BLUE HILL—If you’re looking for a fun little road trip this summer no farther than an hour from the Midcoast, Fairwinds Florist, a shop in Blue Hill, is an artistic destination with a whimsical attraction. On the left side of the shop stands a vintage cigar machine. Instead of cigarettes, however, the glass partition for each knob reveals a tiny piece of art made by a local artist. For $15 you get a token to feed to the machine; the choice of artist is yours.
There’s a childlike feeling to tapping a coin in the slot, pulling the knob and watching a little white box slip out into the metal tray. You don’t know what you’ll get exactly, but the surprise is worth it.
On Monday, July 22, Fairwinds held an “Art Box Party” to celebrate the sixth anniversary of The Art Box and to invite people to try out the vending machine.
The Art Box is the idea of Michele Levesque and Michael Rossney, owners of EL EL FRIJOLES Mexican food a taqueria in Sargentville and Makers’ Market Shop & Studio in Brooksville.
“The cigarette machine dispensing art is not my idea,” said Levesque. “It’s an idea we came across in Chicago from a machine in a place called The Artomat and I was really intrigued, so I bought a piece. It stayed in the back of my head for awhile and we decided to find our own vintage cigarette machine and offer art that was more local. We wanted to do something for the artists of the peninsula and advertise their work a little, as well as provide an affordable way for people to collect art. We’ve got kids who come in here and are already art collectors because of the Art Box.”
Levesque and Rossney are artists whose work The Art Box dispenses.
“We currently have 11 artists that are involved with the project and sometimes we have artists who rotate through, but 11 is about all I can handle,” said Levesque. “ Every artist except for one lives here right here on the peninsula.”
Art ranges from hand-painted wood blocks, mixed media, altered books, found object sculpture, textiles, photography, handmade tiny books and other personalized items that can fit into the regulated sized box. For more backstory on the individual artists visit: The Art Box
One of the artists on hand that evening was Amelia Poole, who makes encaustic collages by layering vintage book pages and drawings with wax and resin. One particular piece that Carol Gregor of Brooksville bought through the vending machine was constructed from old handwritten letters.
Poole was happy to discover that someone had chosen her artwork, so she explained what it was: “This is a son in Korea writing back home to his father, in Bangor, named Sterling Diamond in 1951.”
“Sterling Diamond! What a name,” said Gregor.
The Art Box is a permanent feature of Fairwinds Florist shop. You don’t have to wait for one of their artist receptions; you can come in at any time and purchase a token to get some art from the cigarette machine. $10 of the purchase goes to the artist.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
CAMDEN — At first glance, the little faces Chris Gray has carved into his handcrafted guitar picks reveal big personalities. Are they pensive? Wincing? Smiling? Hard to tell, but whatever they’re “thinking” they’ve become the signature look of his most recent entrepreneurial venture, Riff Wood Picks.
Riff Wood Picks are upcycled and handmade hardwood picks for guitar, bass guitar, ukelele and mandolin. Gray and his wife are originally from Tennessee, but moved up to Union seven years ago on a part-time basis, making it permanent three years ago. A long-time woodcarver, he just started making these guitar picks as a Christmas gift for his son-in-law, who is a musician.
“Once I figured out what I was doing, I thought, this is something that others might be interested in,” he said.
Since Christmas, he estimates he’s made about 250 of these picks and began a Facebook page. After getting a great response, he just recently built an Etsy site and has said in just a month’s time, he said he’s gotten an appreciable number of sales.
“It’s taken off great guns,” he said.
Gray credits K2 Music in Camden, where some of his picks can currently be found, for help with their design. As Gray isn’t a musician, he needed input from owners Mac Economy and Harvey Curtis, who are.
“When I mentioned to them I was going to make them, I asked Mac and Harvey what were the best pick styles to use for different instruments,” he said. “They were generous enough to critique them and because of their input, I’ve made the picks better.” [See our video where Mac Economy gives a demonstration of how the picks sound.]
Gray makes each pick out of laminated hardwoods, producing a sturdy pick with a triangle shape for guitars and an arrowhead shape for bass guitar. The best part about his craft is that he uses leftover scraps of quality hardwoods he finds at A.E. Sampson & Sons and Mystic Woodworks and upcycles scraps that normally would be thrown out or burned. To make them, he first starts with a glued log of two or three hardwoods, such as maple, cherry and walnut. After he band saws a small chunk from this log, he can work four-to-five picks out of each chunk. It takes him more time to do the sanding and polishing of the pick than it takes to do the carving.
He calls the iconic look to his guitar pick faces as The Riff Master.
“I’ve always enjoyed stylized faces in my carving,” he said, noting that no two faces are alike, but all are “cousins” of the original. The darkened color and shading in the expression of the faces is actually a natural embellishment as the result of working with a dremel, a rotary tool.
“It just takes a minimum of strokes to do each one,” he said. “When the tool is sharp, it won’t scorch, but when it’s dull, the friction of the burr scorches the wood. I love the way it looks so I just do the faces with a dull tool.”
