Work on display at the Bates Museum of Art. JAMES MACDONALD/THE BATES STUDENT
Projector images on display as a part of an exhibit at the Bates Museum of Art. JAMES MACDONALD/THE BATES STUDENT
Artwork on display at the Bates Museum of Art. JAMES MACDONALD/THE BATES STUDENT
If you are from Maine, or even from the Northeast, you have probably heard the name Marsden Hartley. Born right here in Lewiston in 1877, Hartley was a major force in the American Modern Art movement, dubbing himself “The painter of Maine” shortly before his death. His parents immigrated to New England to work in the Lewiston textiles mills, and after the death of all of his male siblings, Hartley was left as the only male heir, still five years younger than his nearest sister. Hartley often referenced his early childhood as a time of supreme loneliness, and credits it for much of his artistic inspiration. Entering his exhibit in the Bates College Museum, one descends the staircase into a peaceful space, one that was serene early on a Monday morning. Contrasted with the contemporary live-action exhibit on the first floor, it really was almost like going back in time. The first piece to catch my eye was photograph of Hartley, which below was accompanied by a narrative that shaped this exhibit in a way that not many others have. Each work had a crisp piece of white paper next to it, telling an anecdote about Hartley’s life at the time and how it related to the piece. Not only was this particular collection almost another side of Marsden Hartley’s works, but it was a succinct timeline of his life and how each moment shaped not just the art, but the artist. It felt as if I really was with Hartley at home, each piece acting as a piece of his existence, telling a story as much as a stained couch or a framed family photograph. I felt almost as if I was intruding, but part of that was the fact that I was the only one in the room, creating a silent dialogue between myself and the exhibit. This collection was formed particularly from the donations of Norma Gene Berger, Hartley’s niece and one of his biggest correspondents throughout his lifetime. My favorite pieces were a collection of drawings all from one notebook, all pen and ink on paper, and simple, with effortless strokes and an everyday energy that is calming yet has a certain reverence. Throughout the entire exhibit, I felt as if I was getting to see Marsden Hartley as a man, not just as an artist. I got to see what was important to him, what hurt him, what inspired him, and even just the everyday world through his eyes. Another piece that caught my eye was an eclectic painting that is unmistakably cubist, but had a softness that I usually find absent in traditional cubists like Picasso or Braque. I was drawn in, letting my mind absently construct images out of the warm colored shapes, wondering whether I was truly seeing Hartley’s work, or my own. However my favorite part was the pieces by other artists, all seeming out of place, but are revealed to each have a story that was integral to understanding Marsden Hartley as a whole. Hartley was known to run in important modernist circles, for example his first exhibit was at Alfred Stieglitz gallery in New York. He was also known to be influenced by the writings of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Upon leaving, my narrow minded and naive ideals of what the quintessential Maine artist would be like were shattered. Marsden Hartley continues to challenge those preconceived notions, even seventy-four years after his death.