The deepest of bonds between artist and place, Downeast

Most people have a favorite room in their house where they spend quiet time, or maybe a favorite place they go to visit and reflect on all things personal, or that “go-to” chair that is always calling. It is also true that many artists develop a habit of creating in a defined place, and often times what they create resonates from within that place, reflecting the deep bond between artist and place. I am seeing that everywhere I turn here in Downeast, Maine.

I am especially amazed by hand made things because at their core, I believe, is a soul, the artist’s soul. With today’s technology we are encouraged to live and create digitally, but here, Downeast, given any medium, wood, paint, clay, the written word, etc., there is an unmistakable imprint of time and place on the work.

In the book The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron, one section talks about finding that special, sacred, place to create. Not a church or religious sanctum, but that certain place that allows creativity to reveal itself by giving artists a gentle nudge, bringing them home in a sense, to do what it is they love to do. Sitting here, looking out my window at water, islands and gulls got me thinking.

How is it that so many wonderful things come out of Maine, especially when it deals with art and people’s creative energy? This place is a magnet that draws the artistic minded to it, or perhaps it is uniquely suited to draw out the artistic expression buried deep within the person. I am a firm believer that we all are artists and can create if we give it time, have confidence, and find the right place to make it happen.

Does this place harbor the creative spirit? Is it purely the environs, the natural beauty of fog, water and island that stimulates and nurtures? Or is it that, once bitten by the creative bug, it simply oozes out no matter where one resides? Or could it be a little bit of both? I like to think this place provides a sense of calm and encourages independence and confidence in what one does, making it shine brighter here than anywhere else. Now I am certain this happens in many other places across the country, but sitting here Downeast, this is the only view I have today as I write this.

I have written before about the laid back approach to life here. No traffic lights, no heads down walking and texting, and no major traffic-jams to frustrate and distract. This place is all about the moment, whether it be a personal one or communal. And when time is given, the mind and the artistic spirit is set free to go and roam, in essence to reveal and show itself. All you have to do is take a little time and see exactly what I am talking about. The proof of this artistic spirit resides in the shops that dot main street, sits in the windows of gallery spaces or hangs on people’s walls. It is there on messy tables of paint and clay, in cramped kitchens or tiny hallway studios. And many people we know and don’t know are expressing it every single day here Downeast.

From wood carver to bow maker, paper maker to clay masseuse, from sculptors of metal, driftwood and puzzle perfect pieces of sea glass to weavers of bold colors, these artists are all here revealing themselves and the place they create from beautifully.

And many of the people creating these works of art are not trained in the professional sense and each comes from a background and past occupation completely different from that of creating art. A former state trooper once made classical wood guitars and then moved onto crafting beautiful custom knives. In his spare time, a machinist fashions metal into one-of-a-kind weathervanes. There is the self-taught bow maker who has been making functional works of art and teaching others for the last six decades, and a present day game warden who sees fish in nature and fashions them from wood in such detail that they require a second look to make sure they are not going to slip back into the water.

Photo courtesy of Joe McBrine

These are not trained artists who attended well-known liberal arts universities or worked along side professional mentors, but are people who found something within them, took the time, found the place, honed the skill and pursued the passion. It is quite something to see and experience as I do, every time I see the work and hear the unique story about the person who made it.

Their medium is what artists use to express themselves, and the work that comes from the contemplation, time, and the soul, is their roadmap home. But it is the place that nudges each brush stroke or draw of the knife, helps each word fall onto paper or helps pull back the weaver’s loom; place is every bit a part of that roadmap.

This place, here Downeast, I believe provides that gentle nudge to create. For me and many others, it is a place that gets us back to the basics of life, a place to enjoy the beauty that abounds and make something from it. It is here, where that creative spirit can easily seep out and tag along with the fog as it roams, eventually finding its place on a palette, paper, in wood, clay or fabric. It is this place that is the way home for many.

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over four years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.