative enlightenment: Two new books celebrate Maine’s place in art world

Mar 10, 2020

If you’re looking for a book to pretty up your coffee table, or are simply an art lover, there are two new art-themed hardcovers being released this week on the occasion of Maine’s bicentennial.

“Maine and American Art: The Farnsworth Art Museum” is an expansive 384-page volume devoted to the Farnsworth collection, written by Farnsworth Chief Curator Michael K. Komanecky, Farnsworth Curator Jane Bianco, and Farnsworth Registrar Angela Waldron. In it, the rich and full picture of Maine’s central role in American art from the early 19th century to the present is chronicled.

Komanecky said that several years ago the Farnsworth recognized a need for a new book about the museum and its collection to replace the long out of print one from 2000. “The bicentennial supplied an added incentive for it to be released in 2020,” he said. “It was [a huge undertaking], probably three years from its inception.” And he is happy to report no disasters during such a long and involved process.

Published by Rizzoli Electa, the book features a diverse range of American artists from Marsden Hartley, Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keeffe to Francesco Clemente, Robert Rauschenberg and Alex Katz. “There are chapters on individual artists whose work we have in depth, or who have a special connection to Maine,” Komanecky said.

Through more than 200 images, the story of the Farnsworth Art Museum is told variously through monographic chapters devoted to Jonathan Fisher, the Wyeth family, Louise Nevelson and Robert Indiana, among others.

Komanecky said they identified a new structure for the book, one that provided a history of the museum and its founder, followed by chapters that corresponded to the nature of the museum’s collection. Besides particular artists, it has thematic chapters, including Maine’s landscape, its many industries, and important inhabitants; and includes important areas of concentration in the Farnsworth collection, such as watercolors and photography.

The volume features additional historic sites, including the Farnsworth Homestead (the National Register of Historic Places home of museum founder Lucy Copeland Farnsworth), the National Historic Landmark Olson House (inspiration for some 300 works by Andrew Wyeth, including Christina’s World), and the library (the only public library in Maine devoted solely to art).

Komanecky said one of the most important and rewarding features of the book is the chapter on founder Lucy Farnsworth. “We were not aware of any surviving correspondence to or from her, a striking anomaly for an educated 19th-century person like her,” he said.

A few years ago, Komanecky said, the Farnsworth was contacted by a lawyer retiring from the Portland law firm that prepared Lucy’s will. He had found a file with letters between her and her lawyer, the contents of which revealed how carefully and thoughtfully she planned to create an art museum and library in her father’s memory, and to have her nearly lifelong home opened to the public.

“These letters helped us understand much more fully than ever before the intelligence and spirit that informed her creation,” Komanecky said. A much richer portrait of Lucy’s vision and steadfast determination was revealed.

Named by the Boston Globe as one of the finest small museums in the country, the Farnsworth Art Museum offers a nationally recognized collection of works from many of America’s greatest artists.

“What is most significant about the Farnsworth is the totality of being an art museum, art library, and steward of nationally significant historic sites, which together celebrate Maine’s role in American art,” Komanecky said.

The book is now available at the Farnsworth Museum Store as well as online at farnsworthmuseum.org.

If you’re really looking for a drive or happen to be in the area, head to New York City’s Rizzoli Bookstore, 1133 Broadway, for a book signing and release party Tuesday, March 31. This event is free to the public. The book signing will take place from 6 to 8 p.m., and will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

“At First Light: Two Centuries of Maine Artists, Their Homes and Studios” by Anne Collins Goodyear is a 240-page hardcover from Rizzoli Electa that is also now available.

“At First Light” chronicles 26 extraordinary artists of the last 200 years who have lived and worked in Maine. Also published to coincide with the state's bicentennial this year, the volume considers the significant contributions artists have made to a deeper and more profound understanding of Maine's history, its land and its peoples. Maine's unique and breathtaking landscape — from its rugged coastline, quaint harbors, majestic mountains and verdant forests — continues to have a powerful effect on the artists who are drawn to its shores.

Written and researched by some of the foremost scholars and curators in the field, each chapter focuses on a different artist, featuring the artists' artworks and anchored by contemporary photography of their homes, studios and surroundings. From picturesque bungalows to grander structures with beautiful vistas, the houses and studios featured are as diverse as the artists who have inhabited them.

The artists featured include fan favorites to lesser known yet important figures from the 18th century to the present day, working in a range of media from painting to photography to sculpture, including: Jonathan Fisher, Winslow Homer, Frank Weston Benson, Charles Herbert Woodbury, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent, N. C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth, Marguerite and William Zorach, Eliot Porter, Fairfield Porter, Rudy Burckhardt, Yvonne Jacquette, Ashley Bryan, Lois Dodd, Alex Katz, Bernard Langlais, Robert Indiana, David C. Driskell, Molly Neptune Parker, Richard Tuttle and William Wegman.

Both books can be ordered through rizzolibookstore.com and other online retailers.

— Compiled by Christine Dunkle

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