It’s a place where policies are crafted, bills are designed and officials are appointed. The Maine Capitol Complex is a place for change, and as is fitting, the artwork that greets policymakers each day is regularly changing.
It’s no surprise that those at the Maine Arts Commission are the hands behind the evolving scenery. For the past 10 years, the commission has worked with Maine galleries to determine what images will grace the walls, and which artists will have the honor of displaying their work in the heart of the state’s government.
The Arts in the Capitol program rotates three exhibits through Augusta each year, distributing artwork throughout Maine’s Capitol complex. Since the beginning of July, landscape paintings by Jacobus Baas have been on display and will remain there through September.
“I think [Baas] exemplifies the inspiration of our state to artists. He’s not from Maine, but he’s inspired by the landscape and he actually paints the landscape quickly on site. His work is a reflection of Maine’s natural beauty and why it’s important to preserve it,” said Jacob Dowling, owner of Rockland’s Dowling Walsh Gallery, which has represented Baas for the past five years.
Dowling supplied the commission with more than 20 of Baas’ paintings, one of which is on display in the Blaine House.
Many of the paintings can be seen in the Maine Arts Commission Office, established by the Legislature in 1966 to “encourage and stimulate public interest and participation in the cultural heritage and programs of our state and to expand the state’s cultural resources.”
“We’re there to demonstrate the quality of Maine Art so that decision makers and policymakers can view it every day and people visiting the Capitol get to see it — and right now, many tourists,” said Darrell Bulmer, Communication Associate of the Maine Arts Commission.
Baas, born in the Netherlands in 1945, spent his childhood in Rotterdam, surrounded by rich landscapes made famous by Dutch masters. Arriving in the U.S. at age 12, he already had an interest in art.
He began painting in high school, but changed course to channel his creativity into jewelry and opened Jacobus Goldsmiths in Laguna Beach, Calif., in 1975. His designs captured a following that resulted in 35 years of success as a goldsmith.
An important venue to spread word about his jewelry was, and remains, the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach. This year will be Baas’ 39th year in the juried show.
Though busy designing jewelry, Baas continued to paint in his studio until 1994, when he began painting on location during a trip to Santa Fe, N.M. The magic that came with painting outdoors and in the moment caused Baas to devote himself to plein air painting and leave his goldsmith business in the hands of his partner Troels Larsen.
“To transform a two dimensional surface and give it a feeling of space with carefully arranged brushstrokes, using the right colors and values is pure magic,” Baas said in a prepared statement. “Every time I paint on location, with each brushstroke I experience that magic again, and hopefully the viewer will experience it as well in the finished painting.”
Though Baas goes into “a zone” when he’s painting the Southport pier or Boothbay forests, he’s still constantly fighting the elements.
“You either have wind or rain or bugs, things attacking you all the time. It’s either too hot or too cold,” said Baas. “There’s a lot of things that happen when you’re painting outdoors, but it’s still a wonderful feeling.”
Baas, who has five children and six grandchildren, fell in love with Maine after a trip to visit friends in Camden in 1999. A year later, he and his wife purchased a house in Lincolnville.
Since then, he has hauled his easel up and down the coast, to Camden, Rockland, Spruce Head, Port Clyde and all the way up to Campobella Island, New Brunswick.
“You look for something that inspires you — the way the sunlight hits an object, a sailboat, a reflection in the water. All sorts of stuff is involved in [finding a scene],” said Baas in a recent phone interview. “Mainly, the light and shadows and the way they form on things. In Maine, I do a lot of boats because there’s a lot of them around, especially the lobster boats, which are very colorful, and the schooners are great to paint in the harbors.”
Today, about one third of Baas’ paintings are of Maine scenes, because he usually stays in Lincolnville from August to December. Last year, his family decided to extend their stay for a snowy Christmas instead of spending the holidays at Laguna Beach or Hawaii, their other two homes.
He’s currently represented by galleries in Maine, California, Hawaii, Washington and Texas.
“The paintings speak for themselves. They’re not some weird concept or something,” said Baas. “I’m trying to catch a moment people don’t see because they’re in such a hurry in their lives.”
Surely Maine’s politicians fall victim to a busy schedule as much as the rest of us, but when they do get a chance to stand still, one of Baas’ beautifully rendered moments will be waiting for them.
All Arts in the Capitol events are free and open to the public. The exhibit is open in the Maine Arts Commission Office 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; the Maine State House 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday; and the Blaine House 2-4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. To view the artwork in the Blaine House, call ahead at 287-2121. For information on programs available through the Maine Arts Commission, visit MaineArts.com.