Faces aren’t the only images he carves. He’s recently been branching out with other images, such as a lobster, the Tree of Life, the sun and moon, a sunflower, a dragon fly, and custom requests. Recently a woman asked him to carve the numbers: 143 into a pick. He was happy to oblige and asked her what the numbers meant. She said it was Morse Code for sailors and each number represented certain letters in a word, such as in this case: I LOVE YOU.
Prior to making the picks, Gray also created a natural wood game called Tumblewood.
“It’s like Jenga, but it’s pieces of split wood that are stacked more like a split rail fence.”
So far, he’s sold about 500 of the games and wants to keep the business small and handcrafted.
Between the game, his picks and his part-time living at a sawmill in Union and working for LT Auctions in St. George, he’s making a living here in Maine. He also still manages his family’s gallery in Tennessee. Gray is not ready for a mass production, however.
“It’s a lot of carving and not something I’d want to do 40 hours a week,” he said. “It’s hard on your fingers.”
Still, it’s enjoyable and gives musicians something to smile about when they put one of those funny little faces between their thumb and finger. Riff Wood Picks can be found at K2 Music and Once A Tree in Camden as well as on Etsy.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com
He scours basements for items such as beat-up old doors and cabinets that were intended for the dump, and paws through half-empty paint cans with paint that is hard as a rock.
“Every day I go into work, it’s like Christmas,” says Belfast artist, Eric Leppanen. “People throw things away that I find tons of value in. I’m always trying to find a way to make discarded stuff into something that someone else finds value in, as well.”
Leppanen’s journey as an artist has a familiar ring to it, particularly in this recession-weary state. He was laid off from his corporate job more than three years ago. Governor Angus King, who recently spoke at the Juice Conference 3.0, also found himself downsized at one point in his career before running for governor. For both King and Leppanen, facing a lay-off became the catalyst for finding their true calling.
Growing up in Owls Head and Rockland, Leppanen moved to Boston to attend college at Suffolk University. He worked on getting his degree in business and marketing, taking all of his electives in the art fields. During this time, he experimented with creating oil paintings. He’d clean the house of his art professor, who’d then give him discarded canvases to work on.
“I loved the cultural mix of the city, the excitement of it, but ultimately, I wanted to move back to the Midcoast to be near friends and family,” says Leppanen, sitting casually on his back deck. He is soft-spoken, laid back. With his beard and dark cap, he looks as though he fits easily in the world of fishermen.
In the past couple of years, his work has been featured in Rockland’s Asymmetrick Arts gallery, which he’ll return to in December for a group artist show. At the time of this interview, Leppanen’s artwork is on display at Belfast Co-op throughout November. One wall features a grid of mini pint-sized paint cans. The variegated colors that have slopped down each paint can are messy, vibrant and strangely harmonious. His other pieces feature found or reclaimed materials, such as a piece of driftwood his grandfather kept for a number of years, which Leppanen lacquered in shiny black.
Perhaps it’s no mistake that the logical grid-like formation of the mini paint can piece reflects Leppanen’s analytical side. Coming back to Maine in 1993, the first job he took out of college was with MBNA and he stayed there 10 years before moving on to Bank of America.
“The corporate world is very analytical, black and white, 1s and 0s,” recalls Leppanen. During this entire time, he didn’t make much artwork. “I was tired at the end of the day. I didn’t have the time, the space for it or the energy.”
Then in 2009, he found himself, along with others, laid off from Bank of America.
“It was a little shocking,” he says, “but I came home to my wife with a big smile and said, ‘hey I’m laid off. Let’s just start something new.’ She was a little worried, but I said, ‘it’s all going to be good. I feel really happy.’ Right now I’m so thankful. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
The Leppanens took a drive across the county and talked about what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives and by the time they returned to Maine, they’d hatched a plan. They took the entrepreneurial tack, creating a house-cleaning and property care business called aNeatNook. They’ve been doing this business together for three years.
“We often get discards, which I try to re-appropriate into art,” he says. “If I don’t use it in art, I sort through it, give it away to people who might need it, or take it to Goodwill. I try to bring as little as possible to the dump.”
As the writer Pearl Buck once said, “To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.” This is Leppanen’s mantra.
“I really enjoy what I do now, since I really feel cleaning is an art form in itself,” he says in his quiet, deliberate manner. “Each day I can see tangible results, accomplishments and the thrill of making our environment a better place. It's my small part to improve the world and/or the houses of folks I come in contact with. In the corporate world, it was the exact opposite. I’d crank it out for ten hours and at the end of the day, feel as though I accomplished nothing. The end product of my efforts was not a valuable contribution to society. I was a cog in the debt machine.”
As he stands in his disheveled, paint-splattered basement, he presents multiple pieces in various stages of creation. He usually works on two three pieces at a time. Though he works 40 hours a week in his cleaning business, he spends at least three hours each night on his art in some form, whether creating it or marketing it, sleeping from 2 to 6 a.m., then getting up and doing it all over again.
“I love it. I thrive on it,” he says. “It took 40 years, but I found my passion.”
For more information about Leppanen’s artwork visit http://eleppanen.com.
