Portland's Arts District attracts artist foundation from NYC

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PORTLAND — They are shapely, vibrant, playful and abundant.

And now the collected watercolors and sculptures of Leo Rabkin call the city home, with the opening of the Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation at 13 Brown St.

The foundation, established in 2000, has moved from New York City into the former home of the Museum of African Art & Culture. It is part office and part exhibit space open by appointment.

“This place is really centered on Leo’s artistic legacy; we have over 1,000 works of art from the beginning of his career to the end,” foundation Director Susan Larsen said Dec. 2.

The foundation is mixing local outreach with a new national mission as it welcomes visitors to explore Rabkin’s art, whether it is on the walls or filed away in storage cabinets.

“It is far more interesting and fun to see what could happen here,” Larsen said. “A lot of it is intangible. If a 10-year-old kid comes in here and sees something that turns him into a sculptor, we will never know.”

At the same time, the foundation endowment will begin awarding eight to 10 annual grants to writers covering the visual arts.

“People who write primarily for an academic audience are not what we are aiming at,” Larsen said. “We want to see who is writing well, providing insights, really serving the public and serving artists.”

The grants will be made through a nomination process, as opposed to an application. Forecaster columnist Edgar Allen Beem is a member of the foundation’s board of directors.

Larsen, a former art professor at the University of Southern California, first met the Rabkins in 1972. She is also the former chief curator of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, and said having the Rabkin Foundation in Portland presents some advantages to staying in Manhattan.

“The presence of one of these foundations can help add a spark to an otherwise vital arts district,” she said. Lower overhead costs can also allow more grant funding.

Joining Larsen is Maine College of Art graduate Danielle Frye, who has an active role in designing and assembling the exhibits.

“I unpacked every single box, my hands have been on every single piece of art,” said Frye, who studied ceramics at MECA.

It was a trip to the jumble of Rabkin’s New York studio that touched Frye the most.

“There were piles and piles of art, it was everywhere, almost to the ceiling,” she said.

The entire collection was shipped north last month, and Larsen praised Don Olen and the crew from city-based Earle W. Noyes & Sons for their careful work.

“It took three men and a huge truck and it came overnight,” she said.

Larsen and Frye met at a party almost a year ago, and Frye said she kept the foundation in mind because she wanted to remain in Portland and be part of the city’s art scene.

Her work has given her a greater appreciation for Rabkin’s work, she added.

“I think the most profound moment I’ve had so far is when we accidentally stumbled upon a massive amount of unframed watercolors. He was an amazingly talented painter and most people don’t get to see that,” Frye said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The Rabkin Foundation at 13 Brown St. allows visitors to arrange Leo Rabkin’s works by their own whim and however they desire.

MECA graduate Danielle Frye joined Rabkin Foundation Director Susan Larsen in setting up the new office and exhibition space at 13 Brown St. in Portland.

The Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation will be part exhibit space and part office at 13 Brown St. in Portland. Rabkin was a painter and sculptor with a collection of 1,000 pieces.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.