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‘We haven’t seen each other’s faces in so long’

Residents were invited to submit self-portraits for inclusion in a community exhibit at the Cape Ann Museum's Green campus. These are some of the portraits in the exhibit.
Residents were invited to submit self-portraits for inclusion in a community exhibit at the Cape Ann Museum's Green campus. These are some of the portraits in the exhibit.Cape Ann Museum

The Cape Ann Museum is inviting area residents to a new art show — one many of them helped create.

For the past year and a half, the Gloucester museum has been collecting self-portraits from Cape Ann residents for a planned exhibit on the many faces of the seaside region. To date, more than 500 community members have submitted drawings.

The fruits of those creative efforts will be on full view beginning Sept. 24 when the museum opens “Quilted Together: An Exhibit of Community Portraits” in the Janet & William Ellery James Center at its new CAM Green campus next to Route 128.

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The colorful 8-by-8-inch drawings will be displayed in a grid pattern resembling a tapestry along the four walls of the center’s 2,000-square-foot exhibition and education area, according to the museum’s director, Oliver Barker.

“The museum really exists to tell the story of how Cape Ann has changed the course of American art and American history,” Barker said. “And knowing how paramount the stories of this place are, we are really interested in the people that call Cape Ann home.”

He said the intent of the self-portrait initiative “was to provide this community with an opportunity to see themselves in the gallery — because it is their story that matters to us.”

The project, free and open to all regardless of artistic ability, attracted people from a wide variety of backgrounds and ages ranging from 2 to over 90.

“From toddlers to seniors, amateurs to professionals, these individual self-portraits combine to create a visual representation of the Cape Ann community,” Miranda Aisling, the museum’s education manager, said in comments provided by the museum.

Participants received free packets of art materials, including paper, pencils, and oil pastels, through a grant from the Bruce J. Anderson Foundation. The museum also created an online video with guidance on how to draw a self-portrait.

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Caroline Harvey, a poet who with their husband, Lucas Cotterman, co-owns the Gloucester used bookstore Dogtown Books, was inspired to take part in the project while attending a book reading by a local author at CAM Green they helped organize. Project art packets were available at the event, and Harvey decided to pick one up and create a self-portrait while they listened.

Caroline Harvey with their self-portrait. Residents were invited to submit self-portraits for inclusion in a community exhibit at the Cape Ann Museum's Green campus.
Caroline Harvey with their self-portrait. Residents were invited to submit self-portraits for inclusion in a community exhibit at the Cape Ann Museum's Green campus.Cape Ann Museum

“It was a wonderful way for me to stay engaged in the reading,” Harvey said, noting that the subject matter of the book — Cape Ann’s salt marshes — “inspired some of my color schemes in the portrait. It was very freeing and fun to draw my own face while sitting in such a beautiful environment.”

“It’s brought me a lot of joy then and now to know I’ll be part of an installation that includes so many diverse faces from Cape Ann,” Harvey said, adding that with the pandemic, “We miss each other so much. We haven’t seen each other’s faces in so long.”

The project began in January 2020 as an initiative involving fifth-graders across the city. That plan was sidelined due to COVID-19. But Barker said the setback had a silver lining because it prompted the museum to expand the initiative to well beyond the schools and start partnering with other organizations.

The first new partner was the nonprofit Action, Inc., whose homeless shelter was operating out of the Gloucester YMCA in spring 2020 due to the pandemic. Under the direction of a museum educator, about 26 shelter guests created self-portraits.

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Barker said the shelter manager told the museum at that time how “meaningful the project was to shelter guests who otherwise often do not feel connected to the community.”

The exhibit, which runs through Nov. 5, also will display several existing quilts in the museum’s collection that feature portraits of Gloucester people — one made by Boston quilter Clara Wainwright, and two others by participants in Gloucester’s Rose Baker Senior Center.

For more information on the exhibit, go to capeannmuseum.org.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.