Apparently, Things Do Change
It may have started with musicals like Jesus Christ Super Star, summers spent at Choral Camp at the University of Maine in Orono, or that favorite teacher who guided his interests around the art department. However, it ended as the lead singer in a rock band and finally, the owner of a successful gallery. That’s right, being the front man is nothing new for John Spain. Even though it is now more common to find the owner of Maine Art Paintings and Sculpture in jeans and a dress shirt, not black leather pants and a tank top, his love of music and the arts has never wavered.
“Bands like Kings X, Yes and Pink Floyd influenced me musically,” says Spain. “However, my vocal inspirations came from singers like Chris Cornell and Geoff Tate. I also love the jazz greats of the 50’s and 60’s: Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis. It’s usually a surprise when I put my iTunes on shuffle. I never know who will come up – Yo Yo Ma, Ella Fitzgerald or Sound Garden.”
By the time high school was over, John did find another calling. Sales. Car sales in particular. His love of everything with four wheels quickly led him to discover his knack for marketing and sales. He was good. Of course, having a nice, steady paycheck in his pocket was pretty good, too. However, he couldn’t give up the pursuit of his musical dreams.
“When the opportunity to move to New York to pursue a rock and roll career arose, I couldn’t turn it down. Things didn’t work out, but I wasn’t ready to go back to New Hampshire. I loved the city. Instead, I hit the street for a job. I still had to pay rent,” says Spain. “It wasn’t long before I found a small gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I started on the floor, but soon moved into management.”
It was a conscious decision to hang up his microphone and leather and begin his career in the gallery business. He spent three years in New York, and has fond memories of the city and his time there. Yet, after a short trip to the Maine coast in 1991, it was time for a change. Click here to read the story about how Maine Art began. As busy as he was starting up a new business, there was still a part of him that missed the adrenaline that performing gave him. What is an ex-rocker turned gallery owner to do? Not willing to slip back into the leather pants, John chose a different suit; a fire retardant one.
“I have been racing sports cars for almost twenty years, now. I compete all over the U.S. and Canada. I also have the privilege of teaching other drivers how to race. It’s rewarding and makes me a better racer. Overall, I win some. I lose some. And yes, I even crash some. It’s all part of the experience,” says Spain. “I love driving a new racetrack. In fact, you could say I collect them. The only thing I love more than the tracks are the drivers I compete against. We are a tight-knit group. Actually, one of my Bucket List items is to perfect my skills and speed to the point where I can regularly beat the drivers I most respect and admire,” he pauses and laughs. “They know who they are.”
When John is not driving around the track, he is driving around the country. His love of the outdoors, coupled with his wandering soul, makes cross-country RVing a perfect scenario. Thanks to his amazing year-round managers, Amy and Natalie, he is able to work remotely during the off season and cruise the United States in search of adventures. (Considering this interview was done from the passenger seat of the 40 ft diesel pusher coach, I’m not complaining.) It may have started with mountain biking and hiking, but more recently he has added canyoneering, kayaking and backpacking, sometimes all in one day.
“National Parks might be the only thing I have collected more of than racetracks. I have visited 48 of the fifty states, leaving North Dakota and Alaska for that ever growing Bucket List,” says Spain. “I love Maine and am lucky to have all my family living in New England, but this country is just too beautiful not to experience first-hand.”
Though Spain himself has brought many changes to his world over the course of his life, regrets are few and rewards, many. He has a woman who loves him and puts up with his crazy, a wonderful supportive and encouraging family, and an incredible group of friends he would do anything for. On top of it all, he owns a charming home and a thriving business in the beautiful town of Kennebunk, Maine.
“I have no future dream job. I love my life. Maybe in my next life I’ll manage a professional racing team,” Spain says thoughtfully, “or maybe a National Park Ranger, or I could drive a tourist town trolley for tips. Now that would be fun. Seriously though, I am lucky. I am happy. And if today is my last day on Earth, I leave with a smile on my face.”
* Interested in seeing this ex-rockstar, race car driving, gallery owner perform live? Watch around town for Lisa Mills and her amazing musical partners. She occasionally shares her mic with John.
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In the spirit of First Lives, we here at Maine Art are taking a bit of time to recognize a behind-the-scenes source that has just recently come to our attention. Brickyard Enterprises is located in Ferrisburgh, Vermont in the beautiful Champlain Valley. They are a small company run by Mike Poskas and his wife, Ann. They also live about a half-mile from Rebecca Kinkead. Mike and Rebecca’s husband, Jamey, hunt together. One day, during a rabbit hunt, Jamey tossed a very random idea his way.
