The Art of Being Jeffery Becton

We were heading out toward Jericho Bay and Eggemoggin Reach on a clear, chilly evening last fall, just before dusk, when our captain, the artist Jeffery Becton, announced that his wife was worried he had dementia. This was right after he’d revved the rigid inflatable boat’s twin 300 horsepower engines and had us skimming along at close to 44 knots (more than 50 miles per hour) “just to get it over with,” and it was before he started doing donuts in the cove near his Deer Isle home. He’d had an MRI in the spring and was told that his brain looked like that of a 76-year-old man, which he is. It had shrunk, which it does. But not to a worrisome degree. He wasn’t worried. Maybe, he wondered, it was just that he’s an artist, and artists think differently — they have a different relationship with reality. “I mean, it’s a very permeable membrane between dream, sleep, and reality,” he says. “And the ambiguity of what’s going on leaves a lot of room for the psyche to roam.”

Becton has been exploring boundaries between the real and the imagined, the conscious and the unconscious, for virtually his entire career, which now spans five decades. Technically, he’s a photographer, but he calls his work “digital montage.” He takes his digital images, then layers and manipulates them until they become something entirely new. The effect is usually something that looks both deeply familiar and deeply surreal.

Like many artists who live and work in Maine, Becton casts the ocean as a recurring character. Sometimes it’s violent, and sometimes it’s placid. Sometimes it’s merely hinted at by sea smoke glimpsed through a window. Almost always, it’s there. Chris Crosman, a former curator for the Farnsworth Art Museum and now its director emeritus, compares Becton to none other than Andrew Wyeth, who also found everything he needed right where he was. Their subjects — shorelines, ordinary belongings, empty rooms — are similar, as are the restrained, muted palettes and the wispy hints of nostalgia that run through their work. A “painter without a paintbrush” is how Crosman describes Becton. “These are images that haunt you,” he says. “They are also just drop-dead beautiful.”

But if you haven’t heard of Becton before, you’re not alone. “I think he has, for some years, until relatively recently, been fairly content to be under the radar, just making his work,” says Dan Mills, the curator for the Bates College Museum of Art, which put on a solo show of Becton’s large-scale photomontages in 2016. “And he’s made an incredible body of work. It’s kind of slow-cooked. It comes from having a deep, deep connection to the coast of Maine. Knowing it and seeing it and living it and smelling it for a long, long time, while he was developing a very sophisticated, cerebral way of making work that isn’t straight ahead. His pieces are poetic, utterly beautiful, but simultaneously highly charged. They speak to moments of danger — rising waters and environmental disaster, without being specific.”

Becton has lived on Deer Isle, on a large, sloping lot on French Camp Road, for nearly 50 years now, ever since finishing his master’s degree in fine art at Yale. He’d been advised by Robert Motherwell, the renowned American abstract expressionist and teacher, to go to New York City if he really wanted to be an artist, because that’s where all the action was. Instead, on account of “the arrogance of youth” and being “a butthead,” Becton says, he moved to Maine, where he had spent summers as a kid. He arrived in the early 1970s, fresh off protesting the Vietnam War, along with a slew of back-to-the-landers clutching Ivy League degrees and copies of the Whole Earth Catalog.

Becton has been on Deer Isle pretty much ever since, and he only ever leaves reluctantly. The notion of driving down to Boston, or even Portland or Rockland, holds no appeal. He’s a homebody, and he loves where he lives. At the end of October, all his boats — a Center Harbor 31 designed by Joel White (E. B. White’s son and the founder of Brooklin Boat Yard), a Selene 53, and a classic lobsterboat, among others — were still in the water. He keeps them there for as long as he possibly can. If he could, he’d keep the rigid inflatable out all winter, but he’d need a slip for that, and the fishermen won’t give those up.

For years, Becton worked out of a studio on the third floor of the main house, where he lives with his second wife, Hillary. His first wife, with whom he has two children, now both in their 30s, lives next door, an arrangement he describes with a shrug. “It was good for the kids,” he says. That old studio is still there, above the main bedroom and the room that seems to belong to their two Abyssinian cats, which look like tiny leopards. It’s a stark and messy space, with piles of paper on the floor around a table holding two giant monitors. These days, Becton works elsewhere, in a building with a little sign out front that identifies it as “The Farthest House.” It’s a few minutes’ drive away, by a home he and Hillary bought for her mother, which she promptly rejected, and which they now use as a guesthouse.

On land, Becton can seem a bit timid or unsure of himself. He tends to lose his train of thought, and as he gave a tour of his various properties, he seemed to fumble over how to even talk about his career. As we entered the guesthouse, he said, “When Hillary’s mom said no to the house, we started thinking about what it was going to be like to get old and die.” Then, he stopped speaking, as if the thought was complete. Perhaps it was.

On the lower level of his current studio, his work is laid out all over the floor in loose, overlapping piles. He was preparing for a show, Framing the Domestic Sea, on display at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, in Massachusetts, from mid-January to early May. Some images are glossy, some matte. Some are enormous, some much smaller. One series shows a roofline against a variety of backgrounds — in some iterations the windows are visible, and in others they’re not. He can’t point to where the images begin or where they’re going. “What I’m looking for is some kind of feeling that’s strong enough that it takes you in,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s complicated. This one has so many pictures because I haven’t found what I think I’m looking for.”

“Most artists don’t understand how fascinating their work is to other people,” Crosman told me. “They’re all a little nervous about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. And Jeff is very self-deprecating. He sticks pretty close to home. The kind of work he does does not have as ready a market as other artists. He’s not young anymore.”

Even when he was younger, his interests always seemed to fall ahead of or outside the mainstream. In his undergraduate days, for instance, he became interested in automatic drawing, the act of supposedly suppressing consciousness in order to let the subconscious control artistic creation. He was also always an early and enthusiastic adopter of new technologies. Standing out on his deck on Deer Isle, he mentioned that he designed it using a Macintosh computer he bought in the 1980s. When the whole genre of photomontage evolved from literal cut-and-paste jobs into increasingly sophisticated digital processes, Becton was at the leading edge. In Crosman’s words, he’s a “mad scientist.”

