Collaborative Art-Making

The St. George peninsula is mid-coast Maine is an astonishingly artsy place.  Among the famous artists who’ve lived here or near are Andrew Wyeth and his son Jamie (who still lives here), Kenneth Noland, Greg Mort, and William Thon. And in addition to those better known names are dozens and dozens of full-time and summer-time makers, working in media as diverse as watercolors and stone, encaustic and rusted metal, digital photography and hand-made paper.  It’s a great place to be a maker.

Every summer, through an open studio program organized by the late, great Don McClain (no, not that one.  The other one), between 20 and 40 artists have opened their spaces to visitors for one or two weekends each summer.

I love such projects, but I started to feel bad for the artists because they couldn’t visit each other.  This celebration of the area’s creative community precluded the participation of many of its members.  I tried to figure out something I could do to bring us all into community?

chapbook-230x300And from that, the “progressive poetry project” was born.  Here’s what we did:

1.  I left a box of blank cards with each of the artists who was interested in participating, and instructions to the folks who visited the studio to write something on the card that was inspired by the work.  Not “this is so pretty,” but maybe something like “blackberries tinged with sea spray.”  Or whatever.  I tried really hard to keep it open and not prescriptive.

2.  I collected all the boxes, spent some time looking at the art work, and then used as many of the words on the cards as I could to make a poem that was responsive to the work or the words or both, one poem per studio.

3.  Then, I turned those into a little chapbook, illustrated with images by several of the artists, and shared with everyone who participated.

What I hoped was that the artists and visitors would consider us as all in “it” together, a community of collective appreciate and creation, and that those often firm lines between makers and viewers would blur.  And that did happen, at least a little.  But what also happened, delightfully, was that many of the artists felt that the poems really suited their work–even though they couldn’t control what folks said about their art, or what I did with the things that they said.  And I have to think that that’s due to more than serendipity, that the poems were the distillation of community being manifest.