Shining a spotlight on a particularly mountainous and remote region of Maine, “Enduring Heights: The High Peaks of Maine” is a new book of stunning landscape photographs by John and Cynthia Orcutt, Kingfield residents whose architecture and artwork can be found throughout Maine and beyond.
Their hardcover coffee-table book reveals the wild beauty of the Maine High Peaks region, which spans across Franklin County, from Saddleback Mountain to the Bigelow Range. This sparsely developed area includes 10 of Maine’s 14 tallest mountains, as well as two major rivers, the Androscoggin and the Kennebec, and two of the state’s most famous lakes, Flagstaff and Rangeley.
“One of the purposes of our book is to raise awareness of what’s here and how beautiful it is, to encourage people to come up here, with the idea that they could get out there and enjoy it, but also be stewards of it,” John Orcutt said in a recent interview.
In more than 90 stunning color photographs, the Orcutts present this vast wilderness area to readers, guiding them to snow-covered peaks, hidden waterfalls and forests aflame with fall color. More than just beautiful photos, these images display the intricacies of sunlight and shadow, as well as the stunning palette of colors nature presents year round in Maine’s woods, waters and skies.
“This is a dangerous, perhaps even subversive, book,” wrote U.S. Senator Angus King in the book’s foreword. “It will make you unhappy with where you are now (unless you’re already in the mountains of Maine) … The vistas are so wide, the colors so subtle, the forests so deep, that the urge to see for yourself will be pretty hard to resist.”
The Orcutts will talk about their love of the region and their ongoing journey to share its allure through photographs during a book talk and signing from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at the Bangor Public Library.
In addition, people can view some of the photographs in large format at their limited-time “Enduring Heights” exhibit at Couleur Collection in Falmouth through New Year’s Eve.
“When we travel around the country and we tell people we live in the mountains of Maine, they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know Maine had mountains,’” John Orcutt said. “They know the lighthouses and fishing boats and harbors, the whole coast, and that’s where a lot of people go, but these mountains are really beautiful here, and they’re good hiking.”
The Orcutts fell in love with the High Peaks region about 35 years ago, when they were hired to design a year-round housing community at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain. At the time, they lived in Boston, where John Orcutt was an architect and Cynthia Orcutt was a landscape architect. Traveling north to Sugarloaf on a regular basis, the active, outdoorsy pair started exploring the region on skis, snowshoes, canoes and bikes. Sometimes they’d just hike. And it wasn’t long before they purchased a condominium, then a camp.
“Our family opted to gather at Sugarloaf for most holidays,” the Orcutts wrote in the book’s preface, “and slowly it became home.”
In 2008, after the Orcutts’ three children moved out of their home (which at the time was in Freeport), the Orcutts sold the house and moved to Kingfield, one of the largest towns in the High Peaks region – with about 1,000 residents.
“We didn’t have much of a plan,” John Orcutt said. “We’ve just always been very attached to the area and the people up here … the more you’re here, the more you understand it and are a part of it.”
The Orcutts opened Schoolhouse Gallery in downtown Kingsfield to feature their nature photography, which they produce on on traditional fine art paper, fabric, or aluminum in a range of sizes, including murals. Over the years, their nature photography from the region has spread far and wide, adorning the walls of business offices, hotels and private residences.
Their photographs are also on display in the four Maine Huts & Trails backcountry lodges, which were designed by John Orcutt and are scattered throughout the High Peaks region on the Maine Huts & Trails ever-expanding trail network.
“What we’re all about is getting a healthy balance between development and conservation,” John Orcutt said. “We definitely want tourism. We need jobs up in this area to keep these small town viable … Other than the ski mountain up here, it’s never really gotten to be a place people come to other times of years. But in recent years, we’re seeing more and more activity up here.”
To put the photographs in “Enduring Heights” into context, the Orcutts called upon Wolfe Tone, former Maine State Director for the Trust for Public Land, who wrote an essay for the book called, “Conserving a Landscape and Way of Life.” Tone rehashes conservation triumphs in the area, as well the area’s rich history in logging and the sporting industry. He talks about the balance of economic development, recreation and conservation — a balance that is extremely important to the Orcutts and many of their neighbors.
Also in the book, the Orcutts include a chapter about the geology of the region, as well as an essay on their photography process, how they work as a team to capture fleeting moments in nature, like a fiery sunset from the frozen shore of Flagstaff Lake, the pinks and oranges reflecting off the ice and snow.
“We spent years thinking about this book,” Cynthia Orcutt said. “And then really, from last November to May, this is almost all we did was the photography and filling in the blanks.”
When they resolved to create the book, the Orcutts already had an impressive portfolio of nature photographs to work with, but they wanted to be thorough, so together they selected photos they felt were suitable for the book, then pinned the location of each on a map. The display allowed them to easily see where they’d yet to explore. Traveling by foot, canoe and on skis, they hauled their cameras, lenses and tripods throughout the area, often staying the night at Maine Huts & Trails lodges, in search for the final photos for the book.
“This book really deals with the natural environment,” John Orcutt said, “but up here, the character of this place is also determined by its town and its people and the development that has happened and its long history of people being here making a living, really working hard and grinding out a lifestyle here.”
Their vision is to create another photography book about the region, perhaps two, focusing on the history and people of the High Peaks.
“That trilogy would be a life’s work,” John Orcutt said. “I don’t know when all that would happen because we’re very busy with a lot of things going on right now, but that’s kind of on the horizon.”
To purchase the book, visit johnorcuttnaturephoto.com.
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