Markings Gallery, an artists’ cooperative with three large display rooms nestled on a lively little street in the shipbuilding city of Bath, is the rare shop that you bring all your out-of-town friends and relatives to see. There’s a magic to Markings that needs to be shared.
Markings is celebrating its 10 year anniversary. Normally, Markings, known for its gallery shows and artists talks, would throw a big bash to mark this historic accomplishment. But not this year with protocols requiring masks and physical distancing of patrons. Yet even in these strange times, a local treasure like Markings has earned a moment of recognition and celebration.
It is a big accomplishment for a gallery that is run by and for artists to reach 10 years in such an expansive storefront. It’s rare for a gallery of this kind to thrive for so long. Markings does not buy art to up sell, and it does not feature any works by artists who are not Maine residents. Markings is an artists’ cooperative featuring 60 of the finest artists and craftspeople that Maine has to offer. The gallery prides itself on being a place for artists to sell art the way that they want to, a platform for its members to reach enthusiasts, fans, and collectors.
When the pandemic struck and all the retail shops in coastal Maine went into lockdown, Nan Kilbourn-Tara, founder and acting manager of Markings, gathered the members of the cooperative. Together they planned an online fund drive to carry the gallery through these lean times. They met their fundraising goal inside of three weeks.
Nan, also a talented tile artist, said, “You know I’ve heard more than once that we stack up with the best craft shops in America, from people coming from New York, Boston, Philadelphia. The diversity and excellence of our artists’ work is our strength. Keeping both the mix and the balance exciting is our challenge, and that recipe is always changing. We work hard to find the best of the best.”
Markings is the second artists’ cooperative that Nan has successfully helmed. In 1976 a well-received Maine craft show called “Directions in Maine Living” launched in Portland and opened Praxis Gallery on Main Street in Freeport, which thrived for 17 years.
Fast forward to 2010 and the birth of Markings Gallery.
“A small group of artist friends gathered in my home in West Bath” Nan explains. “We began reminiscing about the Praxis years and what a special gallery it was. I mentioned that I had seen a wonderful gallery space for rent in Bath. Suddenly the spark was lit, we began the brainstorming process that ultimately led to creating a diverse group of craft artists. Markings Gallery was on its way.”
The group chose to use the same business formula that had worked so well at Praxis. The income from each piece would go directly to the artist with a percentage deducted to cover the costs of running the gallery. No profit is taken by a gallery owner as one does not exist. With this financial structure the artists are all working together, for themselves, but also for each other. The gallery is a success only if each artist succeeds.
In addition to Nan, the other chief leader of Markings, the gallery’s manager, is a skilled textile artist named Susan Mills. Susan credits Nan with the store’s ongoing success when it comes to finding the right balance of ever-changing talent across a broad range of media. She also points to Nan’s artistic eye in the staging of the new art in concert with the hugely diverse array of pieces to be found in the gallery.
“Nan does the curating and brings her own keen vision to every piece that comes in the gallery.” Susan said. “She puts a lot of energy into staging the gallery. Consideration is always given to see how pieces work together with colors, textures and symbolism.
“Whenever Markings has taken on a new artist there are lots of conversations that precede this. The art is highly juried. It has worked so well for us these past 10 years. We make sure that we all appreciate the new work and have confidence that we can represent the artist and connect their work to the visitors that will resonate with it.”
The gallery is always populated by an enormously diverse range of media. Markings boasts the very best that Maine fiber arts have to offer. All the fiber artists are working at a very high level of craftsmanship across multiple techniques. The range of colors, designs and textures throughout the fiber gallery is extraordinary. Felt and mixed media garments hang juxtaposed to a creatively unbound world of wall-hanging and sculptural pieces, including fine hand-woven rugs and tapestries, appliquéd fiber paintings, constructions and fiber vessels that are displayed throughout the entire gallery.
Clay pieces including tiles and pottery, with designs ranging from highly realistic to abstract, catch the light and the eye at every turn. Porcelain, earthenware, stoneware, salt-ware and raku clay work are all represented.
Markings’ jewelry is equally diverse including distinctive styles and techniques worked in gold and silver and naturalistic pieces bearing stones and pearls. Vintage elements combine with newly fabricated work to produce one-of-a-kind results. Hammered, repoussé and organic cast silver work lay side by side with innovative, wildly colorful pieces from polymer resins, pieces that push the envelope with innovative techniques.
Evocative wood carvings of all the birds and sea creatures of the region in a wide variety of woods are provided by a biologist turned artist gallery member. Finely turned wooden bowls and other functional pieces pepper the gallery as well as decorative and sculptural works. You can often find beautiful wood furniture that exemplifies the concept of functional art.
There are two artists with stained glass work in the gallery who also do custom work. Another artist makes small glass objects and ornaments. One of Maine’s most dazzling glass artists provides highly unusual jewelry, richly decorative, colorful and collectible.
Reflecting on the success of the store and the fundraising drive that carried it through the statewide shutdown, Susan says, “I think it shows what people truly value. Art feeds the soul.”
Markings Gallery, at 50 Front St., is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Saturday; Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.markingsgallery.com