Maine is the origin of all things digital. This is what Whitney Vosburgh of MOTHERS Art Gallery said to me on the phone. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what he meant—was there significant technological advancement in Maine? No. He was referring to Maine’s lore of craftspeople and rusticators coming to the state and working with their hands, or “digits.” Hence, the original digitals. So far, this has been proven true by the sheer number of artists who have been attracted to all parts of the state. Read on for my guide to the best galleries where you can experience the ever-growing Maine art scene.
Starting in Southern Maine, KW Contemporary Art in Kennebunk is a hidden treasure to be found near bountiful stops for shopping and drinks. Owner Kiersten Wilcox represents the work of 28 well-known artists, such as Hunt Slonem. She is always scouting for pieces that will push the envelope of her clients’ collections while remaining true to their overall taste. Also in Kennebunk, Maine Art Hill is celebrating their 30th year with more shows than ever at both their Grand Hotel location and Shows, their gallery in a historic home on Chase Hill, with openings accompanied by a jazz trio and a sampling of light bites and wine.
On one side of the bridge in South Portland’s Willard Square, The Willard Gallery is an appointment-only gallery whose colorful art reflects its beachy neighborhood. A visit to owner Meredith Perdue’s small garden cottage gallery is a highly customizable experience–she will hang her gallery according to your preferences. After you cross the bridge into Portland, you’ll find Greenhut Galleries and Cove Street Arts, sister galleries that have been integral to Portland’s contemporary art scene. Centrally located in the Old Port, Greenhut Galleries is the most established gallery in the area, with an impressive roster of artists including Thomas Connolly, whose architectural paintings of Portland and New York will be exhibited in July. Heading over to East Bayside, amid all the breweries you will find Cove Street Art’s 8,000 square feet of exhibition space. This large, revamped warehouse has four to five galleries set up at any given time, with opportunities for giant installations, sculptures, movie screenings, poetry readings, and dance performances. Your last stop in Portland is a hot new addition to Fore Street: Moss Galleries. Also noteworthy in this historic waterfront area is the amazing 58 Fore, a market where you’ll be immersed in Maine’s culinary innovation, and Twelve, a new modern American restaurant opening this summer.
Up the coast in Freeport, Thos. Moser pairs furniture with art, living up to the saying “Good design goes with good design.” They resuscitate a lost art of craft furniture-making that, paired with classic New England art in their flagship store, is not to be missed. A 20-minute jaunt up Interstate 295 puts you in Brunswick, an art town and home of Bowdoin College. On Maine Street, Bayview Gallery’s two floors of art feature work by accomplished artists, such as Tom Hughes. A short walk will take you to La Marée Gallery, where Meghan Miller produces ocean-themed resin art, including epoxy and wood cribbage boards with hand-drilled holes.
A bit farther north is Boothbay Harbor, where Gleason Fine Art has a big show coming up of Henry Isaacs, whose vibrant city and landscape oil paintings are solely represented here. In total, Gleason represents over two dozen of Maine’s most recognized and respected contemporary artists, as well as the estates of nine artists such as Dorothy Eisner and Lonnie Sisson. A couple minutes’ walk up McKown Street, Black River Gallery has fine art and distinctive gifts at all price points.
Take a quick pause from the coastal galleries and head to the Lakes Region and Gallery 302 in charming Bridgton. Integral to the expansion of Bridgton’s art scene are events such as Art in the Park, happening on July 16 at Historic Shorey Park. Proceeds benefits scholarships supporting local high school students interested in pursuing a career in art.
One hundred miles due east, any art lover would appreciate a long weekend in Rockland with time to dedicate to the art capital of Maine’s 22 galleries. Archipelago is the Island Institute’s retail space, spreading awareness about the coast we love. They have a gallery side where you can browse their ever-rotating art depicting scenes of coastal Maine, as well as a store side with locally made goods like candles, fine art, jewelry, and pottery. Nearby, the Landing Gallery shows work that is both accessible in content and cutting edge in its technology. Coming July 1 is their Point of View exhibition, featuring work by Melissa Post van der Burg. Drive twenty minutes up the coast to Camden Harbor’s Public Landing, home of Small Wonder Gallery. It offers original artwork, prints, and sculptures, as well as custom framing all year round. On their idyllic waterfront location, gallerist Heidi Newman says, “I’m in awe, and I’m here every day!”
Move up the coast and hook down east to Blue Hill to find Cynthia Winings Gallery, a wonderful, tucked-away spot. On a warm summer day, you can head outdoors to peruse the sculpture garden. Cynthia is delighted to include the work of Nina Jerome, Ingrid Ellison, David Hornung, Robin Reynolds, and Heather Lyon this season.
In the picturesque seaside village of Castine, Adam Gallery is a sparse, upscale gallery that combines luxury with approachable and friendly service. Run by a husband-and-wife duo who have been painting together for 33 years, their gallery, along with new restaurants and interior designers coming to the area, is putting Castine on the map as an increasingly upmarket destination.
Nearby in Stonington, John McVeigh won’t let you leave his store, J. McVeigh Jewelry, with the wrong piece. His customers value his honesty and are known to warn newcomers: “Don’t bother with that bracelet, John will find something better.” And he does. In his beautiful 1900s building on West Main, the rough-sawn wood juxtaposed with high-karat gold and steel is a delight to behold. Don’t leave the peninsula without also visiting Jill Hoy Gallery. Her plein air oil paintings imbued with the rhythm, movement, and light of the Maine land and seascapes have been shown nationally and internationally.
Continuing up 14 miles to Ellsworth, find Courthouse Gallery Fine Art, which is located in the City’s historic courthouse and registry of deeds. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, these spacious Greek revival buildings—with their renovated birch floors, 14-foot ceilings, and horsehair plaster—offer a special place to view fine art. The Gallery promotes their artists by producing full-color printed catalogs for solo shows and high-end monographs for artists such as William Irvine, Jeffery C. Becton, Philip Barter, and Philip Frey.
Nearing the end of your journey on Mount Desert Island, it shouldn’t be a shock that many artists find inspiration in Acadia’s dramatic mountains and coast. In Bar Harbor, Argosy is so nice, you’ll have to see it twice. And with two locations mere minutes away from each other, you can enjoy their art hung from floor to ceiling. The Gallery at Somes Sound in Somesville has two stories of fine art, furniture, and sculpture. Near Acadia National Park in Northeast Harbor, Artemis Gallery displays art from over 50 Maine artists in a beautiful old house that makes for a can’t-miss warm and inviting experience. One of the artists whose works you can find there is David Graeme Baker who incorporates whimsical and unusual figures into his realist landscapes.
A boat ride from Northeast Harbor brings you to Islesford Dock Restaurant & Gallery, which combines vibrant and distinctively Maine fresh food and art for a singular experience at sea. The island is teeming with artists, and it’s easy to link up with the pottery and crafts shops to complete your art destination.
Your final stop takes you all the way up the coast to historic Columbia Falls, where MOTHERS Art Gallery is the only gallery from Milbridge to Eastport. Owner Whitney Vosburgh did not buy the 1841 home and barn with the intention of opening a gallery, but when he realized the lack of significant galleries in the area, the fourth-generation artist and gallerist decided that fine art and antiques were meant to be shown in the space. Columbia Falls is a bucolic and quiet town, as if it belonged to a past era, and it is the perfect place to peacefully observe art and natural beauty, and to reflect on all you have seen on your journey up the coast.