June 25, 2018
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Maine artist and outdoorsman pieces together the ‘Katahdin Tradition’

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff

“Art of Katahdin” by David Little, edited by Carl Little, May 2013, Down East Books, 200 pages, hardcover with more than 200 color plates, $50.

Maine’s tallest mountain has many faces. From Abol Bridge, it is a long ridge, a shelf of rock towering over the wilderness. From Katahdin Lake, it looks more conical, like a volcano, with lesser peaks trailing off to the right. And if you stand on the shores of Chimney Pond, the mountain surrounds you; walls of rock climb to the clouds.

It is no mystery why so many artists and poets have been drawn to Katahdin over the years, recording the majestic landmark and its many faces. David Little, a landscape painter from Portland, is one of those artists.

“Every time, the mountain draws me in, as painter, as visitor, as kin,” he writes in his “Art of Katahdin,” a book published by Down East Books and released to bookstores in May.

Filled with more than 200 color images of Katahdin artwork and chapters of the mountain’s history, “Art of Katahdin” is the first comprehensive record of what Little believes is the “Katahdin Tradition” — a centuries-long story of people expressing their experiences of the mountain through art, beginning with the first people who admired and revered the mountain — the Penobscots.

In this hardcover treasure, Little manages to draw together perspectives and experiences of Katahdin that are at once unique and united.

“While I was doing research, the times I went to Katahdin, I found myself incredibly moved, feeling goosebumps all over me, that this is the beginning of something I couldn’t go back from,” Little said in a recent interview. “I was actually going to produce a gift to the state of Maine, if this came out the way I wanted it to.”

Little first began thinking about the “Katahdin Tradition” after reading the 1940 article “Artists and Katahdin,” in which Myron Avery attempted to uncover the “Katahdin Tradition” among artists and found gaps he simply couldn’t fill.

“Art of Katahdin” is Little’s successful endeavor to fill in those gaps.

Research for the book began about seven years ago when Little curated the exhibitionTaking Different Trails: The Artist’s Journey to Katahdin Lake” at Bates College, a project that awoke in him a desire to uncover images and stories from the mountain’s past — including women climbing Katahdin in Victorian dresses, old postcards, and famous paintings by Frederic Edwin Church.

“I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours working on this project,” Little said. “This is my mini symphony.”

In addition to the many local resources, such as the Maine State Museum and Maine Historical Society, Little visited museums, galleries and private collections throughout eastern U.S., including the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York to study the art of Church, as well as his Onlana, the painter’s home in Hudson, New York, now a historic site and museum.

“All of this effort that I made was part of this deepening love for the mountain and wanting to find out more about its connections to the past, and find out how artists today are inspired by the past,” Little said.

Little put each piece of Katahdin art in context by referring to a timeline of the mountain’s history drawn up by John Neff, author of the book “Katahdin: A Historic Journey,” so that the book flows as a story, not simply a discussion of artwork.

“My passion, my obsession with Katahdin, encompasses so many things,” Little said. “To me, I think there’s an artistic license to use the word ‘Katahdin’ to describe a pizza or battleship or Arctic moth … I think, in some ways, people use ‘Katahdin’ as this really large, wonderful, strong, spiritual emblem for themselves.”

The book includes examples of Katahdin literature that Little found particularly poetic, as well as photography, graphics, maps and other ways people have artistically expressed their perspectives of Maine’s tallest mountain over the decades.

“This is a very complex history. It’s spread out all over the place. Nobody has really put it together, and it’s never really been appreciated by the media or galleries or museums at all as a subject,” Little said.

Little kicked off his schedule of public presentations on the book as the keynote speaker at the Baxter State Park annual meeting on April 27, at which he sold out of all the copies of the book he brought for signing.

To officially launch the book, the University of New England Art Gallery will feature the exhibition “The Art of Katahdin: the Mountain, the Range and the Region,” from July 31 to Oct. 26, with historic and current works of art in a variety of mediums, curated by Stephen Halpert in association with Little.

Upcoming talks and book signings in Maine:

– May 3: the International Appalachian Trail annual meeting at Shin Pond. (The exact time is not yet determined.)

– June 22: 3 p.m. at Center Street Gallery in Bath.

– June 23: 5-7 p.m. at Frenchman’s Bay Gallery in Somesville.

– June 27: Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers in Freeport. For information, call Laurie Perzley at 671-3551 or 865-4519.

