HOULTON — How important is art to the life of a community?
“It’s absolutely vital and we’re the only one in this area that can offer artists a showplace for their work,” said Penny Lane, a board member of the Southern Aroostook Cultural Arts Project.
“As a result of having the gallery, it has just encouraged artists to produce. And, the sales have been phenomenal — up 20 percent or more over the last year,” SACAP President Robert Cowperthwaite said recently. “There’s a new enthusiasm and a new feel.
Our new signage has helped us to be recognized by saying there’s an art gallery up front. It has brought people in who travel from afar and come on a regular basis.”
Lane added that “collectors come seeking original pieces from the state of Maine.”
Cowperthwaite said the nonprofit organization, founded in 1999, has a mission to foster a flourishing arts community in northern Maine. By 2004 SACAP had opened a retail storefront, a resource center and the Blue Moon Gallery in downtown Houlton.
“Blue Moon is a gallery for specific artists’ shows. Visions is a retail operation to sell art pieces,” Cowperthwaite said.
Themes in paintings, photos, drawings and other work are often rural and reflect the northern Maine locale.
“The work must be reviewed by a jury committee, and it is of exquisite quality,” he said.
Cowperthwaite said 39 artists now are displaying their works. The range of mediums probably has something for everyone: oils, acrylics, photography, wood, pottery, jewelry, stained glass, fabric art, silks, hookings, art cards and self-published books.
“Artists need to support themselves through their artwork, and Visions is just the right vehicle for that,” said Lane. “They can showcase and sell their work. Artists create for the sake of creating, and they should be rewarded for that.”
She said that “the art movement is strongest along the coast of Maine, and without SACAP’s two galleries a lot of this would not be seen in this area.” She said artists who had no place to show their work might end up storing it at home in an attic. With Visions, they are able not only to display, but also to thrive.
Cowperthwaite said, “Artists display their work and receive the pay they feel their work is worth. There is a small percentage that we receive as a commission, which supports and continues our operations. Most of the artists are local. So, the money is staying within the community.”
He said SACAP seeks sponsors for events and that there are several loyal supporters in Houlton: the Courtyard Cafe, Northern Maine Distilling Co. and Uncle Willy’s Candy Shoppe.
“By providing those sponsorships, we can bring very significant artists into the area. And there are people who would like to display here but oftentimes it’s costly for them to transport their wares.”
He pointed to the current exhibit in the Blue Moon Gallery — “Human Aura,” works by Canadian artist Rita Sassani from Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Free receptions for guest artists, such as a recent one for Sassani, occur about every two months, according to Cowperthwaite. “We usually have a significant crowd of people who come in to view and meet the artists and talk with them.
“If you don’t come into the shop, you’re really missing the works of the talented artists that we have here,” he said. “We love for people to come in and meet the artists, ask questions and get involved in any way they can, even if it’s just coming in and talking about the art that they see.”
A new sign has helped clear up any confusion about gallery.
Lani Lemerise, an SACAP board member, said the sign outside said “Visions” and some passers-by thought the place was an optometrist’s office. A previous sign that said “art shop” led others to believe the location was a source for art supplies, she said.
Now, with a sign created by Paul Porter, a New Limerick artist, capital letters boldly define the space as an “ART GALLERY.” It hangs just under the original Visions sign.
Cowperthwaite credits the growth of SACAP to current and previous volunteers, board members and executive directors. He also has fans for what he has contributed.
“He has a true passion,” said Lane. “This man is just tireless when it comes to working for the arts community.”
For more information, call 532-9119.