PORTLAND – When the elevator opens onto the fourth floor, Portland Museum of Art visitors are struck by the natural beauty of Maine’s Cranberry Isles, courtesy of Gretna Campbell’s semi-abstract painting of tangled plants, rocks and trees with broad brush strokes of soft green, brown, purple and blue hues.

Her artwork, “Maine Landscape #2 (Cranberry Island Landscape),” is one of 25 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs on display in the “The Art of Cranberry Isles” exhibit.

This large oil on canvas done in 1980 sets the tone for an exhibit that lifts your spirit with its variety of mediums, use of colors and range of styles.

Off Mount Desert Island

The Cranberry Isles, off the southern end of Mount Desert Island, have for centuries sustained fishing and farming communities. Only since the 1950s have artists populated this isolated, unspoiled small group of five islands. Some well-known artists featured in the PMA exhibit are John Heliker, William Kienbusch, Ashley Bryan, Gretna Campbell, Carl Nelson, Dorothy Eisner and Charles Wadsworth; and photographer Walker Evans.

Storyteller and children’s book illustrator Ashley Bryan, famous for his woodcuts and fables of African culture, has three beautiful works in the exhibit. Two woodcuts titled “O Freedom” and “Walk Together Children” reflect his strong and powerful style. A small stained-glass window he created from beach glass and titled “Nativity” hangs in front of a window, with natural light heightening its beauty.

Bryan, who attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, retired from teaching at Dartmouth College to live on Great Cranberry Island. His stained-glass window is a gem and worth seeking out.

Another wonderful painting is Heliker’s large, semi-abstract oil on canvas titled “Maine Kitchen.” Everyday objects in a rural Maine kitchen are depicted, with thick brush strokes that suggest objects without rigidly defining them. Among them are a kitchen table, a flower in a vase, binoculars on the table and a figure of a woman in the background preparing something.

Five black-and-white photos taken by Evans, known for his photographs documenting the effects of the Great Depression, are also in the exhibit. He went to live on the island in 1962. His photos of Maine show the timeless quality of people who live close to nature and the sea.

Kienbusch’s famous “Blue Spruce” features abstract brush strokes in blue and black moving across the work like a visual metaphor of the sea, wind and air before a storm. Kienbusch moved to Great Cranberry Island in 1962.

Beneath the surface

Wadsworth’s beautiful work titled “Row Boat and Buoy,” a color collograph and intaglio, which looks like a watercolor, features a cove overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Other Wadsworth works titled “Views from the Island” include two prints created around one rose with translucent, overlapping images that look surrealistic – suggesting hidden forms beneath the surface.

They are quiet masterpieces. A videotape of an interview with Wadsworth (1917-2002) plays near the exhibit entrance.

Eisner’s semi-abstract work titled “Croquet and Hats,” created in 1979, depicts a favorite pastime on the island with a dash of humor.

I highly recommend seeing “The Art of Cranberry Isles,” which will be up through June 28.

The museum at Seven Congress Square is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday.

Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, $4 for youths ages 6-17 and free for children under 6. Admission is free from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.

Pat Davidson Reef has a master’s degree in education and has taught art history at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland. She has written two children’s books, “Dahlov Ipcar, Artist,” and “Bernard Langlais, Sculptor.”


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