Charles Altschul, the former president and a current faculty member at Maine Media Workshops & College, went to the same schools as Becton — Deerfield Academy, Yale. And the two of them overlapped at the Center for Creative Imaging, the Kodak company’s now-defunct photography school in Camden. Altschul was the school’s director when Becton took a Photoshop course in the ’90s. It was only a few years ago, though, that Altschul finally met Becton in person. He was familiar with his work and had assumed, based on Becton’s use of digital manipulation, that the artist was decades younger than he actually is. It’s unusual, he says, to find someone his age so conversant with the medium. “Maybe living on Deer Isle you can still focus on things and not have all the distractions,” Altschul says. “But he’s working in a medium and a form that is a younger person’s world, and he was doing this in the early days of it.”

Sitting on one of two white-leather couches in his studio, sipping a bottle of Diet Coke, Becton talked about some of his work showing last summer at Photo London, a major European art fair. “It was the closest I’ve gotten to getting somewhere,” he said. One of his dealers suggested he attend, and though he doesn’t like to travel, he agreed to go largely because it would be “a way of facing the actual truth of the market,” he says. “I learned that I am worthy of that crowd. I’ve never done a show like that before. I’ve never been invited to a show like that before. It did feel good. It just did.”

Charles Altschul, the former president and a current faculty member at Maine Media Workshops & College, went to the same schools as Becton — Deerfield Academy, Yale. And the two of them overlapped at the Center for Creative Imaging, the Kodak company’s now-defunct photography school in Camden. Altschul was the school’s director when Becton took a Photoshop course in the ’90s. It was only a few years ago, though, that Altschul finally met Becton in person. He was familiar with his work and had assumed, based on Becton’s use of digital manipulation, that the artist was decades younger than he actually is. It’s unusual, he says, to find someone his age so conversant with the medium. “Maybe living on Deer Isle you can still focus on things and not have all the distractions,” Altschul says. “But he’s working in a medium and a form that is a younger person’s world, and he was doing this in the early days of it.”

Sitting on one of two white-leather couches in his studio, sipping a bottle of Diet Coke, Becton talked about some of his work showing last summer at Photo London, a major European art fair. “It was the closest I’ve gotten to getting somewhere,” he said. One of his dealers suggested he attend, and though he doesn’t like to travel, he agreed to go largely because it would be “a way of facing the actual truth of the market,” he says. “I learned that I am worthy of that crowd. I’ve never done a show like that before. I’ve never been invited to a show like that before. It did feel good. It just did.”

That was actually the second time in as many years he’d been lured to London. Previously, one of his pieces was included in the Royal Academy of Arts’s annual Summer Exhibition (the theme of the show was climate, and Becton’s selected work, The Pilot House, depicted the ocean intruding into an old house, water lapping across the hardwood floor). He got to attend “Varnishing Day,” when all the artists are blessed in a service at St. James’s Church, near Piccadilly Circus, and presented with a lavish buffet and bottomless champagne. Every included artist’s name is then inscribed in a book that dates back to the 1740s. “My name will be in the book,” he says, dropping his voice to a near whisper. “You know, we don’t get enough validation. There’s really never enough. We want more. Artists are especially vulnerable to that, because our place in society is sort of strange and malleable.”

Becton’s place has certainly always been somewhat strange. He doesn’t seem inclined to talk much about his family history, but, in 1897, his grandfather cofounded a medical-equipment manufacturer called Becton, Dickinson and Company, which became one of the country’s largest corporations. Becton doesn’t have to make a living selling art. But money works in strange ways in the art world. Will the pursuit of it stifle an artist’s erstwhile creative drive? Does having plenty of it breed complacency, or is it liberating? Its virtues and vices affect different artists in different ways.

“It comes down to why people make art,” Altschul says. “For some, you have to make a living at it. You’ve got to be able to create stuff that’s saleable. That’s not as important for Jeff. In the art world today, you not only need the talent and drive to be making work, that’s a given, but there has to be a strong marketing arm to it. Jeff’s not boastful. He’s quiet and reserved. The very fact that he doesn’t really respond to emails, that just doesn’t go a long way toward selling work. You have to be out there beating the bushes. You don’t get known by sitting in your studio not showing your stuff to people.”

Over the course of the afternoon, Becton returned repeatedly to the subject of Motherwell’s advice to move to New York. It is, for him, clearly a pivotal point in his life story. “Now, I look back and I think about how having gone right out of grad school to New York would have been the right thing to do,” he said, leaning into those last five words. “But that’s only because I’ve changed my stripes. Now that I’m 76 years old, I want to have some recognition. It doesn’t have to be of the glorious kind. It’s just, we all get up and do our jobs in the morning, more or less. My job is not to go earn a salary. My job is to do my work. And it’s a wonderful thing to have that be your primary job, to do the thing you love.”

Becton’s work, though, is so steeped in a sense of place that it’s hard to imagine what it would look like had he not settled on Deer Isle. (“He couldn’t make these images if he didn’t live in Maine,” Crosman told me.) From the water creeping into so many of his montages to the austere New England home interiors, his work belongs squarely in the Maine canon.

Becton said that when he was a kid, his mother would make him and his four siblings go out on the water whether they felt like it or not. It was like a “double-edged sword,” he said. “We loved being out on the water, but we were also really scared of it.” The ocean is like that: beautiful, with an undercurrent of ever-present danger. He knows the waters around his house inside and out, he says, though admittedly not as well as the fishermen who rely on it to make their living. “I’m just playing out here,” he said as we skipped across the surface in his high-speed rigid inflatable boat.

Becton had been suggesting we get out on that boat all day, and it became plain as to why: he is happiest and most at ease offshore. His wife worries about him going out alone. But he can hardly help himself. “It’s like you’re going to a place where the energy is all oriented in the right direction,” he says. “I can’t quite put it into words really. It has to do with feeling one with nature even if you’re pounding along at 50 miles an hour over a rough chop. You can get a feeling of these waves. They actually give you energy. They give you a feeling that you’re in control.”

On the way back in, with the sun starting to set, Becton realized the bow line was trailing off the boat, so he cut the motor and climbed forward. As he leaned out over the bow, it seemed for a moment that he might lose his balance and fall into the water. But after fishing out the line, he nonchalantly took his seat at the helm. “That was a minor operation, but if you’re alone . . . ” he trailed off. “That’s why everybody’s worried about me. I’m only going out because that’s the way you can photograph the waves.”