Four months later, the Poskas’ new three-car garage was transformed into a high-end woodworking shop, which they call “the barn.” That was now four years ago. Even though Mike is busy flying as a pilot for a commercial airline, the duo has kept the business going. Orders were thriving and soon Ann left corporate America to focus on Brickyard. She doesn’t stop at the business end though. The couple splits the duties in the wood shop, as well.
“Mike does all the major cutting, but I put everything through the joiner. Then we work the table saw and the shapers for the profile together,” says Ann. “He does the precision cuts – that pilot’s attention to exact detail comes in handy. He also handles anything too dangerous for me to do alone.”
With five shapers, four are dedicated to the tongue and groove work. Ann handles four of them without issue. She also puts the smaller stretchers together. The larger pieces require a cross-bracing; this is where Mike is needed again.
“I stretch the canvases and do most of the delivery,” says Ann. “We have over forty artists, twenty of them are regulars. I deliver all over New England and we ship to as far away as Florida.”
Everything at Brickyard Enterprises is custom ordered and made by hand with locally sourced basswood. They keep no inventory in stock and make each piece to the exact specifications of the artist, offering both stretchers and panels in a variety of sizes.
“We have never advertised. It has been word of mouth since we started and we are more than busy. It has always been a fun business and has come to be something we love to do,” says Ann.
Word of mouth is exactly what led a second one of our artists to Brickyard. Craig Mooney and Rebecca Kinkead have worked in galleries together for a few years. When Rebecca committed to an exclusive deal with Brickyard, she immediately called Craig to let him know how fabulous their work was. It wasn’t long before Craig was on board, as well.
Not only does Brickyard produce custom stretchers and panels, they have added fine art transportation to their list of services, and transport to all of New England. They have also begun stretching completed works for collectors and artists. It’s important to have high quality materials supporting the beautiful work that hangs on our walls and yours. Our artists take this part of their process very seriously, and it’s all the better when we can keep it local.
For more information on Brickyard Enterprises, visit their website and check them out on Facebook.Brickyard Enterprises Brickyard Enterprises Facebook Page
To see both Craig Mooney and Rebecca Kinkead’s work please visit our galleries in Kennebunk; Maine Art Shows, at 10 Chase Hill Road and Maine Art Paintings and Sculpture, at 14 Western Avenue. You can also view our complete collections of their works on their Artist Pages and read more about them on our Blog by clicking the links below.
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Like so many artists, giving back and sharing skills and knowledge found its way into Philip Frey’s life. Aristotle said, “Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.” Not only did he teach students at the high school level, but Philip was just crazy enough to take on the role of the K-8 art teacher on Swan’s Island right here in Maine. Teaching is still very much part of Philip’s world. He hosts various workshops and classes for children and adults throughout the year.
He wasn’t always lucky enough to find work in his field. However, working with his hands and creating seems to be a common theme in his past and present. “I worked on an organic farm, spent some time doing carpentry work and like so many other artists, found odd jobs to keep busy,” says Frey. He also spent a bit of time in a few framing galleries.
Apparently, those skills have served him well. Having been fortunate enough to wander through Philip’s studio, the discovery of a small woodworking shop in the back was a pleasant surprise. Philip often designs and frames many of his own pieces. In addition, he has left his mark on the wonderful little house which sits adjacent to his studio space. The entire property has the look and feel of an artist’s sanctuary.
This “feel” didn’t just happen. Philip has spent many years studying Buddhist philosophy, epistemology, psychology and mindfulness meditation. The sense of peace Philip has created is proof of his studies. “Hiking, walking and mindfulness meditation keep me grounded,” says Frey. Even talking with Philip brings a sense of this same calm. We always look forward to his visits to the gallery.
Its hard not to wonder where someone so inspired has found his own motivation and guidance. For Philip, it is the people who surround him, both in and out of the art world. “My dear parents, Jim and Mickey,” says Philip before giving credit to any others. “I also have close friends, Bill and Jane, and of course, Ken Mike, my high school art teacher,” he continues. “Maine artist, Alan Bray is amazing. Fairfield Porter’s and Eve Mansdorf’s works and writings continue to inspire me.” The thoughtful look that is such a part of Philip’s charm tells me he has many more, but he limits his list with a smile.
Maine Art Paintings and Sculpture has a wonderful collection of Philip Frey’s work in the gallery at 14 Western Ave. In June, you will also be able to see a few of his new pieces in the Choice Art Show up on Chase Hill at Maine Art Shows. If you can’t make it for a visit, please visit his Artist Page, and click here to see other posts that feature Philip and his work.
