Down East Gallery lights up East Boothbay

Posted:  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 7:00pm

Story Location:
30 Van Horn Road
East Boothbay  Maine  04544
United States

There's a new gallery in East Boothbay. One that was seven years in the making — and one that glows from within.

Artist Brad Betts held a grand opening for his first studio, Down East Gallery, on July 4. The gallery was designed by Betts' wife, Danielle, stands in the same 16' x 20' area as a sunflower garden the couple planted when they first moved to the area.

“The sunflower garden was a placeholder and a visual reminder of our goal to open a gallery,” Betts said. “It wasn't until last year when we finished our house that we tilled the sunflowers under for the last time and poured the foundation to the gallery.”

Before the gallery, or the house, the couple lived in a 400-square-foot studio with their two children, Ben and Sam.

Once they finished building their home last year, the Betts' focus turned toward the sunflower garden and saw it morph into the gallery in their mind's eye.

They began realizing that vision last fall when the foundation was laid down. Construction continued through the winter months.

Danielle Betts' interior design for the gallery features walls of pickled white pine, an organic background for Betts' art. Sailboat signal flags are suspended from the gable roof with an exposed painted frame and translucent panels that allow for natural daylight to illuminate the space. The combination of the roof panels, and the sails draped below them, diffuse the light in such a way, that, as Betts said, causes the gallery space to glow.

The sails used in the gallery hold a special meaning for Brad and Danielle Betts.

“The first painting I ever 'sold' was bartered for a small handmade sailboat, the sail of which is one of the four now hanging in the gallery,” Betts explained. “Another sail is from our cape dory En Plein Air, which we kept on a mooring in Grimes Cove for many years. The other two sails are on loan from an Ocean Point neighbor who is a big supporter of my work.”

Below the sails, 50 of Betts' paintings — nautical, floral and local landscape scenes — exude color and light, imparting life, history and the vision of their creator.

Every artist has that something that sets them apart from one another. Betts has a passion for history, in particular, the history of the fishing industry. He reads history books and history picture books for inspiration. Often what he reads finds its way onto canvas.

For example, lets start with his work, “Last Chance,” one that he consistently gets comments about due to the harrowing scene depicted. He painted it in response to the period in history when the steamers began replacing the sailboat in fishing.

Two fishermen are being swallowed by a frenzied, stormy sea. One fisherman is holding on to the ship's wheel, and his posture and grip on the wheel indicate he is not giving up; the other holds a flare, giving in, hoping the steamer in the distance will see it and rescue them.

"I get many comments on this piece. People will say it's scary, or not somewhere they would want to be," Betts said. "And it is. When I read that steamships were taking over the way people had fished for generations, I thought it was an amazing moment that probably took 30 to 40 years to transition, but I just wanted to get it on paper — and canvas. This scene invokes some sort of emotion in almost every viewer."

"Last Chance" is just one of Betts' paintings inspired by history and that of the fishing industry. Other fishing related paintings at the gallery depict swordfishing by sailboat and ice fishing in New Gloucester. By capturing these moments, Betts' has become an historian, of the visual kind.

His ability to capture these moments in time comes not just from historical and/or pictorial inspiration, it comes from his ability to capture the depth, the movement, and mystery of the sea with a paint brush. Look at each painting, really look at it and you will see that in every piece, Betts' seas are alive. And if you listen very carefully, you can hear the waters speak to you. I kid you not. He is a master.

Some of Betts' work is commissioned and historically researched. “Back in the Day,” Somes Sound is a 30″ x 40″ painting commissioned by the Gallery at Somes Sound. Betts studied old photos and based his work on a circa 1900 black and white photo. The artist and historian in him wanted to bring the scene to life again.  He said he even became very familiar with all of the houses and buildings in the background — and the people who lived in them.  When you enter his gallery, it hangs on the back wall. Sometimes, it's hard to believe its a painting at all.

As Betts writes on his website: "Painting and researching an historic moment in time is always a fulfilling journey ... it creates a deep connection with the people and places of the past and it changes your view of the present."

Down East Gallery will be open year-round by appointment or chance. During the summer months Betts will be creating new paintings for galleries representing his work all along the east coast from Maine to Florida.

Down East Gallery is located at 30 Van Horn Road. To make an appointment, call 207-318-3282.

For more on Betts, visit