Practicing professional artists

By Rich Livingston

Freelance Writer

Depending on whom you ask, there have been significant recent increases in the number of women in the Lewiston-Auburn area who are practicing professional artists. Or, there have always been a lot of them, but they are just now achieving some appropriate measure of recognition. Either way, it’s clear that women are a vital part of the growing arts community. “Artists say this neighborhood reminds them of the way Portland was in the ‘60’s,” says Tammie Grieshaber, speaking of downtown Lewiston. Tammie is a professional photographer specializing in large art prints, with particular emphasis on portraiture, especially of kids. She is also curator and director of L-A Arts’ Gallery 5 on Lisbon Street. “One of the reasons we’re seeing so many new artists in the area,” Grieshaber explains, “is there are so many new places to display or sell art. This gallery,” referring to the two-year old Gallery 5, home of seven juried art shows each year, “along with space in the hospitals, banks, Gritty’s, Willy Beans, Guthrie’s. Opportunity attracts talent. Competition, especially from women, to be included in Gallery 5 exhibitions is much more intense than at the beginning.”

Grieshaber is among those who believe there are simply more women engaging in art than there used to be, but that may be a function of her own history. “I think women have come to it later in life,” she says. “It’s amazing how many women had other careers, first, and/or stopped to raise kids.” As did Grieshaber, herself, who considers that her professional career as an artist began “seven or eight years ago,” after earlier careers in non-profit work and with the Auburn School Department. She also believes that art provides an income alternative for those who might have been impacted by the shrinking economy.

In Grieshaber’s case, her career change corresponded to the growth of digital photography. “I really became passionate about photography along with the advent of digital technology,” she explains. “It allows me to combine technology and art, and with technology continually evolving, I’m continually learning.” She also believes that the distractions of raising families sometime delay women’s opportunities to devote the kind of time necessary to building an inventory of art work that can generate meaningful income.


Grieshaber began with traditional Maine-based landscapes, but that didn’t “snap” for her. “I love working with people, especially kids,” she says of her concentration in portraiture photography and the new technique of digital painting. “It’s interactive. It enables me to create collaboratively with my subjects. In addition to being the sole staff for Gallery 5, Grieshaber operates her own studio in the old Great Falls school, in Auburn, and some of her work can be seen on her Web site,
www.mainelykids.us. She also is a frequent participant in the plethora of summer sidewalk art shows that take place nearly every weekend in the summer in Maine. While she never had formal training, her mother had been a professional illustrator. “I never had any experience running a gallery, either,” she says. But constant learning “keeps my brain agile.”

Among the artists included in the current Gallery 5 exhibition is jewelry designer, Kathryn Beausang, of Greene. “What I do,” Beausang says, “is wearable art. The more unusual, the better; it’s good for the soul to keep evolving.” For Beausang, too, art is a second career. After a debilitating illness ended a long career in banking nine years ago, Beausang turned to jewelry as a “form of therapy, of brain exercise.” She was introduced to the techniques of producing jewelry by a neighbor who had been a glass artist, and as her art has evolved, Beausang has also taken some formal classes. Beausang produces bead-embroidery pictures, as well as custom-designed pieces. “I’ve outfitted whole wedding parties,” she says. She works with vintage beads, especially Venetian glass and Swarovski Austrian crystal, as well as freshwater pearls, stone, Sterling silver, and minerals such as tourmaline and onyx. “I love the thrill of the hunt (for materials), the search for one beautiful piece of a fabulous necklace.”

Beausang welcomes visitors to her studio in Greene. She also has a number of private shows each year and she has recently rented gallery space “on Route 1-A on the way to Bar Harbor. Everyone has to pass right by.” Kathryn and her husband were recipients of the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce’s 2009 Greene Small Business of the Year award, and her Web site is www.riverwalkcreations.com. Her work is often featured as donations to fundraising events throughout the community.

Even though Jennifer Wadsworth has been showing her art professionally only since having raised her kids, art has always been “part of who I am,” she says. She is among those who believe there have always been lots of women artists, although they may not always have gotten – or pursued – adequate recognition. “I paint to paint, not paint to sell,” but, she also says she thought that trying to sell her work “might be a good way to supplement [her] income,” as she and her husband were winding down their dairy farm in Turner, some “14 or 15 years ago.” She quickly adds, “It turned out better than I thought!”

Wadsworth studied art while in high school as part of a special program offered by the University of Hartford Art School. “It takes time,” she explains, “to develop your own sense of style and to be able to share it with other people. An abstract painter, Wadsworth believes her work has intrinsic appeal to “a rather limited audience, maybe 15% of those who see it.” She also asserts that “creating art takes two people,” and she enjoys participating in sidewalk art shows, meeting people and talking about her work. “You’d be surprised,” she says, “what people will tell an artist. They’ll tell you exactly what your work means to them, regardless of whether that’s what you intended.”

Wadsworth founded the Turner Center for the Arts, which closed after two and a half years. “Several Portland area galleries have closed recently, too,” she says, “and there really isn’t enough space for what is actually a pretty large artist community.” While the amount of for-profit gallery space has been shrinking, Wadsworth says that individual sales appear not to have been affected too harshly by the economy. Wadsworth also shows at Gallery 5, as well as the Maine Center for Contemporary Arts. She’s had a solo show at Husson College in Bangor, and is preparing now for a solo show in Farmington scheduled for next year. “My style is constantly changing, and it takes some time to assemble enough pieces to do a whole show.” Her work can be seen on her Web site, www.gulfislandart.com.

Whether or not the proportion of women professionally engaged in the visual arts has changed lately, the fact is there are quite a few professional artists in the L-A area, and they are active in every dimension of fine arts: sculpture, jewelry, pottery, textiles, oil painting, water colors, photography. Of the 18 artists currently featured on the Gallery 5 Web site (www.laarts.org/visual/gallery-5.htm), 13 are women. And they all agree that being compensated for what they especially love creating is the best of all options, whatever the state of the economy.


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