CHERRYFIELD, Maine — The town of Cherryfield is changing, and resident artist Cynthia Huntington is delighted. An old-fashioned general store recently has rooted in the small town along with an antique shop and a gift shop. A winery is on the way. And now, after nearly a decade of planning and saving funds, Huntington has opened the doors of a new art gallery to showcase the work of Washington County artists and crafters, many of whom have little opportunity to show their work outside their studios.
On the road leading to the mountain it’s named after, Tunk Mountain Arts & Crafts was a dream of Huntington, an artist known for her pastel renditions of native birds.
“This is a small little gallery that’s been put together with a lot of planning and love over a number of years,” said Huntington. “None of us are very rich.”
The gallery, located at at 639 Blackswoods Road, will celebrate its grand opening 3-6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7, with live music, refreshments and an exhibition of artwork by Huntington, plein air painter Starr Kopper, woodworker Zoltan Farkas, artist Sarah Murphy and sculptor Hugh Lassen.
“My purpose in doing this is to promote the arts in the area because there are a lot of artists here and they’re kind of hidden,” said Huntington, adding that the Washington County artists have become a lot more visible in the past few years due to town art walks.
Huntington was born in 1944 in Portland, where her mother worked as a fish cutter at a sardine factory. When she was still a young girl, Huntington and her mother packed up their belongings and left Maine for Boston, where art entered Huntington’s life at age 10 with a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. Huntington’s hardworking mother sent her to the museum each summer to dabble in the arts in the company of her cousins.
“She always set aside enough money,” said Huntington. “So we’d be doing art programs downstairs or we’d just be wandering the beautiful museum, looking at anything from mummies to Winslow Homer paintings. Then, of course, if you’re there, you also get introduced to everything else, too — music, theater; one art sort of spills over into the next.”
Her fascination with birds developed when she escaped the city life for months at a time to stay with her grandmother in the New Hampshire mountains. Throughout her life, Huntington continued to visit the wilderness, hiking, fishing and cross-country skiing with her sketchbook in hand.
A self-taught artist, she raised a family of six children and found financial support by crafting wood-burned kitchen items such as Lazy Susans and cutting boards depicting birds and leaves. Her crafts were sold at shops in Britain and the U.S., including the Smithsonian gift shop in Washington, D.C.
Huntington wouldn’t return to Maine until she was in her mid-50s and her children were grown and out in the world. She then decided to turn a new leaf and devote her life to art, but this time, instead of working with wood, she picked up a paintbrush and pastels. As she honed her skills with the new medium, her plans for opening a gallery solidified almost simultaneously.
The building that now houses Tunk Mountain Arts & Crafts was designed by William Sherar (1925-2001), a member of the Turtle Clan of the Coctaw Nation and seaman, shipwright, craftsman and a collector with a particular love of American folk art.
In Cherryfield, Sherar was best known for his stories and his collection of more than 350 duck decoys — some of which are shown at the gallery today — with a focus on the work of Maine carvers. Many people also remember him by his restored 1940 Dodge pickup that won prizes at classic car shows. It was for his Dodge and 1953 Plymouth that Sherar initially designed the building that is now Tunk Mountain Arts & Crafts (“Tunk” meaning “the principal stream” in Abenaki). The building wasn’t finished in his lifetime.
Huntington was a close friend of Sherar’s, sharing his love and understanding of crafts, birds and Native American history. She purchased the building from his daughter six years ago and has since worked hard to finish its construction and transform the garage into a studio space.
This May’s rain delayed the construction of the parking area and patio and thus delayed the gallery grand opening celebration, though the gallery has been open since June 1.
“Some of us were stepping over backhoes and bulldozers and there was a big dump truck in the yard,” Huntington said.
Now that construction is complete, Huntington’s future plans involve a sculpture garden in the backyard and children’s art programs including an art show in collaboration with area schools.
When Huntington stands in the front yard of her home in Cherryfield just down the road from the gallery, the Maine wilderness surrounds her once again. She’s surrounded by forested hills — Black Mountain, Round Mountain and the most spectacular of all the forested peaks, Tunk Mountain.
The gallery will be open through November, has a jury process to accept work from new artists and will host a variety of events throughout the season including classes and demonstrations. A dedication event with a spoken-word performance “When Bill Danced the War” by Sarah Murphy, daughter of Sherar, is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sept. 17. For information about Tunk Mountain Arts & Crafts, call 546-8948 or visit tunkmountainartsandcrafts.com.