CHAPTER 1: A Sense of Place Through Art

“In the life of each of us there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness.”

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories

Senses are unique gifts that we all share as humans. Gazing upon the moon’s reflection on a lake’s still black surface heightens our sense of sight. Our sense of sound engages when we hear the rustling of fall leaves crunching under our feet as we walk along a trail. We smell the fresh-cut hay as we drive along a country road, and we can feel the warmth of the sun on our faces. The salt in the air seems thick and edible on a visit to a coastal spot, but it might be the taste of steamed lobster or blueberry pie that makes our mouth water with just one thought. Our senses let us know that we are alive.

As romantic and wonderful as our senses can be, they can be equally horrible, like the sound of wheels screeching to a halt after striking an animal on the road or the taste of illness or medicine in your mouth. Our senses heighten the experience of a moment, and particular senses stay with us in our memories for most of our lives.

Humans have an innate need to convey and create meaning from the places where they live. Experience, history, gender, race, economic status, and climate, or any combination of these elements, bind our sense of place. Perceptions and memories complete our concept of place, and we use this information to help define our identity.

Countless people maintain a negative sense of place and feel alienated from their communities. Many of my students claim that they feel more connected to society at large via social media. A community for some may exist as a group of gamers from different places all around the world. Technology has generated a brand new perception of “place” that may be virtual rather than physical.

If you recently moved or have felt trapped in a situation, this experience could drastically alter your sense of place. Last year one of my students, Ellen (a pseudonym), set to work on an assignment to create goals for her life: i.e. going to college, having a career, or having a family. Suddenly, she started to cry and refused to do this assignment. She told me that she had no goals because she was poor and would always be stuck in this town. Born into poverty, Ellen lives in a ghetto with no encouragement from her family. I am keenly aware that her sense of place is nothing like mine. However, we had one special bond: art. Undeniably talented, Ellen created a portrait of the scary clown from Maine author Steven King’s book “It”. I submitted her portrait to the Portland Museum of Art’s Youth Month art exhibit, and I drove her and her mother there for the award ceremony. This experience solidified for me the power that art has to generate a positive sense of place.

Art is a physical and tactile experience that stimulates the brain and binds learning to comprehension. Art-making is about doing and participating, not being on the outside looking in. A program that focuses on these two essential elements, sense of place with art-making, will improve the lives of all Maine students.

Have you ever walked along a beach and experienced an overwhelming desire to collect shells, rocks, driftwood, and fragments of sea glass? Have you noticed how children instinctively bring these fragments from the sea and use them to build a lovely sandcastle?

This ebook recaptures that experience by presenting a collection of themes from Maine that caught my eye and have inspired my own artwork. I hope that you will take these fragments and use them to build your own sandcastles. More importantly, I hope that you can use this website as a resource to help the next generation foster more positive connections with their communities and the State of Maine.

Media, materials, and ways of working.

Whenever you and your students are traveling around or exploring, it is crucial to always have a camera and a sketchbook. Today’s phone cameras are an artist’s best tool for capturing memories along with a sketchbook. A sketchbook allows your ideas to come to life quickly and immediately. It is useful not only for drawing and sketching, but also to record your thoughts. It is also a great place to collect mementos like postcards, stamps, ribbons, or items in nature that you can press in your book. Select a size you are comfortable working in as you move from place to place. Even though I enjoy working on a larger surface, I try not to use sketchbooks that are too thick because I am intimidated by the stress of filling so many pages. I prefer a smaller sketchbook that is easy to keep with me and doesn’t attract a lot of attention.

Your choice of art medium is as individual as you are and I suggest trying as many different mediums as you can. Just like food, your tastes change, and you may enjoy working with something that you had no fondness for in the past. The key to working with any new medium, or even any old medium, is to not be afraid to make mistakes. Play and experiment. This is art, and it is supposed to be enjoyable and challenging.

Many years ago I went on a field trip with my daughter to visit Jackson Pollock’s Long Island, New York studio. To enter his studio, we had to wear special slippers to avoid damaging the floors where remnants of the paint from his works splattered beyond his canvases. The base of his studio became as much of an artwork as his canvases that hang in the museums. To me, this is a true testament to an artist’s sense of place, a place where you become one with your art.

When I was at the Vermont Studio School, the visiting instructor came into my little corner studio and said, “You work really well amongst the chaos. Perhaps you should hang stuff from the ceiling.” This sentiment has rung true to my way of working my whole life. I like to have everything out where I can see it. Some people are the opposite and need their working space to be pristine and clean with no distractions. There are no right and wrong ways to make art. Work in the way that is best for you. Make your environment a place where you want to create. Don’t be afraid to get outside and explore. Art and inspiration are all around you if you only observe and are ready for it.