Becton takes every willing visitor out on one of his boats. Among friends, he’s as well-known for that as he is for his reclusive nature. When Mills, the Bates curator, had a show of his own work at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, in Rockland, the only way he persuaded Becton to come was by telling him he could travel by boat. Altschul has a theory: “The thing about boats,” he says, “is you cast off. You leave the world behind. You’re in your own cocoon. I think there’s sort of a solitude and an introspection that can happen. It’s a comfortable place for him — on the boat but also in his own head, his own world. His photographs are like that too. These fabricated worlds that exist for him, that he creates and controls and dreams of and inhabits, without all the other distractions of the world.”

Back on shore, the sun had dipped below the horizon, and the sky was softening into pinks and purples. “One aspect of why humans are fascinated by the sunset is because it’s the end of something,” Becton says, in a sort of offhand, absentminded way. “Everything in our lives that has an end is a mini end of our lives. At least that’s the way I see it. We all have a philosophical engine that’s chugging along inside us, trying to make sense of things, trying to make sense of why we’re even aware. It is one of the things that makes my work what it is: that I’m such a butthead and that I came to live here.”

Jeffery Becton’s Invented Worlds

On a gorgeous late-August morning, artist Jeffery Becton came off his boat Sculpin, a 53-foot Selene trawler, to meet this writer at his house in Deer Isle overlooking Southeast Harbor. As we talked, he shared stories of the sea—and art.

An avid seafarer from early in his life, Becton continues to find the experience fascinating and potent. Describing a recent foggy day on the water, he recounted how one minute he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, the next he could see “two islands” away, and then just as quickly, the fog closed back in. “It teaches you something about how you can be wrong about what you’re imagining is out there in the fog,” Becton said. “Your imagination cannot stop; it just has to keep imagining what’s really there.”

Becton might be describing his photographs—compelling digital composites that conjure what the world might look like when, say, your boat is caught in rough seas or the ocean enters your home. These extraordinary montages have gained the artist notable recognition in exhibitions, catalogues, reviews, and a monograph. His audience expanded this past May when he showed at Photo London, a major international photography fair.

In Becton’s photographs, elements from separate photos are seamlessly meshed to create new realities. The thrashing waters in Off Spirit Ledge were photographed at the mighty Iguazú Falls on the border between Argentina and Brazil. Becton took shots of the vaporous maelstrom while standing on a walkway overlooking a narrow chasm called the Devil’s Throat. He encountered the vessel in the photograph while visiting Marie Joseph, a small fishing community on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia. The wooden lobsterboat—“a lost cause”—had been hauled out next to the pier in the harbor of refuge, which was built specifically for fishermen.

Becton heightened the impression of a floundering vessel by way of a low horizon and the voluminous and tumultuous seas that threaten to engulf it, if not break it apart. The water looks as if it had been brushed on by an action painter—or by J. M. W. Turner, the master of wind and water and one of Becton’s main influences.

In a number of Becton’s images, the interiors of houses lose their separation from the outside world. The walls become transparent so that the view beyond a doorway continues inside. The impression can be both ethereal and frightening.

A recent example of this porous perspective is Waking Up, which shows the dramatic incursion of the ocean into a somewhat bedraggled room. Water washes over the legs of an old wicker chair, a stalwart blue table, and a disheveled bed.

After accepting the presence of the sea inside, the eye wanders the room, picking out details. There are pinned postcards and sketches, a painted sea fan, a bookshelf (you can read the spine of one of the books: Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening), and an assortment of odds and ends on the bed and flooded floor—“physical objects,” Becton noted, “with psychological importance.”

The room belonged to painter Gretna Campbell (1922-1987), who maintained a seasonal home and studio on Great Cranberry Island. Visiting the house at the behest of Karin Wilkes at Courthouse Gallery Fine Art, which represents the painter’s estate, Becton was struck by the raw beauty of the space. He also made a connection: he had met Campbell when he was a student at the Yale School of Art in the 1970s.

Becton originally called the piece WTF, a slang term for surprise. The expression echoes the worldwide response to climate change, which the artist acknowledges has influenced his vision. He mentioned the recent wildfires in Canada and on the west coast, which evoke a “dystopian nightmare.”

Waking Up is one of the stars of Becton’s upcoming show, “Framing the Domestic Sea,” at the New Bedford Whaling Museum (January 12-May 5, 2024). In promoting the exhibition, the museum has emphasized the connection of his work to environmental narratives and maritime concerns.

One of Becton’s most recent montages, Middle Passage, arose out of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Looking for a way to respond to the event, he turned to a haunting visage created by Brooksville-based sculptor-blacksmith Mark Kindschi. In the photo he heightens that serene yet melancholy face with an overlay of stripes that resemble rippling water—facial markings that might also be scars. Becton superimposed the face on the prow of a ship, evoking the terrible transport of Black slaves from Africa to America.

While trying not to demystify his images by providing too much back story, Becton spoke eloquently of the need for the viewer to find her or his own meaning in each photograph. He seeks an ambiguity that will compel a variety of readings. “It’s their psyche that is figuring out what it means,” he said. “I want to make the experience available to them through beauty.”

As his friend, painter William Irvine once put it, “When I look at a Jeffrey Becton, as in all good works of art, the means of expression disappear, and what is left is that experience of something deeply felt.” For Maine photography curator and collector Bruce Brown, “Becton blurs the edges of realism.”

Becton grew up in Rutherford, New Jersey. He remembers how his family doctor, the famous modernist poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), would distract him when giving a shot by pulling the string on a carved Black Forest bird’s nest. Out popped four baby birds with their mouths wide open—and in went the needle.

Sculpin Point in Blue Hill became the Becton family’s getaway place. His parents, Henry and Jean Becton, built a summer house in 1947, the year he was born.

Becton and his siblings grew up sailing. From after World War II until the 1970s, the family owned So Fong, a Sparkman & Stephens-designed gaff schooner built at the Ah King Slipway in Kowloon, Hong Kong, in 1937. Today, the teak-paneled craft, which was confiscated by the North Vietnamese in the 1980s, is anchored in Mallorca.

