Mount Katahdin looms over 209,501 acres of permanently conserved wilderness in Baxter State Park in north-central Maine. The silhouette of the double-peaked mountain is a familiar shape to many, though the personal significance of the jutting granite varies from hiker to scientist to artist.
Its shape is set in stone, but there are many ways to view a mountain.
“Take a Hike,” an exhibit of paintings of the mile-high mountain, will run through April 30 at two Bangor venues, …byDESIGN art gallery at 20 Harlow St. and Eastern Maine Development Corp. at 40 Harlow St. And a portion of the proceeds will go toward conserving the very wilderness the 10 Maine artists have portrayed in oil, pastel and watercolor.
For the past two and a half years, Bangor’s …byDESIGN art gallery has been donating money from their themed art exhibits to various nonprofit organizations. A portion of the proceeds for “Take a Hike” will go to Friends of Baxter State Park, an organization of 650 volunteers that works to preserve and enhance the wilderness character of Baxter State Park through volunteerism, community outreach and education.
Rod Rodrigues, director of …byDESIGN, got the idea of creating a Mount Katahdin exhibit from visiting artist Evelyn Dunphy at her studio in West Bath to choose new artwork for the gallery.
“I picked out some, and all four were of Katahdin,” Rodrigues said. “Then I picked up three more, and they were of Katahdin.”
Dunphy, who mainly paints watercolors, began painting Mount Katahdin in 1997, and since has painted the mountain more than 100 times from different angles, during all seasons and at various times of the day.
“You are painting the same physical shape all of the time, but each time you see it, it’s never the same,” she said.
In 2006, Dunphy, a member of Friends of Baxter State Park, donated Katahdin paintings to a campaign to raise $14 million for the park to purchase Katahdin Lake and 4,000 acres of surrounding land. She sees art and environmental activism as “soul companions.”
“Some of the earliest American painters really started the modern conservation movement,” Dunphy said. “The more I looked into it, the more all-encompassing it was. There are artists all over the country doing this. We are always donating our paintings and working to save something. … You try the best you can to show what these places mean to you by painting them, and people respond.”
Rodrigues certainly responded to Dunphy’s Katahdin scenes with colors and light playing off untouched snow or the rippling water of Millinocket Lake. Sitting in his gallery the morning after visiting Dunphy, Rodrigues realized that he could build a whole exhibit around Katahdin. He organized “Take a Hike” in the next 15 days.
The artists participating in “Take a Hike” are: Valerie Aponik of Beals Maine, Evelyn Dunphy of West Bath, June Grey of Enfield, Jeff Haase of Dexter, Candace McKellar of Sherman, Jean McLean of Millinocket, Paul Thibodeau of Lincoln, J. Thomas R. Higgins of Farmington, Judy Taylor of Mount Desert Island, and Michael Boardman of North Yarmouth.
About 100 people attended its opening reception on Feb. 17, during which speakers pointed out connections between Bangor and the great mountain, beyond its geological connection through the Penobscot River. The famous nature writer Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) stayed in Bangor with a relative to prepare for his journeys through the Maine wilderness to Mount Katahdin.
President of Friends of Baxter State Park Barbara Bentley also spoke at the reception.
“We have been involved in other art exhibits as well, starting with the Katahdin Lake Campaign,” said Barbara Bentley, president of Friends of Baxter State Park. “We encourage and support artists and writers who write about the outdoors, the park, wilderness, because that is one way for people to enjoy and appreciate the wilderness; it’s one way for people to be educated about it.”
Friends of Baxter State Park has a number of new projects lined up that need funding, and they plan to use …byDESIGN’s donation to help. They are planning to assemble “Adventure and Nature Backpacks” filled with everything needed for a day of wilderness exploration. Two of these backpacks — which will include first aid, tracking guides, bug nets and binoculars — will be left at each ranger station to be offered for rent. The organization also aims to build three-dimensional models of Mount Katahdin that include each of the trailheads.
The ranger stations already have three-dimensional replicas of Katahdin on their porches, but they don’t show enough of the surrounding forest to include the trailheads or give hikers an idea of how long the trail is before reaching Chimney Pond. One of these replicas, on loan from Baxter State Park, is on display at the gallery.
“People just can’t keep their hands off it,” said Rodrigues. “They’re tracing Knife’s Edge [the ridge between Baxter and Pamola Peak] and pointing out Russell Pond.”
This exhibit is considered modest in size for …byDESIGN. The gallery’s fall exhibition consisted of art from 300 artists from around the world, and benefited three nonprofit organizations.
“At …byDESIGN, we only know how to operate at one speed, and it’s ‘just go,’” Rodrigues said. “We produce a lot with a few people. We work to the best of our ability.”
The gallery’s next exhibition, beginning at the end of April, will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the April 30, 1911, Bangor fire. The gallery is sending 20 artists and 11 photographers into the city to depict Bangor, as people did after the fire 100 years ago. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Hose 5 Fire Museum at 247 State St. in Bangor.
…byDESIGN is open10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. For information, visit www.bydesignartgallery.com or call 947-0077.