It’s June time, by that I mean the month, as well as the woman: private art dealer June LaCombe.
Twice a year, in June and October, LaCombe brings together the work of artists from across New England – including many from Maine – and exhibits their sculptural work around his Pownal home, Hawk Ridge Farm. This year, the “Awakening” exhibition (until June 30) stretches along woodland paths, a meadow adjacent to a pasture, a detached garage, a barn, the courtyard. and around his swimming pool.
With nearly 160 works by 40 artists, LaCombe’s sculpture exhibitions are unquestionably successful events. But crowds won’t spoil the experience as it requires reservations (made through the website). You probably won’t like everything, but the sheer volume and diversity – media include bronze, granite, basalt, stainless steel, copper, aluminum, sandstone and weathered steel – ensure that ‘There is something for every taste.
Each exhibit has a headliner, and this year it’s featuring acclaimed Maine coastal artist Meg Brown Payson. She recently exhibited at Cove Street Arts in Portland, but the most succinct description of her work, in my opinion, was a catalog essay by Edgar Allen Beem for “Chiasm,” his 2014 exhibition at Merrimack College in Andover, Massachusetts. His art, writes Beem, is a response “to the mysteries of creation. The chromatic loops, strands, cells and forms of protozoa that animate his work read like the primordial soup from which all life emerges, whether it is the microscopic broth of the Petri dish or the cosmic plasma of the Big Bang.
The beautiful patterns in his paintings and textiles can resemble endlessly dividing cells and spirochetes, leaves on the surface of a lake, or colorful Rorschach tests, among other associations. For her sculptural works, she printed these patterns on aluminum panels using a thermal sublimation process, a computer-generated technique that uses heat to transfer images to metal.
When placed in the woods, the ones with a green paddle are like camouflage, coming at you almost by surprise. Others in vivid blues or oranges announce their presence from a distance and bring an astonishing explosion of color to the monochrome greens and browns of the forest. They are all rectangular panels, some isolated and some grouped. These last ones seem to me the most interesting, because they evoke the feeling of characters immersed quietly in a secret conversation. They can telegraph the quiet dignity of Rodin’s fascinating political sculpture “Les Bourgeois de Calais”.
On their own, they are also charming, especially when emerging from a stand of ferns or a mound of perennials. But the effect is not as long lasting as group jobs. Whether alone or in a group, they are most impressive when the supporting feet are not visible but the bottom of the panels is flush with the ground. The legs are intentionally designed to elevate the panels above any foliage that might obscure them. But when they are visible, they feel spindly and diminish the more powerful monolith effect, especially since their thickness of barely an inch underlines their slight volumetric presence.
Two other outstanding personalities in the series are David Allen and Miles Chapin. Both work in granite, although Chapin also explores bronze. Allen’s “Elemental Goddess” (# 118 on business card), “Expanse” (# 154) and “Halo” (# 123) reveal what sets this sculptor apart from others working in this medium: the kinetic energy of ‘an unexpected grace that he creates that is counterintuitive to a material that we perceive as heavy and still.
“Goddess” is an exquisite and perfectly smooth U-shaped piece of granite set on a roughly chiseled granite bench. He seems still, but the smoothest thrust interrupts his inertia, activating a slow, calm rocking motion. “Expanse” is a perfectly polished inverted top form resting on another roughly chiseled base. Again, its apparent weight stability belies the fact that it can be easily rotated by the viewer.
And “Halo” is nothing more than a technically flawless ring hanging from a tree, although trimming and polishing it without cracking was surely a feat in itself. As it gently turns in the breeze, it frames various views. Its title comes to life in the most amazing way when it sounds perfectly in the distance a wonderful circular sculpture by George Sherwood titled “Memory of Fibonacci” (# 122), which features the metallic discs shaped like seeds on a sunflower that sparkle beneath. the effect of drafts. to sway in the sun.
Chapin is a stone-making magician (“Traverse”, # 112) – and in the case of “Flutter 2/5” (# 83), bronze – feels fluid and supple. His meticulously executed sculptures carve out ribbon-like shapes in these dense and relentless granite blocks that twist and intertwine in a continuous line, as if they were perpetually dancing in the air.
Of course, Mark Pettegrow, who divides his time between New Hope, Pennsylvania and Kennebunkport, has cast liquid forms in bronze for years. Its “Tidal Series: Eventide” (# 84) recalls the tourbillon of a tourbillon, while “Arabesque 7/15” (# 85) reproduces the interwoven line of this common ornament with Moorish design.
Fantasy abounds at Hawk Ridge Farm this season as well. Most delicious is “Morning Cloud” (# 94) by Bar Harbor-based Melita Westerlund, a full color rustle of irregular shapes in painted aluminum. Westerlund has several other playful works here, including an original bench called “After Picasso” (# 156). Antje Roitzsch of Lincolnville, who started out as an art jeweler, created several colorful, powder-coated Calder-type mobiles. They are fun, but when performed in brass they not only feel perfectly balanced between sculpture and jewelry, but also perfectly suited for a stake out in the woods, as one quintet of them proves here. They are “earrings” for the trees.
For pure and sultry form, it’s impossible to compete with South Portland-based Sharon Townsend’s “Character # 4 and # 5” (# 107). Also evoking the trees and the bodies of women, they evoke the virginal Greek dryad Daphne, whose father, the god of the river Peneus, protected her by transforming her into a laurel tree while she was fleeing a love-sick Apollo.
His keen sensitivity and admiration for nature – and his skillful handling of ceramics – are also poignantly on display in the garage that LaCombe’s husband Bill Ginn built to charge their electric vehicles. The “Cascade” wall sculpture (# 40) appears as layers of birch descending the vertical plane while appreciating that it took such work to recreate it in this medium – forming, glazing, baking, etc. – makes it precious and encourages us to take a more careful and appreciative look at what nature already offers us. The meaning of nature’s gifts is even more literal in three other clay works by Townsend in this gallery that appear as sticks and twigs wrapped in birch bark.
The small gallery also exhibits three delicate works by fellow Maine artist Pat Campbell, whose freestanding and mural constructions are made of rice paper and reeds. His art draws heavily on Buddhism and Japanese culture as well as nature. They are “pieces of meditation,” she said, “meant to be peaceful and peace-oriented”. His more overtly Buddhist works – lotus flowers, gingko leaves – are not presented here. Instead, we happily get the movement of water, in “Sea Play” (# 61) and “Wave” (# 38), and wing shapes, in “Flight” (# 26).
This is only a sample of the riches on display. Your next opportunity to experience this special gathering of artists will be in October. Don’t miss it!
Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]