A mother and her daughter sat close together as the subway rumbled through Nagoya, a city of 2.2 million people on the coast of Japan. Their legs were angled toward each other, the young girl’s feet dangling off the floor. Sitting across from them, an American with curly brown hair looked down at her cell phone and snapped a photo of their patent leather shoes – one, two, three, four, five moments in time.
“I could do a whole show of shoes,” said Betsy Headley, a poet, painter and photographer from Belfast who took more than 50 photos of subway shoes while teaching conversational English in Japan from 2007 to 2009.
It wasn’t really about the shoes; it was about people, relationships and capturing fleeting moments.
Her SoftBank cell phone was the ideal tool for snatching up those unexpected sights on the busy streets of Japan, though she had two much higher quality cameras with her overseas.
“I first started it because the shoes were so fascinating — the positioning of them and the types of shoes. There were a lot of different shoes than maybe you’d see here,” Headley said. “My husband would say, ‘Oh there are some nice boots down there,’ and we’d move a few seats down.”
Living in Belfast two years later, Headley decided to take a sample of her photos and find a group of Maine artists to collaborate in organizing “A Moment in Time,” an exhibit that will run through May 30 at the Lincoln Street Center for Arts and Education at 24 Lincoln St. in Rockland.
From a list of artists she compiled in March while viewing the artwork of 159 Maine artists at “44N 69W: Radius Belfast” at the Aarhus Gallery in Belfast, Headley chose five artists to be in her show: painter Rainy Brooks of Searsport, fiber artist DebOrah Diemer of Freedom, fabric artist Amy Nichols of Brooks, felt wool sculptor Bob Nichols of Brooks, and stucco sculptor Richard Whittier Liberty.
“The artists, they all know about moments in time, they could all relate,” Headley said. “Even poets — I started out as a haiku poet, and that’s really a moment in time, just a few syllables, usually just capturing a moment.”
Two of her free-verse poems and a small essay accompany her photographic portion of “A Moment in Time” in the Jean B. Chalmers Art Gallery in the Lincoln Street Center.
Pale stucco figures, hand-carved by Whittier, stand on pedestals down the center of the Jean B. Chalmers Art Gallery. The sculptures, alive with curves of movement, were influenced by Whittier’s travels throughout Latin America, Southeast Asia and India from 1986 to 2001, during which he studied cultural stonework and sculptures, ancient and new. When he returned to Maine in 2001, he took his 30 years of masonry experience designing and building artistic chimneys and fireplaces and started a landscape sculpture business, “Garden Spirits,” in Liberty.
A smiling old woman made of felt wool stands beside a geometric fabric and beaded vessels — the works of Amy and Bob Nichols, respectively. Their works are scattered throughout the gallery. Amy, who joined Art Quilts of Maine 15 years ago, has expanded her materials to create three-dimensional fabric bowls, vessels and jewelry. Bob, originally a wood carver and pastel painter in Alaska, delved into the relatively new art of needle felting in 2001.
By the gallery window, a grandfather dances with his granddaughter, spinning her around. The textured felt material they’re crafted from add to illusion of the image as a fuzzy memory.
“Each piece strives to capture the unique magic of its own ‘moment in time,’” Bob Nichols said in his artist statement for the show.
“A Moment in Time” is just as much about the artistic process as it is about the final products. For Brooks, oil painting gives her insight into her inner self. It is while applying colors and texture with her pallet knife that she feels most at peace. Her landscapes are two moments in time: a turbulent bay of sailboats under a pastel sky and the painter’s moment of joyful creation.
It’s all about the process for Diemer as well.
“As a weaver, I am no stranger to time,” said Diemer, who has been “playing” with a sewing machine since she was 5 years old. “There’s nothing fast about weaving. It’s tedious and repetitive. But there is a rhythm and a focus. During my life, I have many times tried to meditate, to sit still and be still, with very little success. I just wanted to be doing. Until I realized that my weaving was a meditation.”
Diemer is scheduled to lead a spinning workshop 1-5 p.m. Friday, May 27, at the Lincoln Street Center. She plans to bring two spinning wheels, one she will work at and the other for people to try spinning themselves, fueled by tea and cookies.
Now that Headley has accomplished her goal of organizing her first group exhibition, she’s focusing on another goal: to publish a book of her photos and poetry.
Originally from Vermont, Headley began as a wildlife photographer in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona. It wasn’t until she lived in China from 2003 to 2004 that she turned her camera toward people, and then again in Japan.
She remembers wandering around a shopping center on New Year’s in Japan and meeting two shy girls, best friends, dressed in traditional kimonos, their hair done up elaborately.
“They were colorful, picturesque, but the other aspect was that they were not super well-to-do. They put together their outfits with sheer willpower,” Headley said, explaining that kimonos are expensive, and many girls rent them or buy used ones for special occasions.
After asking permission, she captured the kimono girls on her phone. The photo hangs on the gallery wall, not far from the mother and daughter’s feet, framed in a series of five photos, five moments in time.
The Jean B. Chalmers Art Gallery is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For information, visit www.lincolnstreetcenter.org or call 594-6490.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the exhibit will run May 31. It will run May 30. In addition, Betsy Headley taught English in Japan from 2007-2009, not 2007-2008.