At Yale, Becton earned a BA in history, but shifted to graphic design for his MFA at the Yale School of Art. He gained admission to the program thanks to the good graces of Alvin Eisenman (1921-2013), a brilliant graphic designer who admired Becton’s “dark sensibility.” He remembers copying Leonard Baskin pen-and-ink drawings at the time as a way to bring himself “up to speed.”

While at Yale, a professor arranged for Becton and one of his classmates to visit the celebrated Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) at his home in Connecticut. During their visit, the painter encouraged the two students to seek their fortune and fame in New York City.

With an abiding aversion to the big city art world, Becton headed in the opposite direction, to Maine, where he lived in his parents’ house in Blue Hill before purchasing his current home in Deer Isle in 1976 (he had an addition built in 1984). He became serious about photography, which he had taken up at Yale, encouraged by Jerry Thompson, a protégée of Walker Evans.

At first, Becton “doodled around” with small- and medium-format cameras. Interested in black-and-white portraiture—Blue Hill friends were among his early subjects—he shifted to a Rolleiflex. He eventually began shooting in color, adapting to new technologies as they came along. He embraced digital formats, from the earliest Nikon Coolpix to his iPhone 13 pro max. “My current favorite digital camera,” he told an interviewer in England, “is my Sony A7R IV which produces a 55-megabyte file.”

Becton began creating digital montages in 1990, combining elements of photography as well as painting, drawing, and scanned materials. This work placed him at the forefront of new and innovative photographic practices. He was among the first photographers to use Photoshop to explore the human condition.

Since then Becton has had a number of solo shows, including at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Maine Museum of Photographic Arts, and Bates College Museum of Art. The work in his exhibition at the last-named venue in 2015-2016 was purchased en bloc by the Jackson Laboratory.

Becton continues to draw on his surroundings for material, arranging to visit vintage multi-generational summer homes with their often austere interiors. One of his most recent montages, Olivia’s Room, features an angular attic space bathed in pale blue light, with ghostly ripples hovering in the air. He found the alcove in a cape once owned by artist Isa Dreier and her husband, diplomat and professor John Dreier, at the end of Fernald Point Road in Southwest Harbor.

Becton is also gathering material for future montages at sea. He and his wife Hillary, whom he calls his best critic, dream about circumnavigating Newfoundland one day, but, he admitted, they “have ambitions that are a little bit risky at our age.”

Part of the appeal of living in Deer Isle has been the ability to voyage out, and being connected to the waterfront community. Becton related how a fisherman showed up at his door one day to tell him that his boat was drifting away. The man further noted that his father was in an outboard trying to hold the boat and had managed to keep it off the rocks. “Hercules,” Becton concluded, considering the trawler weighs thousands of pounds.

Surrounded by the art of friends past and present—the aforementioned Kindschi and Irvine, plus Karl Schrag, Jon Imber, Cynthia Stroud, and many others—and in the company of a couple of sleek active cats, with family coming and going, Becton and his wife live a full life of art and adventure. If the photographer still harbors doubts about his worthiness as an artist, his successful show at the photo fair in London gave him a new confidence. That feedback will keep him focused on his art—and the sea.

Becton will have a solo show, “Framing Loss,” at the Courthouse Gallery Fine Art August 5 to
September 6, 2024.

Philip Koch: Isle of Dreams

One of the all-time go-to Maine landscape painting subjects is the island seen at a distance, a poetic symbol of retreat and separation—and an image of great visual beauty. From Thomas Cole and John Marin to Tom Curry and Brita Holmquist, those islands take center stage, often spruce-topped, shifting and sublime.

Maryland-based painter Philip Koch adds to this ongoing bounty in Isle of Dreams. The dozen or so oils on canvas or panel and handful of vine charcoal and pastel pieces in the show include a fetching selection inspired by the down east archipelago.

While the title of a painting may include a specific locale, as in Isle au Haut Morning 1, 2016, Koch creates his views from memories, often from different times and places. “They recall a state of mind and a remembrance of a dream,” he writes. With its bright yellow sky and atmospheric touches, the Isle au Haut painting might be labeled neo-luminism with a shot of modernist energy.

In a few instances, a preliminary vine charcoal and pastel study accompanies the finished painting. In both soft pastel and forthright oil, Maine Islands, 2021, provides a pleasing prospect of a couple of islands, one of them quite scraggly, set against a pinkish sky.

Koch also paints the Maine coast, another classic landscape subject. With its rocky outcroppings Narrow Cove, Ogunquit, 2021, recalls some of Edward Hopper’s paintings made near the same spot (his Sea at Ogunquit, 1914, was reproduced on a U.S. postage stamp). The aesthetic lineage makes sense: Koch has been artist in residence at Hopper’s Truro home and studio 17 times.

In a statement for Isle of Dreams, the painter acknowledges his admiration for Thomas Cole and other 19th-century American landscape painters, in particular their “whole-hearted celebration of a natural world.” Ascension, 2022, and The Voyage of Memory, 2004, bring to mind Cole’s transcendent vision, rendered in contemporary terms that include a bold palette and lively brushwork. In these paintings and others, Koch offers a dream-like Maine, an invitation to new worlds where meandering estuaries lead to the sea and a sailboat makes its way through a northern wonderland.

—Carl Little

The Immortal Life of Holly Meade

Jenny Smick was traveling in Mexico when her mom’s ovarian cancer recurred. Smick was 30 years old and had only a few obligations to consider before flying home to be with her: a handful of material possessions, an already temporary job teaching English, and an uncertain relationship.

Six months after Smick landed in Boston and traveled north to Sedgwick, Maine, her mother, Holly Meade, passed away. The next day, as usual, Smick flipped over the open sign at her mom’s art gallery in the tiny coastal town.

“I didn’t know what else to do. People stopped in. They connected with her through art. They loved her,” Smick said.

Meade raised Smick and her brother as a single mom on the coast of Massachusetts. Every summer Meade would haul her kids north to Maine, plunk them into a rundown Boston Whaler that only ran backwards, and ferry them across the bay to a small island off the coast of Harpswell. There they would spend a month or two roughing it, completely off the grid but in their favorite place on earth.

