Downeast gallery moves to Meeting House Hill in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — For as long as Anders Larson can remember, his father would create art in the common spaces of their South Penobscot home.

So, it only seems fitting the family is using a house on Meeting House Hill to show the late David Henning Larson’s work.

“We really like the feel,” Larson said of the former Old Crow Gallery. “His work space was always right in the living space. He’d have two or three pieces going at once.”

“I’d like to live here,” added his 74-year-old mother, Carole, who was helping set up the gallery Monday morning. “The only thing missing is a shower.”

The Larsons are moving pieces of David Henning Larson’s artwork from their previous gallery in the former Penobscot Canning Co. to the building at 331 Cottage Road.

Anders Larson said the decision close the South Penobscot gallery stemmed from the family’s desire to introduce the artist’s work, which is being featured as part of a Maine Masters video series, to a wider audience.

“The summer traffic was our business there,” Larson said. “There were always repeat customers. And it wasn’t just to look at art. Usually they’d wind up on the back deck having lunch.”

But, after his father’s death in 2007 and the start of the recession, traffic at the Downeast gallery dried up.

“What we’ve noticed over the last four or five years there is that the number of adventurous tourists is not what it used to be,” he said.

Larson, a 46-year-old South Portland resident who is a seventh-grade teacher in Sanford, is the youngest of three children. His two brothers live in New York City, where they considered opening a gallery, but were discouraged by the cost.

“This is sort of an experiment,” he said.

What was rarely an experiment was David Henning Larson’s art.

Brooksville artist Robert Shetterly, who is perhaps best known for his Americans Who Tell the Truth portrait series as well as his illustrations of poet William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell,” described Larson as a fearless artist and philosopher.

“By that I mean that he used is art to search out the most difficult truths about himself, the world and his fellow human beings,” Shetterly said. “And he never flinched.”

Shetterly said Larson’s paintings display a mastery of color and could often be both frightening and funny. “Because they are often mysterious and ambiguous, they invite collaboration by the viewer,” he said.

Anders Larson said his father, who would often draw inspiration from the natural world, was meticulous in the sketches that preceded his paintings.

Then, it would be up to Carole Larson to help him stretch out a proper-sized canvas for the job. Once the painting was created, David Larson, who was also a cabinet maker and woodworker, would then build a custom frame for each piece.

“Nothing he did was off-the-cuff,” Anders Larson said.

The gallery will feature examples from throughout David Henning Larson’s career, paintings and sculptures from the 1950s up to his death. He painted series inspired by the Last Supper, “Moby Dick” and mental asylums, among others. 

Next to each painting are displayed original poetry, quotes and excepts from letters the artist sent to friends.

“It gives you a window into who he was,” Anders Larson said. “He could be a very serious man, but a very silly man.”

Carole Larson offered a story about how an attempt at some ballerina steps landed her husband in the hospital for stitches.

“This is our attempt to make it more personal,” Anders Larson said.

Before moving to Penobscot from New York in 1971, David Henning Larson, whose art has been shown at the Portland Museum of Art and the Farnsworth Art Museum, had a successful career as an advertising executive, working with big-name clients like Volkswagen, Sony and Polaroid.

But Anders Larson noted one irony.

“He never tried to sell his art,” Larson said. “He used the art to develop conversations and dialog. Probably to a fault, from the family perspective, he was a terrible salesperson.”

Larson said the family plans to offer new exhibits every two months or so.

“It would be nice to sell some art,” he added. “But really our philosophy of running this place is to try to bring him to a wider audience.”

David Henning Larson’s work can be seen online at LarsonStudio.com.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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Anders Larson, left, and his mother, Carole Larson, admire a painting from David Henning Larson’s “Last Supper” series. The family is devoting a gallery on Meeting House Hill in South Portland to the late artist’s work.

Artist David Henning Larson died Aug. 25, 2007.

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