When native Mainers walk into artist Nina Jerome’s exhibit at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, Jerome said most of them immediately recognize her painting of a tall Maine pine forest, in the midst of many paintings inspired by the brambly, tangled wild grape and kudzu thickets of the foothills of the Piedmont region of Virginia.
“There’s just such a difference between the straight, kind of linear shape of those tall New England forests, and the kind of tangled, complex, chaotic movement of thickets,” said Jerome, who has been based in Bangor for most of her career. “The Mainers all notice that.”
Jerome’s show, “Entangled,” up now through Dec. 21 at the museum, consists of a series of paintings inspired by Jerome’s several residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst. In that region, and in many parts of the south, forests can often become overrun with vines — wild grape, kudzu, honeysuckle and others can grow up to 40 feet tall and choke out sunlight and other plants.
Inspired by the visual complexities of the vines, she began to draw them during her residency, and upon returning to her Bangor studio began turning those drawings into an extensive series of paintings, ranging from more directly representational studies of the leaves and branches, to more abstract loops and swirls.
Jerome, 69, has kept a studio in downtown Bangor for more than 40 years, at first in a building at the top of State Street hill. For the past 20 years, she’s been in the building at the corner of Exchange and State streets, in a light-filled third-floor space packed with paintings, drawings and ephemera collected from decades of studying landscapes — be they landscapes in the natural world, or landscapes in an urban environment.
As one of the longest-standing artist’s studios in downtown Bangor, Jerome has witnessed firsthand the many changes the downtown has undergone since she first set up shop there in the late 1970s.
“Things like the museum, the art walks, people like Jean Deighan, people like Annette [Dodd] from The Rock and Art Shop — that all builds community. That all makes this a really nice place to work,” said Jerome, referring to Deighan, a Bangor financial adviser whose company sponsors the free year-round admission to the museum, and Dodd, who curates gallery shows at the Central Street shop she co-owns with her family.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Jerome knew as a child that art was her passion. She studied painting at Mount Holyoke College and at the Rhode Island School of Design, and after briefly living in Virginia she and her husband, attorney Robert Sutcliffe, moved to Bangor in 1975.
In 2016, Jerome retired from a more than 40-year career that included more than 35 years teaching at the University of Maine in Orono, where she trained generations of art students in painting and drawing. Though she says she misses seeing her students on a regular basis, she has relished the opportunity to throw herself fully into her work.
“It has been thrilling, to be able to focus on my art in this way,” said Jerome, who since retiring has had artist’s residencies at places including Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Deer Isle and Hafnarborg in Iceland, and has led workshops at the new Monson Arts facility this past summer, as well as her Virginia residency. “It feels like a gift.”
“Entangled” is on display at the University of Maine Museum of Art alongside two other exhibits: “Way Stations,” featuring abstract paintings by New York-based artist Joan Belmar, and “Studio Visit,” featuring new works from six painters working throughout the U.S. The museum, located at 40 Harlow St., is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and admission is free.