Smick recalls that she never realized the oddity of what was her life. The entire living room in her family’s Massachusetts home had been her mother’s studio, covered from floor to ceiling in different phases of whatever project Meade was working on. A 1978 graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, in 1992 Meade had landed her first job illustrating a children’s book. She went on to illustrate more than 30 books, including Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho, which brought her a Caldecott Honor for her artwork. It wasn’t until 2002 that Meade began making woodblock prints, the medium for which she is most known. After taking a class from Hester Stinnett at Haystack Mountain School, Meade began devoting nearly all of her time to the art form.

In 2003 Meade sold their home to begin a full-time life in Sedgwick and invest in two major purchases: a large-format, original print by Deer Isle printer Siri Beckman and a Whelan press—a major upgrade from pressing prints with the back of a spoon. For the next ten years Meade made art on the coast of Maine, drawing inspiration from her wild surroundings. When she got sick, neighbors came out of the woodwork to help however they could, from running her gallery to purchasing her home and letting her rent it so she could afford to stay in her spot by the sea.

In the months following her mom’s death, Smick took on a new and interesting role: the deceased artist’s daughter. And not just the daughter of any artist, but the daughter of Holly Meade—local sweetheart who just happened to create some of the most thought-provoking and beautiful woodblock prints of her time. Smick continued to run her mother’s gallery for several months after she passed away, offering a literal shoulder for people to cry on, while also processing her own grief over losing a parent at such a young age. Eventually, the situation became more bearable. She continued to work at galleries, narrowing her focus to her mother’s art, which sat in a pair of thousand-pound flat files in her home. She spoke about her mother’s art career at events, in newsletters, and even on webinars, reminiscing with complete strangers about the pure talent that Holly Meade possessed.

“Some people can’t talk about their parent who died; they can barely get through a sentence,” says Smick. “I can talk at length about Holly Meade because I’ve had to. And I love talking about her. She was awesome. But I wonder if I’m getting it right; I wonder if I’m saying something she believes, and I don’t know.”

Smick says her mom was in denial about death for most of the two-plus years that she was sick. It wasn’t until the final weeks that Meade got things in order. That’s when she told Smick she could burn all her artwork if it ever became too much.

“This is what’s happening when you have an artist parent. It makes me feel so good to share her work with people, but it’s also this huge physical and emotional burden that my mom never wanted me to have,” she says. “Obviously I don’t want to burn her work, but I’ve thought about it. It’s a little escape door that’s there that I don’t want to take, but it lets me feel like whatever I do is okay. I don’t have the pressure, and that’s what she would have wanted.”

Since becoming a mother herself six years ago, Smick says, she has even more respect for all that Holly Meade accomplished, and despite closing her mother’s gallery years ago, she still has strangers emailing her, looking for connection over her mother’s art. She continues to sell the prints, primarily through Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth. Smick also started an Etsy page and began selling Meade’s work in greeting card form, a format that she says she loves for its simplicity and accessibility.

In 2017 Smick compiled a book about her mother, Holly Meade Wood Block and Linoleum Prints (She-Bear Gallery, 2017), with reflections and images of nearly all of Meade’s work. The book sold out long ago, but Smick is considering a reprint in the next few years. She can glance at any one of her mother’s pieces and rattle off a detailed description of its history: when her mother created it, where she was living at the time, possible influences that may have been in effect. And a huge influence that runs strong throughout most of Meade’s prints is the quiet coast of Maine—the place that helped her raise her children, helped her find her career, and helped her ease into the idea of death.

“I’m never alone in missing her,” Smick says.

Ellsworth gallery showcases Carroll Thayer Berry’s woodcut prints of Maine coast

Everyone has seen those idyllic depictions of coastal Maine in paintings and photographs. Brilliantly colorful lighthouses, sturdy pine trees and perfectly timed waves spraying up against the rocks — the ideal thing to hang in a summer visitor’s dining room, back in their year-round home in New Jersey or Florida.

And then there’s the work of Carroll Thayer Berry, whose stark, almost abstract take on the people and places along Maine’s coast exists in striking contrast to the picture-perfect landscapes up for sale in galleries from Ogunquit to Eastport.

Prints of Berry’s woodcut depictions of coastal Maine are on display for the month of March at the Courthouse Gallery in Ellsworth. The exhibit also offers an extremely rare opportunity for people to purchase the work of one of the most acclaimed Maine artists of the 20th century at affordable prices.

“The Emblematic Wood Engravings of Carroll Thayer Berry” features a number of Berry’s prints at prices starting at $275 — a fraction of the cost of similar 20th century Maine artists.

Those accessible prices are in keeping with Berry’s ethos. Despite the quality of his work and his formal artistic training, Berry, who died in 1978 at age 90, was a Mainer through and through. During the 1950s, he refused to sell any of his prints for more than $5 — roughly $50 in 2023. Fellow artists reportedly complained to him, saying they couldn’t compete with his prices.

“He started making prints during the Depression, because woodcut printing was a much more affordable medium than painting in that era,” said Sarah Lafontaine, who works for the Courthouse Gallery. “He sold a lot to summer people, but he also sold to locals.”

Berry was born in New Gloucester in 1886. Though his family wanted him to take over their dairy farm, he instead studied engineering at the University of Michigan. In 1910, he was sent to Panama to work on the building of the canal, where his artistic skills were quickly noticed and he later attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

After a stint working as a commercial artist in New York City, he enlisted during World War I and was assigned to the American Camouflage Corps, where alongside a number of other artists and designers, he created camouflage designs for soldiers in the field.

After the war, he and his wife lived in Chicago until the Great Depression hit, when they moved to Wiscasset. They would live in Maine for the rest of their lives.

It was in Maine that Berry found his artistic voice, using wood engraving, woodcut and linoleum block printmaking methods to depict the coast of Maine. All three types of printmaking involve carving or engraving an image into a block of wood or linoleum, rolling ink onto it and taking an impression or print.

Some of his prints are lyrical recreations of tiny fishing villages, shipyards and Maine landmarks such as Fort Knox or Old Fort Edgecomb. Others are more abstract, even severe, renderings of storms lashing the coast, or dilapidated old homes. They all have a distinctive style, unique to Berry and to the long history of artists interpreting the rocky coast of Maine.

