PORTLAND — The Portland Museum of Art’s upcoming exhibition “Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine” (Sept. 22-Dec. 30) will complement the opening of Homer’s renovated studio. Personal objects, including Homer’s easel, will help connect the man to his work, with more than 35 important oils and watercolors he painted during his Prouts Neck years.
Among works on loan are several from the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
Beyond Homer, there are many ways to enjoy the city’s art scene. The downtown Arts District, anchored by PMA and the Maine College of Art (MECA), spills into nearby neighborhoods where galleries and other museums await, from the Maine Historical Society to the Museum of African Culture and MECA’s Institute of Contemporary Art.
First Friday Art Walks provide a great introduction. Scheduled monthly throughout the year, the informal festivals run from 5 to 8 p.m. It’s a big, all-ages scene. December’s Art Walk reportedly is the busiest.
At Aucocisco Galleries, my friend Pat Tobey and I met the owner, Andy Verzosa, on the First Friday in June. The self-declared “primary founder” of Portland’s First Friday Art Walk, Verzosa told us how it began 11 years ago. “The idea was to get people in front of the artwork, people who normally are intimidated by galleries, think they don’t know how to dress or that they have to buy. This appeals to everyone, it’s fun and it’s free.”
Typically 60 to 80 venues — galleries, bagel bakeries and coffee shops, tattoo parlors, retailers and museums — participate with exhibits, live music, or theater. Buskers and bands set up on sidewalks.
By 6:15, we had a hard time walking on Congress Street, the area’s core. Crowds clustered around a talented chorus of Breakwater School middle school students in painted jumpsuits who sang beside two buses spray-painted with bold environmental designs. The kids had worked with Portland aerosol artist Tim Clorius during his Breakwater residency.
Pat and I explored art and venues we would otherwise miss, such as recent photography in the cozy old Maine Charitable Mechanic Association Library. Near MECA, the trend-setting Space Gallery featured a sound installation worthy of New York’s SoHo or Chelsea.
A rental truck parked on Congress contained an artist painting on clear plastic sheeting. Amy Jorgensen, from the nonprofit MenskMaine.org, which each First Friday invites a different artist to use the truck, said, “Our goal is to keep Portland weird by providing alternative outlets for artists in Maine.”
After dark, fire dancers appear.