Portland art show features common passion, different styles

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PORTLAND — When Leslie Anderson shows up for her weekly painting group, she said she finds more than space in front of an easel.

She finds “the freedom to live, breathe and talk art.”

Anderson is one of three artists who meet each week to paint, critique and support each other as they grow as artists. They will open their third group show this week.

Anderson, of Portland, Ann Mohnkern of Yarmouth and Louisa Wickard of Cumberland will present “Open Spaces, Maine III” beginning Friday, March 2, at the Lofts Gallery, 21 Chestnut St. An opening reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday during the First Friday Art Walk.

The show is the third that features the artists’ work together.

The artists didn’t necessarily imagine they’d present group shows together when they first met six years ago during a class at Maine College of Art. They come from different backgrounds and tended to chose different styles and subject matter for their paintings.

Wickard grew up on Monhegan Island and continued her art education at Bowdoin College and the University of Southern Maine. A painter for about 20 years, she also teaches art at Chebeague Island School. She focuses on the use of texture, pattern and color in her paintings.

Anderson said she liked art as a child, but hadn’t touched a crayon in years when her husband gave her an art class as a gift. She fell in love with creating art and soon gave up a stressful career to pursue plein air painting.

“Almost the second I started painting I knew I didn’t want to do marketing anymore,” she said.

Mohnkern, who retired five years ago from practicing law at UNUM, had never painted until she picked up a brush about a decade ago. She said capturing the Maine landscape is now her passion.

The women said their shared passion and different styles and experiences have made their weekly group more valuable.

“It surprised me how quickly how important this became to me, to have a a community of painters,” Anderson said.

Mohnkern said the weekly meetings allow them to feel comfortable enough to share, critique, support and learn from each other in a non-competitive atmosphere. Their bond has also carried them through family health issues and, more recently, Wickard’s battle with breast cancer.

Although her hands were weak from cancer treatments, Wickard credited Anderson and Mohnkern with motivating her to get back into the studio.

“I wouldn’t have painted as soon without them. They made it happen and I’m grateful for that,” she said. “I’m so happy to paint and I’m happy to find beauty.”

The painters decided three years ago that they wanted to do a show, but since none were affiliated with a gallery they needed to find an open space. They noticed empty storefronts in downtown Portland and, inspired, tracked down a landlord who was willing to let them clean up the space and hold a two-week show titled “Open Spaces, Maine.” 

A year later, they displayed their second show at a Maine College of Art gallery. After a year off, they said they are excited for the opening of “Open Spaces, Maine III.”

“I like seeing our work together because it is so different,” Wickard said. “… First Friday in Portland is such a phenomenal thing. To be part of that is amazing.”

“Open Spaces, Maine III” will remain on display through Saturday, March 31, by appointment only. To schedule a viewing, call Anderson at 773-1737.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

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Leslie Anderson, right, works on a painting of Casco Bay during a weekly studio session with Ann Mohnkern, left, and Louisa Wickard. The women meet weekly at Wickard’s Cumberland studio to paint and critique their work. Their third group show, “Open Spaces, Maine III,” opens Friday in Portland.

Painters, from left, Louisa Wickard, Leslie Anderson and Ann Mohnkern open their third group show, “Open Spaces, Maine III,” this week during Portland’s First Friday Art Walk. They meet each week in Wickard’s Cumberland studio to paint and critique each other’s work.

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