Where It’s At ... baring it all, including back stories
Renoir, Degas, Da Vinci, Picasso, Klimt, Cezanne, Botticelli, Gaugin, Pissaro, Bouguereau, Michelangelo, Rodin … the list of artists known for their paintings or sculptures of nudes – well, there’s just not enough space in this column to mention them all!
I think the first nude I ever saw as a kid was Michelangelo’s “David.” I don’t remember if it was a history book of art, an encyclopedia (yes I used to read entries in them – and the dictionary, imagine!) So, OK, I was young and only had a little sister … and even though in catechism class we learned about Adam and Eve being naked, the lesson didn’t come with pictures ... I’ll just leave it at that. Various museums visited on school trips always had nudes exhibited and, maybe it was the budding writer in me even back then (although I did write – and direct - my first play in the fifth grade, which my teacher liked so well she had me “put it on” for the entire middle school!), but I always wondered about the back stories. The paintings of gods and goddesses we knew from mythology books, but what about the others … Like Manet’s “Luncheon on the Grass;” why is one of the two women naked, the other scantily dressed and the two men fully clothed? I happened by it accidentally when I was, oh, 12 or 13 – when the women’s rights movement was on and that painting prickled at the budding feminist in me; were they “working girls” OR uninhibited women for their time? Oh the back stories that could accompany this one has the makings of a novella!
I’m still inclined to go for the back story whenever I visit an art gallery or write about artists and their works in the region. The second annual “What’s Nude in Boothbay Harbor? A Celebration of the Human Form” opens this Friday, Feb. 10, and the back stories that could be created with the works in this show – well, I’m really looking forward to it! But, as much as I like to make up my own back stories, the inspiration for a work of art is its back story.
Southport sculptor Bill Royall shared the story behind his “Mermaid and Child” pine logs sculpture, and, it’s a tragic, poignant tale:
“I met Michael Waddle and David Fournier skiing at Sugarloaf. Very late one January day (31), I think it was 1980, they were steaming back aboard their lobster boat (Spring Tide) to Cundy's Harbor after lobstering. And the boat caught on fire off Ragged Island. When this tragedy happened, we all heard about it on the 6 0’clock news, and honest to God, it just gripped you. I was living on the east side of Southport, not five feet from the surf. I was outside and the sea smoke was wicked. So dense. The Harpswell fleet was probably closer to them than they thought, but you just couldn't see. They searched all night for these two young guys (both 27). When they found them shortly after dawn, in survival suits – they had to have put (them) on in the water; there wasn’t any time to do it on the boat – they had passed from hypothermia. It still brings me to tears today.”
Shortly afterward, Royall made a wax sculpture of a sitting mermaid holding a nursing babe and cast it in bronze. Royall’s original fishermen’s memorial, one he has given to families over the years who have lost loved ones to the sea. This version of “Mermaid and Child” later became the maquette for the large white pine sculpture of the same name in this year’s “What’s Nude in Boothbay Harbor.” This 1993 wood sculpture has only been shown once before, at Gold/Smith Gallery when it was where Friends of the Library Used Book Store is now. Since then he has kept it in storage. Until now.
“I did the larger mermaid with the thought and hope and prayer that life is reborn within the sea,” Royall shared.
Come to the show at Studio 53, 53 Townsend Ave., Boothbay Harbor, Saturday, Feb. 10 and meet many of the 40-plus artists at the opening reception for “What’s Nude” from 5:30-7:30 p.m. – maybe even hear a back story … or two.