“To a landscape painter, Maine is everything,” Carl Little said.
The islands, the seaside towns, the deep Maine woods and the great wide ocean, the blueberry barrens and craggy shores, the play of light over woods, waters and mountains — all provide endless inspiration. But it is more than open spaces that inspire so many artists, year after year, to establish part- or full-time residency in Maine. It has something to do with open spaces of a more figurative kind — a more natural pace of living, a simplified menu of expectations.
Carl Little is not a painter himself, but he has the heart of one. He is a poet, a writer, an artist with words. As an art historian, writer, researcher, curator and lecturer, Little has been immersed in the art world in one form or another for more than 30 years, most of which he has spent in Maine. He has published 15 books on art, including several monographs about artists, and many art-based articles and essays in journals and magazines.
The lion’s share of his creative publications has been inspired by the state of Maine.
That “je ne sais quoi” allure of our home state has played an enormous role in Little’s life — personally, professionally and creatively. “The Art of Francis Hamabe,” his most recent publication, has a particular resonance for him. This beautiful art book grew from personal connections between Little, his Uncle Bill, and Bill’s dear friend Francis Hamabe. All three were called to the coast of Maine to practice their art.
Little’s uncle, William Kienbusch, was a well-known painter in his day. It was he who first introduced his nephew to the inner circles of the art world. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1976 where he studied English and poetry, Little returned home to New York City. For the next four years he spent a great deal of time with his uncle.
“We’d talk poetry and art. We went to a lot of art shows together. He helped me in a lot of ways to look at art,” Little said.
Bill Kienbusch did another great thing to help Little look at art. He had discovered the lure of Maine back in the 1930s and later bought a home on Great Cranberry Island. Recognizing the writer in his nephew, he left his Maine island home to both Carl and his artist brother David. Because their uncle understood how Maine cultivates an artistic soul, the two nephews inherited the house in 1980.
“I couldn’t get half the things done in the city that I do here,” Carl said; “It’s easier to work. There are fewer distractions.”
In 1989, when their children were 1 and 3 years old, Little and his wife Margaret Beaulac moved from New York City to coastal Maine as year-round residents. He was already a well-respected and accomplished art writer, and he hoped to continue writing about art in his new home state.
The wealth of local material has exceeded Little’s expectations. He has written about renowned painters from the past such as Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper as well as up-and-coming Maine artists. But Little especially loves to write about great artists from the past who have begun to slip into obscurity. One of his favorite things to do, in fact, is to resurrect great artists and bring them back into people’s awareness.
“I really enjoy uncovering people.”
One of those people is Francis Hamabe.
“When we inherited Uncle Bill’s house,” Little said, “we kind of inherited his friends, as well.”
One of those friends was Frank Hamabe. He took Little under his wing and helped him connect to the local art scene.
During his lifetime, Hamabe’s paintings and prints were known all over New York and New England and appeared in national magazines. He also became a beloved Maine local. Hamabe was a good man, a good neighbor, and a generous donor of time, artworks and puppetry skills all over coastal Maine. Hamabe is one of several Maine artists who taught Little what an important relationship exists between artists and their communities, a connection that has been further strengthened through his work for the Maine Community Foundation.
“There’s probably not a house in the greater Blue Hill area without one of his works in it,” said Little.
After this labor of love, and all these years of writing about Maine artists, I wondered if Carl ever felt that he might run out of material, but he jumped in even before I finished the question.
“Never,” he said. “It is so rich; there is so much.”
Maine’s inspirational allure is at no risk of dwindling. It seems that our communities will be blessed with an endless supply of creative productions, both from artists and from those who help to bring them to light.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at email@example.com.