Courthouse Gallery owners Karin and Michael Wilkes purchased a portion of Berry’s estate not long ago. Other collections of his work, including prints as well as drawings and photographs, can be found at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, the Penobscot Marine Museum and the University of Maine, as well as at national institutions such as the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Though most art lovers will be drawn to the fact that Berry depicted Maine, Lafontaine said his work belied a deeper, much more emotional core.

“His work was also very emotional. He had a lot of loss in his life, losing a son and later his wife. His later work is really very deeply emotional. He put a lot of himself in his work, even though he also loved Maine and everything in it,” she said.

Blacksmithing Lives on as Art Form

In ancient times, blacksmiths were the go-to guys for everything from repairing spears and arrow tips to tweaking axes and knives.

Mass production techniques replaced much of the blacksmith’s work, although the early 20th century saw a revival of ornamental ironwork, a market that then vanished with the Depression.

But the craft is far from dead. Blacksmithing enjoyed a revival in the 1970s that continues to this day by those attracted to the craft’s functionality and rich history.

Today blacksmiths’ pursuits generally range from the utilitarian combined with the artistic to the purely artistic.

Mark Kindschi falls in the latter category.

He moved to Maine with his wife, Mia Kanazawa, in 1988, after deciding “we were done with New York.” They made a beeline for Brooksville, drawn by the back-to-the-landers Helen and Scott Nearing as well as Eliot Coleman, considered the grandfather of the year-round farming movement.

“This is a great community,” said Kindschi, whose property abuts Coleman’s.

His resume is eclectic— actor, high-wire walker, furniture maker, world traveler, puppeteer and builder of specialty metal work for the Metropolitan Opera House.

The basis of his technique —repoussé — is the same used on the Statue of Liberty.

In repoussè a malleable metal is ornamented or shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a design in low relief. One of Kindschi’s 18-foot sculptures in 16-gauge steel might only weigh 65 pounds.

“Most people look at it and don’t have a clue how I do it,” he said.

He describes his work as descendant from the steel craftsmen/artists David Smith, Gonzales and Cesar, who brought industrial metalworking techniques to art. “As an artist, I feel that I must make every part of my pieces,” Kindschi explains in his artist’s statement. “I forge, hammer, weld and patina every piece; no assistant or foundries.”

Among his most arresting works are the “Dominant Species” series, which include, among others, headless figures.

“As a representative piece it doesn’t need to have a head,” said Kindschi. “The idea is we think we will be the dominant species until we kill ourselves off. We really need to find a way to live in the world without damaging the world.” He and Kanazawa live simply in a home they built and have no regrets about their choices. “Our theory has always been that our art is our life,” said Kindschi.

Christopher Crosman – Jeffery Becton: Passages

The late, beloved American painter, Andrew Wyeth (1917–2006), once mused about his most famous work, Christina’s World (1948, collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York), that if he had been “any good” as an artist, he would have left Christina entirely out of the picture. He realized that idea fifteen years later with Her Room (1963), which includes the pink fabric of Christina’s dress as curtains, and is a consummate portrait of his wife Betsy James Wyeth, who, in fact, posed for the original image of Christina for Christina’s World. For Wyeth, absence only deepened emotional resonance and mystery that he challenged viewers to find for themselves, one among other reasons Wyeth’s art is far from simple realism.

Jeffery Becton has produced work that echoes the ineffable longing and poetic quietude of Wyeth’s work, where human presence is softly whispered in other, more mysterious ways—a rack of antlers, a table clock without hands, a soup tureen. I suspect Wyeth might have understood and applauded. Becton’s essential subject, like Wyeth’s, is the littoral—the spaces where land and sea meet silently, merging into each other, ceaselessly transforming into something utterly new, unnameable. Becton is as much the master of islands and coastlines as any captain of working vessels plying offshore waters near his Deer Isle home and studio. He knows where the ledges are and how time and tides affect safe passage.

Becton is a photographer who paints. He paints images through the evolving late 20th- and 21st-century technology of digital photography that he helped pioneer in the early days of personal computers and Adobe Photoshop. Along with work by a younger generation of photo artists like Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson, Candida Hofer, Axel Hutte, and others, Becton began to explore heroic scale, subjective narratives, and new tools to stitch together images that his teachers never would have imagined possible for photography. Becton’s work evolved slowly, incrementally, over several decades into the later-in-life montages that have become increasingly abstract, albeit assembled from multiple sources of his own “straight” photography over many years, past and present. Along with the human figure, time takes a holiday in his ambiguously untethered-to-precise date-and-place compositions. He has built a visual practice that allows for the seamless meshings of morning light into afternoon water, lapping, caressing, occasionally pounding isolated boats, flooded walls, submerged floors, the outside and inside of ancient (by an American time scale) homesteads by the sea, ravaged and empty but strangely furnished and seemingly unoccupied.

Manipulating photographs implies a certain disregard for outward appearance, or at least a sense of humor embedded among many of Becton’s images. Whatever Louise Brooks or Pandora’s Box silent film director, Georg Pabst, might have thought, Becton’s Pandora’s Chest is the embodiment of a double-take and photography’s multiple perceptual mysteries. The chest repeats the seascape on the horizon through the door that is also repeated on the chest, the wall behind and even in the mirror above. Like cinema, time and place are unfixed, settings and story subject to flashback and retelling from differing points of viewUnlike music, theme and variation can be experienced all at once, literally enabling the viewer to take in different sizes and scales at a glance, challenging certain preconceived notions of what photographs mean. Becton’s chest is seductive in its simplicity of a seascape that is both inside and outside, simultaneously calming and disquieting.

Hand-built wooden domestic furnishings by farmers and fishermen, for whom simple carpentry was a survival skill from the Colonial era through the mid-19th century, are still found in both modest and more stately homes throughout rural New England. Painted furniture, however, was often reserved for wedding chests, concealing the bride’s intimate linens and wedding night bedclothes. Built for sturdiness and function more than comfort, sensual New England folk furniture is an oxymoron. In any case, Becton’s references to “Pandora” suggest seething, sensual secrets residing within and, perhaps, how outer, exterior worlds invade inner lives. It may be telling that only the trash container and a converted orientalist-China Trade table lamp crowning the chest are untouched by the invasive sea that washes through the entire room.

