Richard Brown Lethem painting a portrait of Roberta Cantlon during Lubec Arts Alive, 2009
weekend seminar at Heartwood College of Art
Hmmmm...It looked so easy when he did it!
never thought I would have such a difficult time trying to paint a circle!!!!
Megan, Shanna, Stephanie, Carol, Sherry, and Bonnie
Photo by Stephanie Lind
I just returned from a few days out of town that were filled with amazing people and art. I am now into my fourth semester of the part-time, low rez MFA program at Heartwood College of Art and this past weekend was our seminar. We only get on campus as a whole "pod" once a semester. That time, though short, is brimming with philosophical conversation, constructive critiques, book discussions, and concentrated immersion in an art form. The days are long but always meaningful.
The drive to Kennebunk is a good six hours from Lubec. I try to make the most of my time by squeezing in quick visits with family and there is usually a long list of errands to run as well for items that are not normally attainable in our neck of the woods. With my new teaching schedule this year, I was able to take a more leisurely pace, which meant that I could to slip-in a one hour (not long enough!) visit to Richard Brown Lethem's studio before the commencement of residency on Friday.
Brown lives less than a half hour from campus, so the logistics were perfect. I had never been to his studio before but had been wanting to for the past three years. I first Met him when he came to Lubec in 2009 as a representative UMVA artist who took residence here for our first ever Lubec Arts Alive event. I had seen what Brown could do in the way of portraiture and had peered at his work online, but I had no idea how prolific an artist he is until I saw his studio firsthand. He toured me through a large barn with rooms divided throughout. Each room was stacked with more than fifty years of paintings catalogued by date. The size of each canvas was not diminished by the vast space of the two-floor building. Instead, they fit just perfectly on the large open walls in the main bay. The side areas, perhaps once stalls, were walled-off for stacked painting storage and a smaller gallery-type room. A second, smaller barn houses Lethem's carpentry workshop where he makes his own frames and an upstairs large and brightly colored painting studio. It was an honor to see his recent work in progress, and to hear first-hand telling that he is focused primarily on beginning with a color field then superimposing the images that reveal the stories. Lethem's hues are bold and the strokes highly expressionistic. Faces are distorted and animals show up in dream-like scenes. It's sort of like Chagall meets Dali meets De Kooning, but with lots of layers and texture.
I hope that over the course of my life as an artist that I will be so blessed to be at least half as productive and passionate as Lethem. It was a real privilege for me to be able to view his work in his personal studio with him as the tour guide. Thanks, Brown!
Arrival at Heartwood began with laughter and potluck as our pod reunited for the first time since last March. We have a new pod-mate who is just starting her first semester and happily she is a perfect fit. Friday night is when we begin the critiques of current projects. Our pod is diverse in a few ways but that diversity brings richness to our experiences. Our ages span many years and we travel from Maine, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Our specialty areas vary from graphic arts/printmaking, to glasswork, ceramics, metals, and fiber arts. We are teachers, travelers, gallery owners, and museum workers. We have lived interesting lives with interesting stories and each individual person in our group brings something unique to the whole.
Saturday was an intense, full day of immersion in Chinese calligraphy and sumi brush painting. our instructor made it look so simple, but as soon as I made my first mark I realized the high degree of technical ability and centering required to make something appear so simple and elegant when in truth it is very difficult to achieve that appearance. In Chinese calligraphy and sumi brush painting, there are many "rules" such as the direction a line takes, the amount of pressure the brush meets the paper with, and even the way a brush is to be held in the hand. I think the awkward positioning of the brush really threw me off. After eight hours of making symbols, circles (enso) and bamboo, I was fairly certain that I would not be adding "sumi" to my list of artistic conquerings. I will leave that to the masters. However, I will admit, that the next day the paintings started to look better to me. But any sumi expert would clearly notice that my "deer horns" need much work, and the bamboo stalks and leaves for that matter, too. Bruce was a wonderful teacher and exuded much patience. Our group can be a wee bit feisty at times, but he managed us just fine.
Sunday is the last day of residency and is notorious for the super-duper thinking round table: hours of mind-expanding criticism and discussion. It's the "heaviest" part of the weekend and often stirs emotions as we discuss topics relevant to the art world and make the connections that we as artists have. I always leave those discussion with a full mind and the drive back to Lubec gives me time to filter through it all.
I am so glad that I chose the Heartwood program for my MFA. It is a great fit for my personality and work ethic and because it is part-time I am able to continue my work as a teacher. Because the program is low-residency, I am able to do my studies while living six hours from campus. I may only be in my fourth semester, but have already felt how I have grown as an artist and human being. I have been blessed with excellent mentors in the program and the teaching style is very much in line with my own teaching philosophy and personal ethics. Thanks, Berri and Susan, for creating such an amazing program! I know that the new "Surface Design" program beginning next fall will be amazing too - wish that I could go back and do undergrad studies again just to experience that!
Sunday night I was able to stay in central Maine with my parents and spent some time catching-up. It had been almost two months since I saw my family, far too long, and we were able to spend an evening talking over dinner. Next morning I was up at 4:15 a.m. with my mind already in full tilt about what projects I would like to do when returning back to the studio. I hit the road early and made it home to Lubec before dark, where I found two very bent-out-of-shape cats because I had been away so long. Chris seemed chipper and fine, but Bouli and Bello sure let me know about their disgruntlement.