Voting for the Choice Art Show will begin on May 2 at www.maine-art.com/choice.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states, “Art is something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.”
Many of our artists have always found a way to integrate art into their lives long before society ever called them artists. In their early years, they were drawn to color, design, photography, or just a really great napkin doodle. Regardless, it was in their blood. It was a knowing that beauty is meant to be captured in a form. They sketched or sculpted and always found a way to express themselves and their surroundings with visuals.
At a very young age, Susan Wahlrab was expressing her own “important ideas.” “My grandmother said I came home from whatever event and went right for my drawing pad or my desk chalkboard and immediately created a visual diary of what most interested me,” says Wahlrab. “Making images has been my way of integrating life’s experiences since I was very small.” Having someone to nurture those interests and natural curiosities soon led Susan down the road to becoming an artist.
“It was a natural step to go to art school,” remembers Wahlrab. However, it was while she was completing graduate work that she discovered a different passion, a passion for teaching. This lead to positions at Swain School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, Framingham State University and Maine College of Art. Teaching became a way of sharing a love with others who understand that love.
The other side of Wahlrab’s life was quite different from her art. “I discovered movement from an early age, as well. It began with swimming, on to hiking and running, then to yoga,” says Susan. It is this exploration that led Wahlrab down a path which she thought would run parallel to her art, but became something separate. And yet, turn after turn these roads continued to weave together, one not complete without the other. “At this point they are both such a part of me. I can not imagine a day without my morning practice and meditation followed by hours in the studio. The yoga brings the balance and connection I need to continue to grow.” Susan knows that on a practical level the physical strengthening and calm focus supports the demands of standing all day painting and working through challenges, yet she knows it is more than that. “On a deeper level yoga has integrated a full and complex life which I can use to inspire as I continue the journey of expanding as an artist.”
Again, a passion led her to teaching; something that has become just as natural as movement and art. “One thing is clear. When I find something I truly am passionate about, I want to share the excitement through teaching. The process and time I put into classes supports my own learning journey. A life of observation and connection of body, mind and spirit.”
We welcome you to come in and see our complete collection of Susan Wahlrab’s work here at Maine Art Paintings and Sculpture in Kennebunk. Her watercolor technique is as beautiful as it is unique, and is meant to be seen in person. However, we know this is not often possible and encourage you to visit her Artist Page on our website. If you are interested in learning more about Susan Wahlrab and her art, please read an earlier blog about one of her works, Reflection.
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Ellen Welch Granter has been with Maine Art Paintings and Sculpture for over ten years. Her love of nature and wildlife, especially the winged ones, is well known in the Maine art community. Her work is peaceful and warm and welcomes the viewer in with open arms. Yet, her life did not start at an easel.
School for Ellen looked a little different than you might expect. A bachelor’s degree in Political Science, a master’s degree in History. Government? Politics? This isn’t the jumping-off point for most artists. Like so many of the most interesting people in our world, Ellen’s past is varied and fascinating. Having the opportunity to chat with Ellen at an opening is always a pleasure. She is intelligent and well spoken, and offers so much insight into her work. However, there are pieces of her past one would never guess. The pinnacle being six years of studying Mandarin Chinese. “I started learning it as a study-abroad student in Hong Kong in 1982. Then I did Middlebury College summer intensive language training… twice. After that, another year in Beijing. I had an internship during that time at a very sleepy import/export company. There was virtually no importing or exporting actually going on at that time, 1985, so I hung out with the drivers and office staff and learned a lot of Beijing slang.”
There were some years, like the rest of us, Granter had to work her way through. Her patience with her art and with her clients certainly was earned from the beginning of her employment history. “My first job… I worked for the Sisters of Saint Joseph as a nurse’s aide in their infirmary at Nazareth College,” say Granter. “I was also a lifeguard, a waitress, a quilt piece cutter and a knitting shop assistant.” She did it all. “Making submarine sandwiches for drunk students was in there somewhere as well,” Ellen remembers. “But hands down my worst job was working a folding machine in a print bindery. It folded those little paper instructions that used to come inside pill bottles. I lasted a full two days!”
Eventually, her odd jobs began to lean a bit into the art world. “I was a technical illustrator, video editor, t-shirt silk screener and graphic designer/art director in various places.” When a person really looks at their past, it is hard to have regrets when happiness fills the present. “It all enriched my life, and sent me on my path. Non, je ne regrette rein,” says Granter. No, I regret nothing.