And, if one were to link Becton’s sensibility to other artists, one would necessarily invoke a North Atlantic perspective, evidenced in the art of such diverse masters as Caspar David Friedrich, J.M.W. Turner, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, and even the expansive, crumbling textures and dark, visionary post-modern landscapes of Anselm Kiefer. They are panoramas of our environmentally challenged present as well as some unknown but likely not too distant future where art and culture float athwart the laws of nature. These altered photographs present the familiar stuff of art—landscape, still life, traces of human activity—as layered, mutated, juxtaposed, transformed. His places are variously familiar and adrift, hidden and revelatory. They are like missing words: unspoken, on the tip of the tongue.

If Picasso had a digital camera, he would have instantly understood Becton’s work. He would see interiors that are simultaneously outside, and know that the slippages between land and sea, reality and abstraction, represent new ways of seeing. Like Gauguin’s The Spirit of the Dead Watching, Becton’s space is that moment between waking and dreaming, haunted by what John Fowles once described as that black paradox at the heart of the human condition—when the fulfillment of the desire becomes the death of the desire. Becton’s work often depicts distant views brought uncomfortably close; weather about to change; the seduction of mysterious shorelines, their distant terrors coming unmoored and detached; black clouds and walls of water breaking onto and overtaking broken boats, or how a raging sea feels, far more than how it looks, in sailors’ nightmares.

Becton’s first love is history, a subject he majored in during undergraduate studies at Yale. His response to both historical and recent complicity in terrorizing fellow citizens—Black lives taken as if they did not matter, and relentless, systemic racial violence over four centuries and counting—is seen in several of his montage photographs referring to the historical Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade. Here, Becton alludes to what Barack Obama famously observed (quoting William Faulkner): “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The sallow, scarified white face with eyes closed is a ghostly indictment of white indifference and blindness to slavery, its aftermath and troubling persistence in America’s complex and difficult story. The calm demeanor of an artificial white face is based on Becton’s photograph of a ceramic table lamp originally created by an artist-friend, Mark Kindschi. Becton’s manipulated image is vaguely reminiscent of folk art “face jugs” from the 17th and 18th centuries, originally produced by African-American slaves in South Carolina. Face vessels by early slaves seem to have had religious or burial significance and, according to scholars, may also reflect a need to capture individuality under the identity-erasing conditions of slavery where only the slaves might know their own African names in their own languages. Doubtless the double irony of Becton’s image of a white face from an object designed to function as a source of light, now evoking the metaphorical darkness of the slave trade, is not lost on the artist. A second version of Middle Passage is more suggestively underwater, a drowned visage in a shallow, sun-dappled sea.

Becton understands that a white artist commenting on Black trauma is fundamentally and always problematic. But Becton has described this image as possibly belonging to his own distant, mostly unspoken family history and the likelihood his Southern ancestors played a role in perpetuating the economic conditions enabling the Middle Passage—applicable in some measure to most white families in America before the Civil War, north and south. That racial violence and endemic inequity persists in contemporary American culture after four centuries is unconscionable—eyes wide shut as Becton’s imagery would suggest. Its cause and effect, its continuing presence today is, in part, a function of passive silence and willful blindness. For thoughtful, inwardly-looking artists like Becton, the work is about bringing differences together in his stitched-together medium of montage. He suggests difference is not only possible but essential, a necessary means toward reconciling—integrating—our shared humanity. In black and white photography—digital and analog—both are required, essential, to produce any image that can be seen. The same white face in his And the Sea Shall Give Up Her Dead (2020) is unsettling, with one open eye and one eye closed, as if to say seeing and not seeing one another haunts our long, fraught history. Becton’s work travels middle passages eliding boundaries between shoreline and sea, time and place, absence and presence, sensual beauty and uncomfortable truth.

Jeffery C. Becton on liminal spaces, creating emotional connections, and the power of ambiguity

Running until 31 August 2022, Between Two Worlds is an evocative showcase of two photographic artists who have a strong connection to the poetics of coastal spaces. Jeffery Becton and Andrea Hamilton are both interested in the intersection of land and sea, memory and place. In this exhibition, the pair highlight the emotional potential of our environment.

Jeffrey, a pioneer in the field of fine-art photography who lives and works in Deer Isle, Maine, expresses these thoughts and observations via seamless, painterly montages. Images layer up to bring us waves crashing through hallways and shimmering rooms that appear, even if not always literally, to be submerged in some way.

The architecture of vintage New England houses, many of which are part of Jeffery’s personal story, feature prominently in his work for Between Two Worlds. Flooded with watery light, these uncanny images see the walls of these ravaged homes peel like skin, prompting the viewer to meditate for a moment on generational fade and what might have been lost.

To learn more about his life story, approach to photography and the work on display at AH Studios, we talked to Jeffery as he headed across the Atlantic to London in time for the show’s opening.


You’ve received an MFA in graphic design, but what made you want to move into photography?

The truth is I wanted to go to art school, but as I was majoring in history, I had only taken two art classes as an undergraduate at Yale, so I didn’t have a portfolio to submit. However, it occurred to me that the graphic design department might provide me with an art education of sorts, and they accepted me! Photography was required, and it came naturally to me. We were fortunate to have mentors such as Jerry Thompson, a protégée of Walker Evans, who encouraged me to carry on – and so I did!

How has your approach to photography changed and developed over the years?

I moved from doodling around using a small format to a medium format, at which point I became interested in black and white portraiture using a Rolleiflex. From there, I began using a variety of cameras and soon began shooting in colour. As the technologies changed, I adapted, and when digital came along, I embraced it: from the earliest Nikon Coolpix to my iPhone 13 pro max with multiple cameras in between. My current favourite digital camera is my Sony A7R IV which produces a 55-megabyte file.

This is your first ever exhibition outside of the US. What made you want to come to London, and how have you found it?

I came to London because of the fine art photographer Andrea Hamilton, who discovered my work at the Steve Koman Gallery, which also represented her in Vero Beach, Florida. Seeing how our mutual interests overlapped, she suggested a collaboration, and after numerous conversations, she convinced me to come back to London. I have loved every minute of my time here in London, especially this hidden gem of a street where AH Studio is, full of creatives, artisans and a thriving community she is so generous towards.

What is it about Maine that makes for such a good photographic study?

