June 19, 2018
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Jetport artists offer departing visitors one last piece of Maine

By Kathleen Pierce, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Hustling to catch her flight to Atlanta, Elizabeth Cobb pauses to look at a puffin.

The painting displayed at Portland International Jetport, reminded her of a book from her childhood.

“I never thought they existed outside the Chicago Zoo,” Cobb said Monday morning en route to her departure.

To remember Maine, the Georgian purchased a pack of puffin greeting cards designed by Brunswick artist Carol Ann Szafranski, and stowed it in her carry-on bag. Instead of a generic postcard or keychain, she found a memento from the Pine Tree State and conversed on the concourse with the person who made it.

This gallery without walls, located past security, outside the newsstand and steps from Starbucks, stands out amid the coffee and tchotchkes.

Szafranski and fellow painter Shelby Crouse call themselves the Jetport Artists.

Three years ago these industrious women had an idea: What if, instead of waiting for patrons to come to them, they took their palettes to the people.

“I called the airport manager and he was kind of skeptical at first,” said Crouse, who grew up in Mexico, Maine and paints watercolors of her favorite seaside scenes.

Without a studio or gallery at her disposal, Crouse, 66, thought painting and selling in a public place like an airport terminal would work.

“Artists have a really hard time marketing themselves. We wanted to advance ourselves,” she said.

Judging from their sales one morning — 24 pieces of work between the two of them in a few hours — it looks like they have.

Instead of the passivity of art fairs or gallery shows, these artists have access to a captive audience that’s more inclined to make a purchase when they only have 10 minutes to spare.

“It’s a very impulse buy I think,” Crouse said.

For Linda and Bruce Nieschwitz of Houston, the chance to collect original art moments before soaring into the friendly skies was an unexpected convenience.

“We thought we were going to leave empty handed,” said Linda Nieschwitz, as she whisked by the pop-up gallery enroute to her gate.

Crouse’s rendering of the Portland Head Light lighthouse caught their eye.

“We like to buy local art when we travel, and we were not able to make it to the galleries,” said Linda Nieschwitz, pleased with her newly-minted watercolor.

Point of departure equals point of sale for the Jetport artists. And that dovetails with the airport’s strategy.

“We find that travelers from Maine, as well as away, enjoy the local brands — Stonewall Kitchen, Down East Magazine — they are all part of our Maine-made marketplace,” said Scott Carr, deputy airport director.

Setting themselves up outside Down East Marketplace, where local products are sold next to magazines and gum, has worked for both parties.

Art sales are rung up at the marketplace, run by The Paradies Shops, Inc. The Atlanta-based company takes a percentage. That in itself pays for the space the artists occupy three days a week.

“It helps both of us,” said Gregg Fluckiger, general manager for the marketplace. “It generates incremental sales, purchases passengers might not make otherwise.”

And this time of year, when 70 percent of passengers are out-of-state travelers who are encouraged to arrive at the airport 90 minutes before takeoff, “that’s a lot of dwell time,” said Fluckiger.

Harried travelers are discovering that gazing at a scene that elicits memories from childhood beats thumbing through a gossip mag.

“I’ve been coming to Maine since I was 19 … some of the things I see remind me of my memories,” said Myrna Holbrook, 69 of Miami, perusing Szafranski’s calendar of lighthouses, loons and lobsterman. “It’s the memories you get to keep no matter what.”

To keep those memories alive, Crouse opens her easel right on the concourse.

“When I’m painting, I’m really not here. It takes me sailing out on an island. I don’t really think that I’m at an airport,” she said.

While Crouse paints, Szafranski, 63, works the crowd. “It’s almost like being an ambassador to Maine,” said Szafranski. “We talk about Maine and it makes them feel very welcome.”

And when they leave? Their work makes them wistful.

“Going back to Georgia, I get very homesick for Maine,” said Karen Biggs of Atlanta, who grew up in Scarborough.

Before boarding, she purchased a framed Crouse original. The scene of Bailey Island with a kayak in the foreground clinched the deal.

“It just takes me back to the islands. It just talked to me.”

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