PORTLAND –” Webster’ s Dictionary” defines pioneer as: “A person who is among the first to explore or settle a new country, or a person who is among the first to research and develop a new area of knowledge or activity.”

All the artists in the “Maine Women Pioneers III, Worldview” at the University of New England Art Gallery in Portland, have explored new ways to be creative in the use of their styles, variety of media, topics explored, and bold originality.

“Maine Women Pioneers III, WorldView” is the third in a series of four exhibits focusing on Maine women artists who are pioneers in their field.

Two other exhibits focusing on women artists of the 19th century and 20th century had been done over the years by Gael McKibben, previous director of the museum and William David Barry, historian. The current exhibit “Maine women Pioneers III” took 10 years to create and focuses on Maine women artists living today. It was curated by Ann Zill, acting director of the UNE museum, Gael McKibben former director of the museum, and Andres Verzosa, owner of Aucosico Art Gallery of Portland.

Women artists have been traditionally thought of as decorative artists rather than having the ability like men of creating monumental works. In contrast, this exhibit shows women creating exciting monumental works.

Each work in the exhibit shows that women in the 21st century have strong, original, and creative ideas. However, Zill, who is also director of the UNE Museum said in an interview, “This exhibit was not to make a political statement. It was simply designed to celebrate the creativity of women.”

As a writer on the arts for over 30 years, I believe that this exhibit has done both. It celebrates the creativity of women artists in Maine as well as establishes clearly that women artists can create monumental works.

For example, Abby Shahn’s papier-mache globe of the world hanging in the second- floor gallery helps establish the theme of the exhibit, “WorldView.” Shahn’s huge mixed-media work titled “Surgical Strike,” greets you at the top of the gallery stairs, and is so powerful it makes you back up and look at it again from a distance. Shahn is not a decorative artist. She is powerful, direct, and her work is timeless and monumental.

Arla Patch’s work on the wall going up the stairs of the museum is unique. “Fierce Heart,” and “Please Abide with Me,” are two works by Patch that are made from polymer clay and mixed media. Each work looks like a fabric design but is made from rolled clay tightly inserted in patterns like a puzzle in different colors, framed and under glass. I assumed they were fabric designs. Looking closely, I realized they were made from clay fitted together in interesting patterns and are unique.

Melita Westerlund’s work “Koralli Saari,” made from cotton fiber and pigment, explores forms in three dimension inspired by her traditional Finnish background. Each of her works has a tactile quality of warmth and looks soft, yet explores intricate designs of hard-core coral painted in different colors, coming off the wall in three dimensions.

Alice Spencer is a printmaker as well as a painter. She has had many different styles. Her work in this exhibit titled “Kasaya I,” a collage with hand-printed paper on wood, is outstanding and looks like a quilt.

Judy Ellis Glickman’s photographs in black-and-white on the walls of the first floor gallery titled “Night Havana Cuba,” “Execution Wall Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland,” and “Convent, Chile,” all gelatin silver prints, reflect her mystical style, interest in light and shade, and her fascination and respect for historical sites around the world.

Barbara Goodbody’s “Ruins Revisited” #1,#2,#3 and #4, archival digital prints, taken from a trip to Italy create a classic touch at the entrance of the exhibit. New digital print creations by Goodbody hung in the front entrance, with eyes that look like mirrors, bring a dash of humor to the exhibit.

Another artist making a strong creative statement in the exhibit includes Natasha Mayers whose four digital prints covering a Fourth of July parade in Whitefield,  in 2012 reveals social justice themes. My favorite photo in this series had a community hand-made poster in it that said, “Wall St. Does Not Create Local Jobs. We do.”

Rebecca Goodale makes exquisite one-of-a-kind books dedicated to endangered animals and plants. She collaborated with Carrie Scanga in this exhibit, in a book titled “Two or Three Friends,” which shows her infinite patience in delicate detail using a sense of humor and color in creating visual messages that pop up in a handmade accordian book created for both children and adults alike.

Another significant work is by Judith Allen-Efstanthiou. It is titled “The Tree Museum: Elm Tree Blight and Subtitles,” and is a lithograph, which shows the desperate need for conservation and the result of beetle infestation.

Marlene Ekola Gerberick’s work “In the Year of Our Lord Skating on Thin Ice,” is one of the most powerful works in the exhibit. Gerberick was born in 1935 which is on the front of the work in large brass numbers. The work, which is a collage in black with barbed wire and broken glass, has a foreboding feeling of the tragedy to come in world War II.

Kate Cheney Chappell is a landscape painter whose work deals with the environment.”Edge of the Sea I and II,” is a diptych in mixed media revealing pebbles on sand focusing on the natural environment of the sea in its calm moments.

This is a significant exhibit because it shows the exciting work that women are doing in Maine today and their many styles and use of media. It establishes the fact that women are monumental artists, and at the same time celebrates their original creative styles. These artists, like pioneers, have charted new paths in exploring creativity to achieve their goals. An outstanding catalogue is available at the museum.

This exhibit is worth seeing.

The UNE Gallery, located at 716 Stevens Ave, is open free of charge. Gallery hours are 1 to 4 p.m., Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and 1  to 7 p.m., Thursdays. 

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