Please visit Maine Art at 14 Western Avenue in Kennebunk to see all of Ellen’s work. You can also see it online on her Artist Page.
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“As a kid, I thought I wanted to be an artist… or maybe a musician,” says David Witbeck. “As a high school senior my choices were music school in Potsdam, NY (the boonies, -40 in the winter), or Art School in the Big Apple. What would you choose?”
Did he choose New York City? Yes. He studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for three years. Did he stay in New York? Yes. However, after quickly becoming “disenchanted with the crazy New York art scene of the time,” he read The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe, and photography seemed like a much more relevant pursuit. He became aware of, “nitty-gritty black and white street photography and photojournalism.” He transferred to Rochester Institute of Technology. Rochester was not only home to a photography program, but also to his then pregnant girlfriend. “Ah, the 60’s,” says Witbeck as he looks back.
“A very young marriage and parenthood necessitated finding whatever work I could,” says David. Darkroom assistant, wheelchair mobile driver, employment counselor…the irony! He eventually took a job as a yearbook photographer. Still not art, but getting there. After three years he quit and took a job with a small weekly newspaper. “The pay was less, but I could build up my photojournalism portfolio.” Art, right?
“Eventually frustration, poverty, disappointment, etc., led to divorce, at which point I decided to ‘bleep’ it all and just drive a truck,” says Witbeck. Sometimes taking a step back is necessary in order to take a step forward. After a year of driving a small fish-delivery truck, he made the decision to go big or go home. “As long as I am driving a truck, I should drive a ‘real’ truck,” he had thought. He took lessons, received his NY Class 1 license, and for the next six years was a Teamster driving tractor-trailers. Now that, ladies and gentleman, is an art.
“Driving trailers could be great fun in good weather, but a little terrifying in Rochester winters when, by March, there could be ten feet of accumulated snow,” David recalls. With the threat of becoming an old Teamster, he applied and was accepted to Rhode Island School of Design in 1980. Finally, the world of art had found its way back into his life.
He sold just about everything he owned and moved to Providence. “I graduated with a BFA in photography in 1982 at the age of thirty-five.” He had a couple beat-up cameras, a few sticks of furniture, his clothes, a few thousand in debt… and the promise of a job with a major daily newspaper to his name. “The job failed to materialize. The photo editor wanted me, Human Resources demanded a woman… I was the wrong gender. What now!?”
Lucky for us the “what now?” ended up eventually putting him on a path to the larger-than-life seaside fishing and lobstering paintings that grace the walls of Maine Art Paintings and Sculpture. Alongside them hang the picturesque scenes of harbor villages and coastal life that Witbeck is known for in New England. In May, Maine Art is lucky enough to be hosting a one-man show of David Witbeck’s work; offering more insight into this fascinating man, his history and the what, where and who that finally helped him find this Artist’s Life.
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We each have a history. They can be quite long or quite colorful – or both. Personal history is a kaleidoscope of people and places who have touched us and left their mark. It is often very different than our present. But for all of us, it is what made us, for better or worse, who we are today.
While spending time at Maine Art Paintings and Sculpture, a customer begins to see connections between pieces from the same artist. There are threads that lace together works in a meaningful way. Each collection is, in many ways, a history in itself. The staff at Maine Art is more than happy to share our artists’ names and inspiration behind the art that has captured your attention. Through this dialogue you begin to picture the artists at work. A room of blank canvases leaning against well worn walls, sunlight streaming though windowpanes illuminating partially painted pieces and brushes and palettes covered with color fill our imagination. It is a dream world, a haven, a place where this person lives and breathes. It is an artist’s world.
But there is more, so much more. Each of these artists has a history, a life, that brought them to where they are. However, like many of us, it is not what you may envision. When we look at a breathtaking landscape or detailed watercolor of the perfect autumn day, we don’t see lifeguards or waitresses at the easel. We don’t see mothers and fathers sculpting clay. We certainly don’t see teachers or truck drivers with brush in hand, painting broad strokes across beautiful canvases. Yet, they are there. Hidden in the background, rooted in the memories and entwined in the art are these people. These people that used to be, but have grown, changed and become artists.
Over the next few weeks, we will be introducing you to some of these people. The yoga teacher, the nurses aide, the photographer turned truck driver turned first grade teacher. And maybe, if we are lucky, the lead singer of a rock band who gave it all up to buy a small coastal art gallery. We shall see.
As always, we welcome you to come visit the gallery at 14 Western Ave in Kennebunk or visit online at www.maine-art.com , but remember to check out our blog on Thursdays to get a peak inside The First Lives of the artists of Maine Art.
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