The cover image shows the poppy, the logo for Hypnozine, first of one.
Rockport artist Andrew Mc Kenzie discusses his latest illustrated novel titled Hypnozine, which is described as: ”A coming of age epic, vibrating with the hormonal fury of sin, redemption, mutation, and obsession.”
Hypnozine is a serialized illustrated novel co-created by West Coast writer, Jason Squamata and Andrew Mc Kenzie, a Maine-based graphic artist. Mc Kenzie was born in Rockport and received his B.A. from Emerson College in theater studies. While in Boston, he cultivated a relationship with a fraternal gang of nomadic artists, writers and designers, a relationship that continues to this day and remains the primary influence on his work. After college, he spent five years working in Asia, and has now settled back in his home town, working out of the West Street Heritage, his design studio.
Hypnozine is not like any indie comic you’ve seen lately. Subversive with an unreliable narrator combining the surrealism of Zippy the Pinhead, the mock zeal of the Church of the SubGenius and black-and-white seizure-inducing illustrations, this isn’t an escapist comic — it’s dense reading. Like the first paragraph that sets off Hypnozine, you have to be in the right frame of mind to absorb the narrative. It’s as if the words themselves are swinging back and forth across your eyes, attempting to simulate the kind of drug-induced dysphoria that the characters in Hypnozine experience by ingesting a mind-altering 1960s drug. Here, as the illustrator, Mc Kenzie tells more of the story.
Q: You are the art side of this magazine. What was the concept behind the high-contrast black-white optical illustrations as it goes with the text?
I first started working on Hypnozine about six years ago while living in Taiwan. I had the original concept for a comic that was filled with not just great story content, but all of these amazing icons and images. I wanted to add to and build off of what my other creative partners had started. I slapped those pages down on the drafting table and traced them out on vellum, then threw those tracings on the overhead projector and mixed them with transparencies of some of my favorite black and white photos and my technical drawings and blue prints. The style really comes from a compilation of my love of OP art from artists such as Bridgett Riley, my love of the “Mod” aesthetics and what I was being exposed to for Taiwanese inking. I wanted the art and design to really stand out, to have a distinctive feeling to it. In the story line, Hypnozine is a mind-altering psychedelic, but in reality it is this consuming hybrid piece of media that really does try to possess and overwhelm the reader.
Q: How do you and your writing and creative team work together in different states and how long has it taken to put these issues together?
The entire story arc takes place over 32 issues, each issue consisting of 11 images/ text pieces. The first series is completely done and all the outlining for all the remaining issues has been completed. When Jason and I started working on Hypnozine, we knew we wanted to have something well plotted. The books move fast and when the first series concludes, we get into it quick.
Jason and I have spent hundreds of hours on speaker phone. In the final steps of creating the images, I use the computer. At this point, email takes over as we work back and forth on the text and final image; probably about four times before we are finished. When the page is done, we put it online and add mixed media elements to it. For example, Jason starts working on the audio track, narrates the series and mixes music into it. It really is an indepth process, I love it.
Q: You and your partners are also working on several other concurrent projects, all of which flow around the written-illustrated graphic novels/comix. As Jason says you are a "story-telling factory." What is it about working with visionary artists and writers that is so fulfilling to you?
Nothing is ever wasted, I love the line we float between art and media, conveniently using the rules of either to help achieve our goals. It is truly satisfying to be in a group of creators who are just hungry for each other’s work.
Q: Are you ever tempted to move away from Maine to be amongst more of these creative circles? What makes you stay and how do you still stay relevant?
I went to school in Boston, worked in L.A., and lived overseas. This is the only place where things feel real. I want to be here, and there were some definite decisions made to stay and settle here. I much rather work on changing Maine, to try to get more media made here, than leave.
Q: Hypnozine’s illustrations also function as art installations, which you’ve shown in galleries independent of the writing. How do people respond to this on its own?
Different crowds give different things back. People at comic book conventions are curious about the way the images relate to the narrative and want to get in to the story. People in a gallery setting want to know more about the process and how the posters are made. My favorite comparison I have heard so far that Hypnozine was Alice in Wonderland meets the 1960s British television series, The Prisoner.
Q: How can the public get their hands on this magazine? Is it going to be printed or electronically produced?
We have done several small independent printings of the first and second books that have done well. We have the books in a couple bookstores on the West Coast, and I would like to get in some here in Maine. In addition to the paper comics, we have presented Hypnozine as a gallery poster show as well as PDF slide shows. The images have been hung along nature trails, used to decorate club spaces and even used as political illustrations. In addition, I have been approached to reproduce the images for music festivals and was asked recently to consider reformatting some of the patterning into textiles. We try and use every bit of what we have, but we are really looking for an outlet for a larger release. We have definitely gotten to a point where we have grown beyond an indie comic, and are really interested in taking that next step.
For more information visit hypnokomix.com/projects/hypnozine
The Killer Convo
This blog is a is a killer roundup of all arts, entertainment, brewery & distillery, food trucks, happy hour happenings in the Midcoast Maine. Feel free to email me anything about Midcoast arts, entertainment & the creative economy.