A bit of local color

Who painted these lovely, overlooked murals in Rockland ME?
Mural at Ocean State Job Lot, Rockland, ME.
Inside the lobby at Rockland’s Ocean State Job Lot—in the northwest corner where they put promoted seasonal merchandise—is a set of murals. There are more in the breakroom, where we never go. These were painted more than 25 years ago, when the building was a Wal-Mart. To Ocean State’s credit, they’ve never been painted over, but they are badly in need of restoration. The fluorescent lighting in the store is pretty awful.
Mural at Ocean State Job Lot, Rockland, ME.
The murals are an utterly charming look at Rockport and Camden and their fine flurry of sailing vessels. The American Boat Yard sheds are still standing below Mount Battie. An amazing potpourri of wonderful vessels bobs around the light at Rockland, including schooner Victory Chimes and the US Coast Guard Cutter Thunder Bay. The lobster smack Joseph Pike is tied up at its dock.
At first you think the boats were transcribed from photos, but then you take a good look at them and realize that nothing in these murals are real. Rather, they’re fantastical, as if in a dream. Camden has fewer houses than it would have in a 19th century painting by Fitz Henry Lane.
Mural at Ocean State Job Lot, Rockland, ME.
One of the pieces has a clear signature: Ed L. Roberts ’92. An Ocean State employee thought he was someone who worked at the store. A cursory Google search tells me nothing. So, sadly, I know nothing of their provenance. Rather, I’m asking you: who painted these and when? If you have any idea, please comment below.
Mural at Ocean State Job Lot, Rockland, ME.
If you’re visiting Rockland, Ocean State Job Lot is probably not on your bucket list. Still, you might want to stop and take a quick gander at this amazing folk art. If you think of it, thank the manager for not painting over them. They’re a charming part of our local history.

Goodbye, old paint

How did the ‘renovation’ of the American Boathouse end up with it being torn down? Where is the line between private property rights and preservation to be drawn?
Pamela Casper did this painting of the boathouses during my workshop several years ago.

The American Boathouse was an historic boathouse on Camden harbor, one of the nation’s oldest remaining recreational boathouses. It was built to house the 130-foot steam-powered yacht Maunaloa in 1904. Three boats of this name belonged to Chauncy Borland, the first commodore of the Camden Yacht Club. The building had been on the market forever, its redevelopment encumbered by its being on the NationalRegister of Historic Places and in an area zoned for business.

Earlier this year, I’d read in the paper that the boathouse was going to be ‘restored’ as a private residence. “[T]he Reeds want to buy it and spend approximately $5 million rebuilding it from stem to stern, and convert its use to a residence, with room underneath for a yacht,” reportedthe Penbay Pilot. “They need, however, to change town ordinance so that the zone in which the boathouse sits – Harbor Business District – will allow residential development at the first floor level.”
The boathouse in happier days.
What I didn’t realize is that ‘rebuilding’ it meant razing the original structure and starting again. I’m apparently not the only one who thought that. “It would not have lasted very long vacant in its old age. We residents are so glad the Reeds wanted to repair it and use it, after going through changes in zoning, etc. We are fortunate that the American Boathouse has been saved,” wrotelocal historian Barbara F. Dyer.
Maunaloa off Camden.
I have an architectural historian visiting me this week. I thought she would enjoy seeing the schooner fleet at Camden. Instead, she watched me goggle and sputter at the irredeemable loss at the head of the harbor. I haven’t painted at Camden since the Camden Classics Cup in July. In my absence, the boathouse has vanished and a new building is being constructed on the site.
Not that I have any say in the matter, of course. I’m not a Camden voter, and the boathouse was private property. At $2.4 million for a derelict building, it was also too expensive for any local yokel to buy. That’s the fate of waterfront property these days: it’s the exclusive province of the rich.
Drying sails, by Carol L. Douglas. Private collection. The boathouse is a soft background.
But the boathouse was an icon on Camden harbor, and now it’s gone. It’s figured in my paintings, and been the subject of many other artists. That long sloping building was difficult to draw correctly, and its green doors against the red shed next door set the mood of artwork done from the landing side of the harbor.
Wealthy people like Chauncy Borland have been coming to Maine to rusticate in the summer since the end of the 19th century. Seeing old things torn down to accommodate them is nothing new. In that sense, the end of the American Boathouse is historically more accurate than any true renovation would have been.
Spring Pruning, by Carol L. Douglas. This house was also razed to make room for a bigger model, this time in Rockport.
But swank structures are never particularly paintable. Old or new, they sit astride the landscape, dominating it. In contrast, the homes and businesses of modest men fold themselves into their settings, becoming one with them. I doubt I’ll be painting that part of the harbor any time soon.
Forty million visitors were on track to visit Maine this summer. They aren’t coming here to see luxurious new houses on the coast (although they may be staying in them). How do we negotiate the line between private property rights and the need to preserve the Maine that tourists love?

Showing Alison the ropes

And in Camden harbor, there are ropes everywhere.
Pea Soup, by Carol L. Douglas

This week is the Camden Classics Cup, which draws all sorts of lovely boats to Camden, Maine (as if the place had any shortage on its own). Howard Gallagher asked artists from Camden Falls Gallery to scamper down to the harbor to paint the beautiful beasties, which I’ll be doing while dodging raindrops. It’s nice to do an event close to home, although it doesn’t happen often.

