“Katahdin, The Mountain of the People: Paintings of Michael Vermette” opens at North Light Gallery


Michael Vermette, “Climbers on Third Cathedral”

North Light Gallery in Millinocket invites the public to an Opening Reception for “Katahdin, The Mountain of the People: Paintings of Michael Vermette” on Saturday, June 30 from 10 – 6 p.m. with refreshments. North Light Gallery was just chosen for DownEast magazine’s “Best of Maine” Issue that is on the newsstands now, and recently won a Yankee Magazine Editor’s Choice Award for “Best Art in the North Woods” which will appear in their New England Travel Guide for the next two months.

The show “Katahdin: The Mountain of the People” was conceived and executed during and after Indian Island artist Michael Vermette’s time as visiting artist of Baxter State Park in August of 2011.  On display will be a large collection of paintings with many captivating scenes of hikers discovering the unique beauties and scenes of Katahdin. The show, which runs through July 28, will have oils, watercolors and drawing studies that should be particularly memorable.

In a thoughtfully written and carefully composed Baxter State Park Artist-in-Resident Statement, Michael explains his many considerations in developing his focus to symbolize a very powerful energy and spirit that influences the people of Maine. His individual experience mirrors a century old history of artists falling under the spell of Katahdin and is a wonderful story to go with wonderful images.

“As a painter and art educator I automatically gravitated to the most influential realist artist-teacher in the twentieth century for my inspiration and for my visiting artist residency and program at Baxter State Park; Robert Henri. In 1909, Robert Henri established the Ash Can school in New York, whose philosophy was of freedom of expression, demanding innovation in the paintings of his students who included such great painters as Rockwell Kent, George Bellows and Edward Hopper. They were all illustrators as well as accomplished painters who effectively incorporated the figure in a new way into the landscape. Adopting a philosophy contrary to the official art accepted by the academy in his time, Henri wrote a book called, “The Art Spirit” which included essays to his students.  These essays followed in the philosophical footsteps of such great novelists as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and the great essayist, Henry David Thoreau, who all celebrated what they called, “An American Spirit.” While turning his artistic vision to native themes and influencing so many other painters to do the same, Henri started a movement that insisted that the unique qualities of America should shape its artists and its art.

In 1931, out of a love for his homeland, another great visionary who had a similar conviction, Governor Percival Baxter, gave 6,000 acres of land, including Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak, to the State of Maine with the condition that it be kept forever wild. For what reason did he go through all that effort to purchase this parcel of land for the people of the State of Maine? Because, in his own words, he said, “…..Katahdin, in all its glory, forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.” It could be said, then, if I might paraphrase a little, that he wanted to keep the mountain wild in all its glory, to shape, in a healthy way, the people of Maine. And herein laid the artistic plan I had and hoped to accomplish as a visiting artist in Baxter State Park during the summer of 2011.

I used my visiting artist residency to focus on and paint people interacting
with realistic scenes of Baxter State Park. My approach was not to paint the mountain as subservient to people or vise versa, but to paint the figure in action, actually interacting, with the park’s environment so that they both became something greater than each other, towards a higher beauty and truth. By painting and teaching about how an artist incorporates the figure in the landscape, I tried to symbolize a very powerful energy and spirit that influences its population. I chose to paint Katahdin and its environment impacting upon park rangers, guides, naturalists, mountain climbers, hikers, boaters, fishermen and swimmers, engaged in Baxter Park’s unique locations.

The idea of painting how Baxter State Park actually “shapes” the lives of its visitors is not a new one. In fact it personally drew upon all of my experiences as a painter and draftsman, just as it did with the artists I mentioned above who grew as accomplished painters out of the Ash Can School. I discovered that every great painter who ever painted Katahdin and its region included the figure in the landscape to add a sense of majestic scale and grandeur that is keenly felt in the park even today. So, during my two-week visiting artist stay I painted en plein air sketches in watercolor and oil, made drawing studies, made overlay cartoons on tracing paper, and photographed people engaging in the landscape. I set my cabin as a studio and then continued the work for a whole year after the residency in my home studio in the way that the masters did as illustrated in my favorite book, “The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Masters” published in 1948 by Jacques Maroger, (The former technical director of the laboratory of the Louvre Museum in Paris, and president of the restorers of France).

I targeted ten locations in my short stay that would include eight regional areas in the park, including: Chimney Pond, Sandy Stream Pond, Katahdin Lake, Katahdin Stream Falls, Abol Stream Falls, Daicey Pond, Kidney Pond, and Ledge Falls. With the exception of my friend and painter, Eric Glass, who modeled for the class I taught at Daicey Pond so that I could have a live model in a canoe posing as a Maine guide, I mostly picked people that I found on the trail or who were already at the location to paint. I asked permission to photograph and paint those engaged in these activities, sometime before and sometimes after. I captured their images through digital photography, later rendering the images into drawings from my laptop, then transferred and rendered these drawings into final statements, and finally produce quality watercolors or oils, both in my studio cabin at Daicey Pond, or later in my studio at home on Indian Island, Maine.

My visiting artist program at Baxter State Park served as an eye opener for me as I witnessed time after time the unique beauty that the park had to offer. There were places I had never been before and they all filled my wells of inspiration, enough for two life times. I am very thankful for having the opportunity to experience it and I’m sure I will continue to paint in the park for years to come. I hope I have encouraged a few would-be painters whom I had the privilege to teach, not only to paint the beauty of Baxter’s landscapes, but to include people in the landscape who are shaped by its beauty. My original goal for having this exhibit was simply to have a positive impact on the awareness of how Baxter State Park is enjoyed by the wonderful people who come every year to visit. More importantly, I hope they will begin to notice how we are all shaped in a positive way by this unique and stunning environment. It was my privilege to be the painter of the mountain of the people for the summer of 2011.

I would like to thank Jensen Bissell, the director of Baxter State Park, for his part in selecting and approving my visiting artist proposal and the Interpretive Specialist of Baxter State Park, Marcia Williamson, for coordinating with me the educational workshop and art presentation at Daicey Pond, as well as rangers Andy Veitze, Charity Lavasseur, and all the other rangers of Baxter Park for advising me on painting sites and making my stay fully enjoyable. I couldn’t have done it without them.

I’d like to also thank Andrienne and Paul Paiewonsky, Maine Guide Holly Hamilton and Jacques and Claudette Violette for their financial and moral support, and a special thank you to Marsha Donahue and Wayne Curlew, the owners of the North Light Gallery, who helped to curate and mount this solo show at their gallery. Above all I’d like to thank God and my wonderful wife and family who gave me the two weeks I needed to focus on being the visiting artist and to fully explore Baxter State Park. It was truly an unforgettable adventure that has impacted me and will positively remain in my memory for years to come.” –Michael Vermette’s

“Katahdin, The Mountain of the People: Paintings of Michael Vermette” will run through July 28 at North Light Gallery, 256 Penobscot Ave. in Millinocket. For more information, please visit artnorthlight.com.