Art and artisanal craft of Midcoast Maine

“There's a quality of life in Maine which is singular and unique,” said Jamie Wyeth, a notable third-generation artist from Maine’s most famous artistic family. “It's absolutely a world unto itself.”

Anyone who has delighted in the nature, townships, land- and seascapes, and even light of the US state of Maine knows this to be true. But there is arguably no place where this is more in evidence than its Midcoast region, the beguiling stretch of shoreline from Brunswick up the western edge of Penobscot Bay.

Artists and artisans could hardly ignore this, which was the genesis of what has become a full-fledged focus on arts and crafts in the area. “The cities of Midcoast Maine have a lot of art going on and the art economy is a very important part of who we are and why people are coming here,” notes Steve Ryan, Executive Director of the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce.

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Artisanal craft centers can be found throughout Midcoast Maine, like this one in Lincolnville Beach © Ethan Gelber / Lonely Planet

Great galleries in Midcoast Maine

Given the long-growing attention to artistic and artisanal creation, the proliferation of galleries in Midcoast Maine has been truly remarkable. In many places, and not just the cities known for their art appeal, “I’ve seen growth from one or two galleries, if that, to vibrant art scenes,” remarks Anthony Andersen, publisher of the Maine Gallery + Studio Guide, the self-styled “ultimate guide to Maine art.”

Unfortunately, given the size and shape of Maine, many visitors never get past Portland, already a great center for art. However, those who do venture farther north along the coast are rewarded with very rich pickings. Here are just a few of them.

Rockland

This popular tourist destination is the art hub of Midcoast Maine, due in large part to the Farnsworth Art Museum, an internationally known American contemporary collection of works by artists who have lived or labored in Maine, and the Wyeth Center devoted exclusively to Jamie Wyeth, his father, Andrew, and his grandfather, NC.

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Located in Rockland, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art is devoted to contemporary artists connected to Maine © Ethan Gelber / Lonely Planet

A short walk away are two other Rockland must-sees: the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, a nonprofit with educational programs and a modern display area devoted to contemporary artists connected to Maine; and the Caldbeck Gallery, which for more than 35 years has curated a superb selection of Maine artists, usually from the Midcoast region.

For more about the 25-plus galleries and exhibition spaces in Rockland, visit Arts in Rockland.

Brunswick

Located at the southern edge of the Midcoast region, Brunswick is home to Bowdoin College and its recently renovated and expanded Bowdoin College Museum of Art. The landmark Walker Art Building contains one of America’s earliest collegiate art collections (more than 200 years old), which presently counts more than 20,000 objects. Also in town is ICON Contemporary Art, Maine’s premier gallery for abstract art, hidden in an unassuming clapboard structure attached to a woodworking shop.

Belfast

Belfast's art scene began decades ago as “a grassroots approach of local galleries, but is now orchestrated and supported by the Belfast Creative Coalition, a busy arts chamber of commerce,” notes Ryan. Two particularly noteworthy art hubs – of the dozen or so in town – are Waterfall Arts, a year-round, nonprofit community art venue and “local arts center with a global view”; and the Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, which celebrates agriculture through art.

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The Parent Gallery is located at the busy intersection of Main Street and High Street in Belfast © Ethan Gelber / Lonely Planet

Camden

Commonly called one of the prettiest harbor towns in Maine, Camden hosts a handful of galleries, including Ten High Street Fine Art and Antiques, a carefully curated display space managed by a former executive director of Maine Coast Artists (now Rockland’s Center for Maine Contemporary Art) and past associate director of the Farnsworth Art Museum.

Boothbay Harbor

Since 1965, the Boothbay Harbor Region Art Foundation has grown into a 250-member organization committed to helping people enjoy, learn from and participate in the visual arts. Its downtown storefront gallery hosts member shows. A few doors away, Gleason Fine Art specializes in 19th- and 20th-century Maine paintings and prints, largely by Midcoast artists, some now in the permanent collections of the Portland Museum of Art and Farnsworth Art Museum.

Damariscotta

On Main Street, non-profit River Arts has exhibits of local-area artists and artisans, as well as art classes.

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A view from the harbor toward downtown Damariscotta, an art center on Midcoast Maine © Ethan Gelber / Lonely Planet

Waldoboro

In the center of town, Tidemark Gallery is a exhibit space for locals, both amateur and professional. It also organizes Paint the Town, an annual gathering of artists who auction their works after one day of painting and drawing in town.

Wiscasset

Flanked by art and antique shops, the steep main road through Wiscasset is site of the Wiscasset Bay Gallery, which showcases paintings from the last two centuries with a special place for artists from Maine and Monhegan Island.

Art Walks of Maine

One particularly social and agreeable way of taking in a town’s art is to join Art Walks – self-guided tours of museums, galleries, studios and local art exhibition areas held on special Friday evenings. In the Midcoast region, they roll out in Bath, Belfast, Boothbay Harbor, Brunswick, Damariscotta, Rockland and Wiscasset, often in cooperation with local restaurants and performers. Check specific dates and times at artwalkmaine.org.

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Haystack Mountain School of Crafts provides intensive studio-based workshops © Gregory Rec / Getty Images

Art schools in Midcoast Maine

Both building and benefiting from the art community of Midcoast Maine are three renowned nearby art schools. Arguably the most famous, the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture has nine-week summer residencies on a large farm north of Waterville for emerging visual artists. More urban, the Maine College of Art in Portland is the oldest arts educational institution in the state. Somewhat different, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle focuses on craft media through intensive studio-based workshops.

Apropos of crafts

As important as painting, photography and sculpture are, the Midcoast art scene is complemented by a robust world of crafts. Championed by member-based organizations like the Maine Crafts Guild and the Maine Crafts Association, well-designed “Maine-made” objects are skillfully whittled, welded, woven and wheeled out of local, natural materials (or inspired by them) and found in galleries and markets throughout the region.

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A shipbuilder works on a reconstruction with old-fashioned tools at the Maine Maritime Museum © Melanie Stetson Freeman / Getty Images

Maritime arts

Not strictly focused on fine art or artisanal craft, two additional museums well work exploring for their traditional importance to the region and a fair bit of applied creativity are the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath and Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport.

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