The original Indian settlers of what would become our state named a short stretch of the Atlantic Ocean’s coastline Ogunquit, which means “beautiful place by the sea.” The Ogunquit Museum of American Art, founded by Charles Strater in 1952, continues to be a repository of beautiful exhibits, housed at a stunning location in Narrow Cove.
The museum has been in the news lately for an impressive exhibit of Jamie Wyeth paintings from his private collection, and while that may be the main draw, there are four other shows that should also command attention. These more hidden gems include Portland contemporary artist Tom Butler’s first solo show and an exhibit of the work of Bernard Karfiol, who studied at the Academie Julian in Paris at 15 years old before settling in Ogunquit, which he said “has a character quite different from inland country. One never feels closed in.”
Butler’s exhibit is called “The Hidden.” For the past six years, he has collected Victorian cabinet cards and painted their surfaces with “personal symbols of concealment such as hair, masks and geometric abstractions.”
In addition to works from the museum’s permanent collection of artists who have lived, worked and studied nearby, the OMAA also has an impressive showing of art by their founder. Strater was a member of the Lost Generation and was friends with Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, with whom he boxed. A famous painting of the bullish author, used on several book covers, is on display, as well as another one that Hemingway preferred showing Papa after sparring with the artist.
These types of pleasurable discoveries are around every corner of the museum, inside its walls or on walks through the garden paths.
Andres Azucena Verzosa, interim executive director and curator, may be better known to Portlanders as Andy Verzosa, founder of the First Friday Art Walk and former owner of Aucocisco Galleries. To folks from down here, he’s fast becoming a familiar face as he’s puts his stamp on the exhibits and events at OMAA.
He’s bringing his myriad experiences together, having sold and written about art, while serving on various boards like the Maine College of Art, the Maine Historical Society, and the Tides Institute and Museum in Eastport.
The venerable museum is in its 63rd season. Verzosa has been interim director at OMAA for four months now, but his imprint can be felt at every turn. The first talk in the Totally Tuesday series had 10 attendees; last week’s discussion of Nazi-era Provenance and Restitution saw more than 70 visitors. The next talk (on July 26) features Libby Bischof, Susan Danly, and Earle Shettleworth Jr. speaking about their new book “Maine Photographs: From Historic Documents to Works of Art.” If the trend is any indication, they may need to hold the lecture outdoors.
Verzosa’s challenges now are quite different from those he faced in the Portland art scene, where he would usher in gallery visitors and sell works of art, but some of the vibes remain.
“I’m not worried about selling paintings, but I’m still looking at the bottom line,” he said last week. “Nobody's footing the bill but the members.”
He hails the southern museum as a different visitor experience, with its shoreline location and visitor gardens.
“We’re off the beaten track,” he said, noting that their idyllic location is a reward for making the trek. There is a mix of visitors, some new and some returning for years, the older set as well as school bus tours. The younger crowd can enjoy “Storytelling by the Sea” on Wednesday mornings at 9.
Portland has been well noted for its art scene, but Verzosa thinks, like all things, a shift is occurring. Although the OMAA is an oasis, a respite from the bustle of pavement life, it’s not as far away as one might imagine.
“I’d love to see more people from Portland come down,” Verzosa says. “It’s only 45 minutes and you get to see art presented in a different way.”
He loves his new job, and finds the daily tasks made so much more enjoyable because of the docents and volunteers there, “ambassadors who greet you when you arrive.”
In the next few months, the museum will select a permanent executive director. Verzosa knows that won’t be him, as he had to agree to such terms when he took the interim position. And while he seems so engaged in his work and perhaps a bit reluctant to let go of the reins, he’s already wondering what lies in store for himself.
“I haven’t started looking yet,” he said, “but I am starting to get curious. Things seem to find me. I’d love to stay in art, culture, and heritage. I’d love to do nonprofit work.”
For the moment, he’s basking in the present experience at this beautiful place by the sea.
The Ogunquit Museum of American Art | 543 Shore Road, Ogunquit | Season runs through Oct. 31 | Open daily from 10:00am to 5:00pm | For a current listing of all OMAA programs and events, visit www.ogunquitmuseum.org.
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