CURRENT AFFAIRS – Coastal painting and space photography

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“Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine” is the absolutely fabulous show now at the Portland Museum of Art until Dec. 30. The 38 paintings, brought to Maine from all over the United States, ignore the works Homer produced during the Civil War, and those of the Adirondacks, the Caribbean, and Cullercoats, England. These are the products of his experiences at Prouts Neck, where he spent most of the last 27 years of his life, until his death at 74 in 1910.

As you enter the show, take some time to read the two large panels hanging on the wall to your right. One is an excellent timeline, a chronology of Homer’s life with small illustrations of various high points. The second panel is a map of Prouts Neck, locating his studio and such important landmarks as Cannon Rock, Spouting Rock and Pulpit Rock.

I have always been intrigued by Homer’s portraits of fisherwomen and thanks to Philip C. Beam in “Winslow Homer in the 1890’s, Prouts Neck Observed,” I learned that the model for the gorgeous painting “The Fisher Girl” was a local girl, Ida Meserve Harding, from Pine Point. Only 16 when she started posing for Homer, she told Beam, “He was all business while painting, very serious and hardly speaking, although after each session he would talk affably and recount numerous stories.” Homer told his uncle, “A most careful study direct from nature of the best single figure that I remember having painted.” The oil, owned by the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, is of a strongly molded woman standing on a cliff, looking out to sea through an enveloping fog. Her right hand shades her eyes, her left hand holds a fishing net slung over her shoulder and down her ankle length dress. The overall impression is of a somber misty grey, but if you look closely, you see purple tints in her dress, white surf breaking on the rocks, a white seagull in the upper right sky and a few red rose hips on straggly stems in the lower right corner. Ida Meserve also posed for the equally wonderful “A Light on the Sea,” brought to Portland from the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

Up in the sky

Scarborough 55+ recently sponsored a bus trip to the Bates College Museum of Art, where we enjoyed a visit to the exhibit, “The Fine Art of Astrophotography.” Since none of our group was versed in that science, we were delighted that the curator of the exhibit, Anthony Shostak, came forward to give us the benefit of his enthusiasm and knowledge. He led us on a fascinating tour of these photographs, memorable not only for their educational value but also for their beauty. The sun, moon, planets, comets, even galaxies, distant nebula and super nova remnants all appear in glorious color and detail. There are 106 images by 35 artists, from 11 countries and five continents.

I was captivated by a spectacular photo entitled “IC 434 in Orion, The Horsehead Nebula,” by Martin Pugh, an Australian, named Photographer of the Year at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England in 2012. The horse’s head seems to be rearing out of a black cloud – the pinkish, reddish glow behind it is formed of hydrogen gas. The nebula, positioned at the southern end of Orion’s belt, is approximately 1,500 light years away from Earth and was first observed in 1888 at the Harvard College Observatory.

Robert Gendler, an American physician and amateur photographer and astronomer, is represented in the show by a large, eye-catching photo of the Andromeda Galaxy. First described by a Persian astronomer, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi in 964, it is about 2.5 million light years from Earth and the nearest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way. According to Mr. Shostak, Gendler took the picture over the course of many nights while standing in the cold at the end of his driveway in Connecticut!

Wai-Hao Wang, from Taiwan, with a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Hawaii, now an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico, photographed the Comet Hale-Bobb – a startling image of the gleaming white star trailing behind it two tails, one white, the other a bright blue. “Alumut Starry Night” by Babak Tafreshi, an Iranian, depicts a rugged mountain in silhouette – the Milky Way flows across the dark sky – city lights glow in the distance.

The show remains at Bates College until Dec. 15. It is worth the trip!

Scarborough series

The Friends of the Scarborough Public Library continued their literature series with the second program of “Murders They Wrote.” Kate Flora talked about, and read from, her new murder mystery, “Redemption,” in her third work starring Detective Sergeant Joe Burgess of the Portland, police force. She also mentioned that she is working on No. 8 of her Thea Kozak mysteries – Thea is an educational consultant but functions as an amateur private investigator in her spare time.

We listened in awe as Kate described her life – she was born in Union, Maine, on a chicken farm. Her very first job, at the age of 11, was at the local library, shelving and checking out books – in her own words, she was “a smart, wonky kid.” Of course, she read everything, but her favorite authors were Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart. She went to Tufts, got a degree in English, went on to law school and started work in Maine as an Assistant Attorney General. She got married, had two sons and suddenly decided a demanding job and day care for her boys was not for her. She now has a career as a writer of both mysteries and true crime non-fiction – her book, “Finding Amy,” written with Deputy Chief Joseph Lauglin was a nominee for the 2007 Edgar award.

The third program of the series will be on Jan. 13 when Gerry Boyle will talk about his small town Maine character, Jack McMorrow and his Portland rookie cop Brandon Blake.

Marta Bent lives in Scarborough.

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