The Maine coastline is 3,000 miles long, and it is spectacular. I love the sea and recording every aspect of it, but I especially love the coast: the rugged rock-bound edges, the presence of many harbours to shelter in, the light on the water at different times of day, tides, seasons and weather. Equally, the multi-generational summer homes along the shoreline pull on my imagination. (My parents built their summer house on the coast in Blue Hill, Maine, in 1947, the year I was born. We always summered there as a family. In 1976 I decided to move to Deer Isle nearby, and live there full time.)

How has Maine itself shaped you as a photographer?

Aside from the ocean itself, my greatest inspirations are the intertidal zones – those shifting, liminal spaces – and the patinated surfaces found therein, created by both the growth and the decay that takes place where land meets the sea.

Mary Alice Treworgy: A Maine Painter

Courthouse Gallery Fine Art is pleased to announce that Marshall Wilkes, a publisher of fine art books affiliated with the Gallery, has released their latest book—Mary Alice Treworgy: A Maine Painter by Carl Little. The Gallery will host an official book launch in the spring of 2022 (TBA). For more information please email

Mary Alice Treworgy: A Maine Painter follows the artistic career and life of Mary Alice Treworgy, a modern-day precisionist who found inspiration on Monhegan Island and elsewhere in Maine and New England. Author Carl Little traces Treworgy’s journey in art, from a childhood infatuation with paint to studies at the Massachusetts College of Art, a career in graphic design, and critical notice as a painter.

Mary Alice Treworgy’s painting Mrs. Wilson’s Barn–Morning, is an architectural presentation that delights me. Through notation, it reduces a parade of forms into a near-abstract pattern and then appoints it with an explosive yellow automobile.”   Philip Isaacson, Maine Sunday Telegram, 1992

Born in Baltimore in 1936, the great-granddaughter of board game creator Milton Bradley, Treworgy lived for much of her life in Brunswick, Maine, where she raised her family and maintained a studio. Treworgy studied with noted painters, including Joseph Nicoletti, Thomas Cornell, and Wolf Kahn, and attended the Vermont Studio Center on several occasions.

In 1991, Treworgy discovered the work of the American precisionists, which further sharpened her geometric approach. Her work was shown at Maine Coast Artists and numerous galleries, reviewed by critics Philip Isaacson and Pat Davidson Reef, and juried into three biennials at the Portland Museum of Art.

An introduction by Episcopal minister and author Frederic Stecker offers a personal account from his perspective as a member of the Monhegan summer community and as a collector of Treworgy’s paintings. “Mary Alice has taught us well,” he writes. “She paints the object’s essence; there is really more to see and to understand if you remove the distractions.”


Carl Little Born and raised in New York City, Carl Little holds degrees from Dartmouth, Columbia, and Middlebury. He directed the public affairs office and the Blum Gallery at College of the Atlantic before becoming director of communications and marketing at the Maine Community Foundation in 2001.

Little is the author of more than 30 art books, including Paintings of Maine, The Watercolors of John Singer Sargent, and Edward Hopper’s New England. He has written monographs on a number of artists, including Dahlov Ipcar, Beverly Hallam, Joel Babb, Francis Hamabe, William Irvine, Jeffery Becton, Wendy Turner, Philip Barter and Philip Frey. His book Eric Hopkins: Above and Beyond won the first John Cole Prize from the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance in 2012. He edited his brother David Little’s Art of Katahdin and co-authored with him Art of Acadia and Paintings of Portland.

Little writes for Art New England, Hyperallergic, Island Journal, Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors and Ornament. He has helped produce several Maine Masters films, including the award-winning Imber’s Left Hand. He has written essays for numerous museum and gallery exhibitions and lectures widely, with talks presented in recent years at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art and the Newburyport Literary Festival.

In 2000 Little received the Acadia Arts Achievement Award for contributions to the arts on Mount Desert Island. In 2008, the Maine Crafts Association awarded him its first individual award for contributions to the field of craft in Maine. A published poet, he lives and writes on Mount Desert Island.    

Frederick Stecker is an Episcopal minister and a student of religion and culture. He holds doctorates from Bangor Theological Seminary and The Institute for the Study of Violence of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is the author of The Podium, the Pulpit and the Republicans: How Presidential Candidates Use Religious Language in American Political Debate.

Mary Alice Treworgy: A Maine Painter
By Carl Little
Foreword by Frederick Stecker
PUBLISHER: Marshall Wilkes Fine Art Publishers, Ellsworth, Maine
Karin Wilkes (207) 266–5199 or
ISBN: 978–0–9839670–7-1
PRICE: $35.00 US
Hardcover with Jacket
PAGES: 108
SIZE: 10 x 10 inches
DISTRIBUTION: Tilbury House Publishers, Thomaston, Maine
Mariellen Eaton (207) 582–1899 or

Art Featured in Old Courthouse’s Stairwell

ELLSWORTH — In late fall, Courthouse Gallery Fine Art mounts an exhibit of artists’ small work in its lofty stairwell. Straddling Bridge Hill, the stately Greek Revival building, which once served as the Hancock County Courthouse and Registry of Deeds, becomes part of the show as patrons leisurely ascend the stairs and eye paintings, prints and sculpture as well the tin ceiling and beaded wainscoting. In this year’s “Stairwell Show,” which runs Nov. 11 through Dec. 23, the public will climb the stairs and see small, diverse works of art. Their creators include Janice Anthony, Matt Barter, Siri Beckman,  Kevin Beers, Judy Belasco, Tom Curry, Lilian Day Thorpe, Kate Emlen, Philip Frey, June Grey, Richard Keen, Holly Meade (1956–2013), Rosie Moore, Ed Nadeau, John Neville, Linda Packard, Carl Sprinchorn (1887–1971) and Christina Thwaites. The artwork runs the gamut from oils, acrylics, watercolors and encaustics, to woodblock prints and etchings, photomontages and sculptures incorporating reclaimed wood beams, Styrofoam, plaster and polyester resin.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has the option of seeing the “Stairwell Show” in person during gallery hours or by appointment or in a video online at All the featured works also are on view online.

Courthouse Gallery Fine Art is housed in Ellsworth’s historic courthouse built in 1832. The gallery is located at 6 Court St. For more info, call 667-6611, email and visit