Hometown talent in Holiday Art Show

Weaving a creative web

By Dagney C. Ernest | Dec 12, 2012
Photo by: Dagney C. Ernest Simon van der Ven, left, and his former student Austin Smith, pictured in van der Ven's Lincolnville studio, are both part of this year’s Holiday Art Show at High Mountain Hall in Camden.

Camden — Thomas Wolfe was wrong — you can go home again … and you can make it there, even as an artist. The Midcoast creative community boasts a good number of locally raised 20- and 30-somethings who are pursuing art in their hometowns, not as a fallback but as a deliberate choice.

The fifth annual Holiday Art Show at High Mountain Hall includes several examples, as well as older artists who are well-established in their careers here. The show opens with a gala reception Friday, Dec. 14 from 5 to 9 p.m. and continues Saturday, Dec. 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at High Mountain Hall, the once-was-a-farmers-union space at 5 Mountain St./Route 52.

High Mountain Hall founder Meg Sideris initiated the show when the building, which houses the upstairs studio space used by the Holiday Art Show and dance events as well as downstairs studios and a day spa, opened.

“She had been hosting a home show with Patty Bolz and Lisa Svedberg. She asked Patty and Patty asked me,” said ceramics artist Simon van der Ven of Lincolnville, who has been with the annual show from the start.

Last year, van der Ven, who taught pottery for 17 years at the local high school (Camden-Rockport and then Camden Hills Regional), was recovering from hip surgery and had to take a pass on the annual event. He asked a former student, Austin P. Smith, to take his spot; both are in this year’s show.

“I’ve known him since he was a baby, I guess,” said van der Ven, who lived for a time with the Smith clan. “And he was with me at the high school and then for college.”

As a student at Vermont’s Bennington College, Smith did a six-week Field Work Term at Camden Hills, working as a teaching assistant in van der Ven’s pottery program. It was familiar environment; Smith credits his studies with van der Ven for paving his way.

“It definitely set me on a course to take ceramics at Bennington and get right into it,” he said, stopping by van der Ven’s studio to borrow pedestals for the Dec.  8 Indie Craft Show at Rockland’s Fog Cafe.

“There’s something about this area; It’s a place you can come back to and find a lot of support from parents, teachers and the community in general,” said van der Ven.

Smith, a resident artist at the now closed Lincoln Street Center for Arts and Education for several years, agrees.

“It’s one of the things that drew me here for sure; it’s been huge,” said Smith, who had been planning to make a move to Camden when the Rockland arts center folded.

“I was lucky to have a space in Camden, my dad’s old shop; we finished the renovations this summer,” he said.

Smith is working towards being a full-time artist, but has been doing masonry work as well. One reason artists can succeed here, van der Ven theorized, is that having more than one job is a local value.

“There’s no stigma here having multiple jobs. That’s not the norm in most of the country but it is here,” he said.

Another Holiday Art Show participant who came home is Jessica Stammen who, after studying at the Cooper Union and New York University, returned home to Camden to paint and more. She writes for and edits The Maine online publication, does design work for her mother’s Jo Ellen Designs and teaches color theory at Camden-Rockport Middle School.

“Jess is really connected to this place and her parents, and I see that a lot with former students,” he said, citing Ashley Seelig, managing the new Fog Cafe in the storefront of her parents’ building in downtown Rockland, as another example.

Like Smith, Julie Richard Crane is set up in her father’s old shop in Camden, in this case a framing business she has taken up after spending a decade in Santa Fe, N.M., doing ceramics, printmaking and painting. Holder of a bachelors degree in fine arts in ceramics and sculpture from Maine College of Art, she is currently is working on a large-scale sculpture project.

Offering sculpture on the small and soft side will be mixed media artist Annie Bailey of Tenants Harbor, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design who has continued her studies at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va. Her film “The American Dream” was featured in this year’s Rockland Shorts Film Festival.

Another multimedia textile artist, Cynthia McGuirl of Thomaston, has exhibited her handwoven garments and accessories locally and nationally over the past 25 years as Dancing Blanket Handwovens. Working on a 16-harness dobby loom, McGuirl uses fine wool, Tencel, rayon chenille, paper ribbon, alpaca, wool and boucle.

The show is rounded out by founding artists Bolz and van der Ven. Goldsmith Bolz, a longtime Camden resident, creates jewelry in 18K and 22K gold that reflects her fascination with the structure, strength and boldness of inorganic natural formations. Her handcrafted jewelry, designed to be both dynamic and wearable, has won numerous awards and been exhibited throughout the country. It also has been featured in books and publications on contemporary jewelry design.

And van der Ven creates distinctive cups, dinnerware, vases and bottles in porcelain and stoneware, award-winning work shown throughout the country and in both private and public collections including the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts and the Canton Museum of Art. His work is created in the context the Holiday Art Show’s increasingly popular opening night gala reflects, what he calls the local web of the creative economy.

“It’s always a huge social success and really has become an annual community event. But Saturday is growing too, especially with the one-day raffle,” he said.

The raffle, which benefits a Midcoast nonprofit — this year is Bay Chamber Concerts — features a select item from each artist. Showgoers can put their raffle tickets towards any or all, as they choose.

“There are some pretty nice pieces, and the odds are good,” said van der Ven.

Odds are good that the Midcoast will continue to see young artists returning home to roost, which van der Ven sees as a relatively new but growing trend. He grew up in upstate New York, where things were different.

“There, it’s the kids who were ‘stuck’ that stayed. But I hear from students who say they wish they could come back, it’s their dream,” said van der Ven.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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