-July 6: North Light Gallery in Millinocket. For information, call Marsha Donahue at 1-800-970-4278 or 477-1583.

-July 11: 7 p.m. at Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor. F

-July 16: 7 p.m. at Camden Public Library.

-July 24: noon-1 p.m. at Bangor Public Library in conjunction with the Friends of Baxter State Park “Bangor to Katahdin” day celebration.

-July 25: 7 p.m. at Blue Hill Public Library.

-Aug. 22: 7 p.m. at Maine Historical Society in Portland.

-Aug. 27: 5:30-7 p.m. at Southwest Harbor Library.

“There’s a lot planned,” Little said. “I think this is going to be a big year for Katahdin.”

For information, visit www.downeast.com.

“Chimney Pond Tales: Yarns Told by Leroy Dudley,” assembled by Clayton Hall and Jane Thomas with Elizabeth Hall Harmon, March 2013, Maine Authors Publishing, 114 pages, paperback, $14.95.

On a boulder beside Chimney Pond in Baxter State Park is a bronze plaque in memory of Leroy Dudley, a man who made Katahdin his home as he guided scientists and outdoor enthusiasts along its slopes from the 1890s (his first guiding trip being at the age of 18) until his death in 1942.

His base camp was at Chimney Pond, a crystal clear tarn at the bottom of the South Basin, which Dudley described as “a huge bowl with the side facing the northeast broken out. The sides of the bowl are granite ledges two thousand feet in height.”

It was at Chimney Pond, surrounded by the majestic slopes of Katahdin, that he often entertained his “sports” with tall tales about the god-like creature Pamola, protector of Katahdin, as well as stories of his life in the woods of Maine.

These stories, many of which were influenced by Penobscot Native American tales he heard from family friends during his childhood, were recorded on wax cylinder by Clayton Hall in the 1930s. They were first printed in 1991 as the self-published book “Chimney Pond Tales: Yarns Told by Leroy Dudley,” which sold more than 10,000 copies.

Now, more than 20 years later, a revised anniversary edition of the book, released by Maine Authors Publishing, has some interesting additions: early photographs of Leroy Dudley, Katahdin and Chimney Pond; a detailed afterword written by Elizabeth Hall Harmon; and an additional Dudley story, “Pamola’s Farewell,” which was recorded in Dudley’s own vernacular and appears in the edition un-edited.

For information, visit www.maineauthorspublishing.com.

“Chet Sawing Poems” by Thomas R. Moore, December 2012, Fort Hemlock Press, 76 pages, paperback, $10.

“Chet Sawing,” winner in the 2011 Maine Postmark Poetry Contest, is Thomas R. Moore’s vivid childhood memory about a moment of admiration for the men in his life — his father, older brother and Uncle Chet — as they cut wood in the yard.

It is just one of the many moving poems compiled in the newly published book, “Chet Sawing Poems,” which is divided into four sections. “Chet Sawing” can be found in the first section, titled “Savagery,” on boyhood memories. Moore then jumps to the present day in the section “Cape Rosier,” at the poet’s home in Brooksville. The final two sections of poems, “The Gray Trunk” and “Paradise Lost,” fluctuate between vivid memories and the emotions they evoke in the present moment.

Moore, who retired from teaching at Maine Maritime Academy, has been nominated for Pushcart prizes, and his poem “The Bolt-Cutters” was a finalist in the 2011 Maine Writers and Publishers competition. His poems have appeared in several prestigious publications such as the Worcester Review, Boston Literary Magazine and College English.

His books are available through www.forthemlockpress.com and local bookstores.

“Wild Fox: A True Story” written by Cherie Mason and illustrated by Jo Ellen McAllister Stammen, March 2013, Down East Books, 44 pages, color illustrations, hardcover, $14.99.

A red fox, crippled by a steel-jawed trap, hobbled up to Cherie Mason’s bird feeder one morning, forming the beginning of a relationship and a touching story that inspired the book “Wild Fox: A True Story.”

Mason, who lives in Sunset, has been active in environmental and wildlife protection for more than 40 years and has worked as an environmental journalist for Maine public radio. In “Wild Fox,” she shares her unexpected connection with wildlife with refreshing and honest simplicity, resulting in a story that can be enjoyed and related to by all ages.

The story further brought to life by the stunning illustrations of Camden artist Jo Ellen McAllister Stammen, who runs JoEllen Designs and creates hand-hooked wool rugs and pillows.

For information, visit www.downeast.com.

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