"Tinder Hearth," by Janet Ledoux of Biddeford, at Ocean House Gallery & Frame in Cape Elizabeth.
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The cultural quotient of our community has diminished markedly since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic as museums have closed, performing arts venues have been reduced to streaming or a virtual presence, libraries and bookstores have gone curbside, and movie theaters have been replaced by Netflix.

About the only real art you can safely experience these days is in local art galleries.

Because, other than at openings, art galleries are rarely crowded, it is possible to enjoy the consolations of browsing through new works of art by local artists in the relative safety of empty rooms. In recent weeks, I have pretty much had the galleries to myself when visiting Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Falmouth, Cove Street Arts, Greenhut Galleries, and the Maine Jewish Museum Pop-up in Portland. 

Richard Wilson’s lithograph/silkscreen print “Unexpected Consequences,” at Mayo Street Arts Pop-up in Portland.

Last week, I had similar experiences at Ocean House Gallery & Frame in Cape Elizabeth and the Mayo Street Arts Pop-up (which popped up in the Washington Avenue space previously used by the Jewish museum).

Affordable art, free admission, domestic scale, gallery to yourself: What’s not to like?

At Ocean House Gallery & Frame I saw the tail end of the annual Holiday Show of small paintings by a couple dozen Maine artists. Artist-owner Graham Wood had mounted the paintings on temporary walls at the front of his frame shop gallery such that you only had to set one foot inside the space to see what was up.

Some of my favorites were signature cruciform abstractions by Joshua Ferry, a floral piece by Marilyn Blinkhorn, cut-out birds by Dylan Metrano, oil and wax abstractions by Diane Bowie Zaitlin, and little landscapes by Janet Ledoux.

As soon as I stepped into the intimate little gallery, I was drawn to Ledoux’s painterly evocation of “Tinder Hearth,” the farm market and bakery in Brooksville. Ledoux, who lives in Biddeford, participates in the strongest suit of Maine art – free color landscapes as evoked by painters such as Fairfield Porter, Alfred Chadbourn, and John Heliker. Her “Tinder Hearth” is a blue-gray blush of building seen through a flutter of yellow flowers.

At Mayo Street Arts Pop-Up beloved gallerist June Fitzpatrick, who closed her Portland gallery in 2016, has guest-curated a pair of exhibitions. The January show features Michel Droge, Christopher Patch, Shannon Rankin, Justin Richel, and Richard Wilson. The February show will fill the spacious gallery on the ground floor of the Nissen Building with art by William Manning and Noriko Sakanishi, two of Maine’s most revered artists.

Droge fills the front of the Mayo Street Arts gallery with big, blooming oils of abstract flowers. Patch, who previously flew his birds at Mayo Street Arts’ church-cum-theater, adds a three-dimensional element. Rankin shows somber salt-and-ink charts. Richel contributes clever meta-art fabrications such as a bent paintbrush and another tied in a knot.

The meat of the show, however, is a series of lithograph/silkscreen prints by Wilson, who is the O. Henry of art in Maine. His modest, gray images are like strange little short stories, narratives with surprising twists and endings such as a man holding the hand of a naked woman as she walks across the back of a sofa, a man canoeing through a canyon where nudes dot the cliffs with a figure diving or flying into the water. Wilson is an original possessed of singular imagination and a peculiar sense of humor.

I recommend visitors check ahead to make sure these galleries (and any others they might care to visit) are open because hours can be quite irregular these days. But a few hours wandering among new art in peace and quiet can be worth the public risk.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing about art in Maine since 1978.

Ocean House Gallery & Frame is at 299 Ocean House Road, Cape Elizabeth; 207-956-1988, oceanhousegallery.com.

Mayo Street Arts Pop-Up is at 67 Washington Ave., Portland; 207-615-3509, mayostreetarts.org.