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The Art of Katahdin and Conservation

The Art of Katahdin and Conservation
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The Bates College Museum of Art is currently featuring two exhibitions of art in the form of environmental advocacy.

Wildness Within Wildness Without: Exploring Maine’s Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail features large-format, visionary color photographs by Bridget Besaw.

Taking Different Trails: The Artists’ Journey to Katahdin Lake presents paintings, drawings and photographs by 20 artists involved in the Katahdin Lake Campaign.

Bridget Besaw‘s brilliant visual interpretation of the places visited by Henry David Thoreau on his three trips to the Maine woods was a bonus when I visited the Bates Museum in Lewiston, Maine, on Saturday, March 8. Besaw’s photographs, some of which were previously exhibited in Maine at the University of Maine and the College of the Atlantic, were scheduled to come down on March 4.

Besaw originally undertook her exploration of Thoreau’s journeys in 2005 at the behest of Maine Woods Forever in order to promote the preservation of the wilderness around mile-high Mt. Katahdin.

My favorite photograph depicts students from the Chewonki Foundation wilderness camp hunkered down in a snow cave, fittingly so as “Wildness Within Wildness Without” will be exhibited at the Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset during April and May. If you can’t make it to Maine, you can see some of Besaw’s wondrous photographs at and

“Taking Different Trails” grew out of the Katahdin Lake Campaign (For more information, see the Trust for Public Lands), which raised $14 million in order to add pristine Katahdin Lake to Maine’s forever-wild Baxter State Park. The artists in the exhibition all donated works that raised money for the cause.

Painter Marsha Donahue, who owns North Light Gallery in Millinocket, helped organize the exhibition and contributed to the Bates show both a stark charcoal drawing of an inlet on Katahdin Lake and a brushy watercolor of the same scene. Painter David Little, who contributed an oil painting of a green canoe on the shore of Katahdin Lake, co-curated the show.

“Taking Different Trails” also features works by Bill Bentley, Milton Christiansen, Elaine Crossman, Evelyn Dunphy, Deborah Grabber, Chris Huntington, Dean Johnson, Bill Landmesser, Bruce MacDonald, Abbott Meader, Caren-Marie Michel, Jerry Monkman, Chris Polson, Jym St. Pierre, Paul Thibodeau, Michael Vermette, and Ian White. Not surprisingly, the predominant artistic view of the Katahdin Lake landscape is one of painterly realism after Marsden Hartley.

But if the majority of the landscape artists in the show share a conservative aesthetic outlook, they also share a conservation ethic — a great and good thing as the wilds of Maine face unprecedented development pressures here at the outset of the 21th century.

Versions of the “Taking Different Trails” group exhibition opened simultaneously at North Light Gallery, Jameson Gallery in Portland, and at Bates, where it hangs until May 24.

Bates College Museum of Art, 75 Russell St., Lewiston. 207-786-6158;

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

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