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100 Artists of New England

100 Artists of New England
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Art is all about making personal choices, not just for the artist, but also for the audience, the dealer, the collector, the curator, and the critic. What exhibitions am I going to see? What artists am I going to write about? What art do I think is important? What art am I going to buy?

 Currently I am collaborating on a new book about contemporary art in Maine, so I am well aware of the difficult and often arbitrary choices made in the selection process. There are thousands of artists in the state. At least 350 deserve to be in the book. There’s only room for about 100. Who’s in? Who’s out?   I can only imagine how much more difficult the choices must have been, therefore for Lexington, Massachusetts writer E. Ashley Rooney as she researched and compiled 100 Artists of New England (Schiffer Publishing, Atglen PA, 224-pages, 2010. $45 hardcover.)

 100 Artists of New England is a handsome, sturdy hardcover book that features 100 artists in two-page spreads which include an artist’s statement and five or six full-color photographs each. There is a foreward about New England art colonies by sculptor/art dealer Arlene Hecht and a brief introduction by Ashley Rooney.

 Though Rooney discusses her selection process in the introduction – cover all six New England states, get a wide range of mediums and styles, consult with galleries, museums and artists, she was probably more accurate when she told me, “It’s kind of like inviting people to a party.”

 There is a randomness to the artists featured that suggests it was mostly a matter of who the author knew and knew about. For example, 52 of the 100 artists are from Massachusetts, which may be justifiable based on relative state populations but the number of artists from each state (Connecticut and Maine, 15 each, New Hampshire, 9, Rhode island, 6, Vermont, 3) are not proportionate to their populations. Rooney obviously knows more about art in the Bay State than she does about art in other states.

 “I was surprised I had such a hard time with Connecticut,” Rooney said. “Massachusetts was much more forthcoming.”

 Having written about art in Maine for more than 30 years, I found Rooney’s Maine choices peculiar to say the least. Five of her 15 are artists I might have selected myself – Kim Bernard, Meg Brown Payson, Noriko Sakanishi, Aaron, Stephan, and Dudley Zopp. And four are artists I had never heard of before – Nance Driscoll, Oana Lauric, Susan McDonough, and Carolyn Walton. Not necessarily a bad thing. But an odd selection nonetheless, running the gamut from a conservative realist like Barbara Ernst Prey to a cutting edge installation artist like Aaron Stephan with lots of craft artists in between.

 Schiffer Publishing publishes thousands of books aimed primarily at the collector and collectible market. Ashley Rooney has written two or three a year in recent years. Since 100 Artists of New England, she has written 100 Artists of the Mid-Atlantic and has 100 Artists of the Midwest and 100 Artists of South in the works.

 All of these volumes could be very useful, but it would be helpful if they supplied more information about each of the artists and if the information supplied was uniform. There are directories of galleries and museums in the back of the book, some entries have addresses, phone numbers and websites, some just have the name of the institution. And the publishers seem to have been in such a hurry to get 100 Artists of New England in print that they left out half of the gallery list.

 A visually entertaining book flawed by sloppy editing and the velocity of its production. As Ashley Rooney said, “It’s one woman’s perception of what I see as fascinating art. Hopefully it represents the region with all its quirkiness.”

Edgar Allen Beem

Author:

Edgar Allen Beem

Biography:

Take a look at art in New England with Edgar Allen Beem. He’s been art critic for the Portland Independent, art critic and feature writer for Maine Times, and now is a freelance writer for Yankee, Down East, Boston Globe Magazine, The Forecaster, and Photo District News. He’s the author of Maine Art Now (1990) and Maine: The Spirit of America (2000). In 1988, he won the Manufacturers Hanover Art/World Award for Distinguished Newspaper Art Criticism for his coverage of the 1987 auction sale of Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises. Ed says, “My credo as an arts writer has long been: ‘The work of art is the search for meaning.’ I believe art is not only a form of personal expression but also a form of inquiry, every bit as much a quest for truth as scientific research.” Ed Beem’s newest book, Backyard Maine: Local Essays, has just been published by Tilbury House, Publishers, of Gardiner, Maine. It’s not about the meaning of art; it’s about the meaning of family, community, and life in general. Edgar Beem is currently at work on a new book about contemporary art in Maine to be published in the fall of 2012.
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One Response to 100 Artists of New England

  1. Bob Skribiski September 28, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    We are looking for information on New England artist Harold B. Warren. He was alive in 1939 as he gave my in-laws one of his paintings as wedding gift. He was born in England. He taught at Harvard and his brother was Herbert, who also taught at Harvard. That is all that we know at this point.

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