Alison Menke was up at Castine Plein Airlast week. We’d met in June, when we did the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival in Nova Scotia. She went from there to take first place at Telluride Plein Air, and then bounced back up to Maine. I’m a fan of her bravura brushwork, but she’s also a lovely person. When I realized she was hanging around the Maine coast, I invited her to join me in Camden.
Alison and me, in the murk of a foggy day.
I’ve grown accustomed to the wealth of schooners in the harbor. It was enlightening to see them through fresh eyes. We set up on a floating dock to paint the bow of the Mistress, with Mercantile in the background. Mistress’ dinghy, Tricky Mary, hangs half-suspended from her bow. It’s a nice, odd angle. She’s neither floating nor swinging.
The first time I ever painted in Camden, I was shy about setting up on a floating dock. Still, it’s the only place to paint in places where tides run high. Otherwise, you’ll inevitably get a twist in the hull as the angle changes. Steve Pixley, Camden’s harbormaster, reassured me that it was alright, and I’ve been painting on the docks ever since. This is one of the many ways in which Maine is not like other places.
Our paintings before the little yawl pulled in.
Alison was overly impressed by my knowledge of the schooners’ habits. It’s really just a question of asking the crews endless questions, something that’s going to result in my being pitched in the water one of these days. The most important of these is always, “When are you going back out?”
I love the cluster of day-trippers on the wall—Appledore, Olad, and Surprise—but it’s difficult to paint them live, since they’re never in one place long enough. However, in such heavy fog, they make fewer trips.
A FitzHugh Lane Day at Camden, Carol L. Douglas. There are boats you can only catchon foggy days.
“It’s a real pea-souper,” said a couple coming in from Isleboro to do their weekly shopping. With so many visitors and exotic yachts, it’s easy to forget that for many people, Camden is a working harbor.
By midafternoon, we both needed coffee and lunch. We downed brushes and walked up to town. In retrospect, I feel badly about my choice of dining establishments. Alison has been enjoying such Maine delicacies as Nutella crepes, blueberries and lobster rolls, and I directed her to a boring old chicken salad and a Tootsie Roll. I should have taken her to Harbor Dogs instead. That’s fine coastal dining.
It draws visitors from around the world, so Camden harbor is never boring.

We sat on a bench enjoying the sea mist and our lunches when we noticed a little yawl coming in. She tied up right next to our easels and blocked our view. Pretty enough, but at that moment, I hated her. Alison decided she was finished and packed up to head to Port Clyde. I reworked the bottom of my canvas, ruthlessly excising the mizzen mast.

“I’ll see you around someplace,” Alison said. Well, actually, she’ll see me in three weeks at Adirondack Plein Air. I’m looking forward to it.
I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.

Let that be a lesson to me

I'm going to look at this in the studio later and see if I can regain the sense of the Mercantile looking. Shadows, perhaps.

I’m going to look at this in the studio later and see if I can regain the sense of the Mercantile looming. Shadows, perhaps.
My flagging energy has been at war with the calendar. Two weeks from tomorrow I fly to Scotland for a wedding. That pretty much marks the end of my working summer, although I do have one event after that. That doesn’t mean I stop painting or that the crowds mysteriously evaporate, but the crush of people lets up a bit after Labor Day.
I stopped by to see a friend on my way home on Saturday. “I’m tired, hot and cranky,” I told her.
“Like you’ve been the last three times I saw you,” she replied.
The nicest thing I started this weekend was a small study of the Mercantile's anchor.

The nicest thing I started this weekend was a small study of the Mercantile’s anchor.
I can see it in my work. I painted three things over the weekend in Camden. The best of these, a little study of an anchor, didn’t get finished. The one with the greatest promise—a tiny tender sheltering under the bow of the Mercantile—didn’t work. I should have known when I sketched it five times without a good composition that I was on the wrong track. Instead, I tried to force it to happen on the canvas. Without the Mercantile looming over it, it was just another dinghy.
Can I fix that in the studio? Possibly; I’ll try today. In fact, I need some serious time to finish up all the half-done work that’s waiting for me.
Sometimes I'm too dumb to stop. (Photo courtesy of Susan Renee Lammers)

Sometimes I’m too dumb to stop. (Photo courtesy of Susan Renee Lammers)
Most of us work long days during painting events. I also blog about them, which usually adds an hour or two to my working day. There are some dead giveaways that I need a rest:
  1. The bottom of my backpack starts looking like the bottom of my purse, a collection of flotsam and jetsam that has escaped its proper places;
  2. My ‘filter’ gets jarred loose and I say things I usually keep to myself;
  3. I gain weight;
  4. My composition is uninspired;
  5. I fight a dehydration headache and am too dumb to fix it with water;
  6. My house and car get ratty.
I’ve said many times that people should take at least a day off every week. Rest is a great gift. “The Sabbath was made for mankind, and not mankind for the Sabbath,” Jesus said. Do I follow that advice? Only fitfully, I’m afraid. Today I have a sore throat and headache, and I think it’s just my body telling me to drop the pace down a notch.
The Angelique has been following me everywhere. Here she is curled up in Camden harbor.

The Angelique has been following me everywhere. Here she is curled up in Camden harbor.
I’m not the only person getting tired. I can hear it in the slow but steady increase in beeping horns as I walk to the Rockport post office at midday. Our tolerance for others is fraying, ever so slightly.
People ask me why I blog when it adds more work to my day. The nicest part of the weekend was a visit by reader Fay Terry of Pinehurst, NC. On Friday, she joined Renee Lammers and me on the docks to paint. Yes, social media has its downside, but its ability to connect like-minded people is invaluable.