Artistic experiments and chamber music

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 10:45am

Artist and sculptor George Mason and Salt Bay Chamberfest were the only Lincoln County recipients of grants awarded this fall by the Maine Arts Commission (MAC). The MAC is an independent state agency funded, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Prior to applying for his project grant, Mason had worked with MAC through the Percent for Art projects in Maine schools. Mason is known for his architectural ceramic tile work and relief tapestries. Mason's tapestries are comprised of burlap, carpet, plaster, casein paint and encaustics and layered paper cut outs. The panels, of rich, deep colors and various textures are pieced together.

Mason has degrees in fine art, ceramics and five element acupuncture. He has taught in art in U.S. schools through the Percent for Art program, and as an artist in residence. Mason has taught art in Jerusalem, Indonesia and Jaisalmer, India. He is the founder of the Watershed Center for the Arts.

Mason's four-fold proposal to the MAC included two solo shows and a video project, all related to his artistic exploration of the affect, and effect, of art hung in unexpected places.

“I'm increasingly interested in settings that surprise and delight; where there is no anticipation of a so-called 'art encounter,' and the possibility of an utterly fresh response,” Mason said.

Mason used his solo installation in July of 2014 as a case in point.

Relief tapestries were hung in the historic Beech Nut House of the Beech Nut Preserve.

Mason described his first impressions of the structure, situated on a hill overlooking Rockport and Penobscot Bay.

“When I first walked into this great stone and sod-roofed building, with beautifully restored timbers and vaulted ceilings, there was a growing quiet within me. This has happened before in Jerusalem and Jaisalmer, or deep in the Maine woods in January. There is simply a still and dynamic presence and it is nourishing,” Mason said in his proposal.

“Can an offering of a visual work be a deep recognition of this? Can color, texture, light and shadow be a seamless participant? The July installation is my way to engage with this question and to see what unfolds.”

Based on personal observation, and what he was told, the answer to Mason's questions was yes.

“People really sat down and were quiet with the work,” Mason said. “It was successful in terms of setting, the posture of the work (how it was displayed) and the invitation (it created). I feel the internal navigation of such an experience is the real jewel.”

The second solo installation was at Darrow's Barn in Damariscotta and a collaborative effort with Salt Bay Chamberfest. Mason created an 84 by 12-inch tapestry as companion piece reflecting the ensemble's theme for it's 20th anniversary season, “Lightness and Dark.”

For this installation, Mason's experiment set out to discover whether a viewer's experience with the visual work would be influenced by the affect of the music on their minds and emotions? Would the visual experience be benefited by it; could the music and visual art augment and talk to each other?

The tapestry, “Stranger's Tent,” is rich with dark shades of burgundy, orange and brown with lighter shades of yellow and cream. The textures, some slightly raised, silently entreated viewers to explore its depths with eyes and hands.

In this setting, although Mason said the art was appreciated, the chemistry was not there. Ideally, Mason would have preferred it to be hung in the performance space, rather than in the lobby. If he tried to revisit the question, the tapestry would have to be hung in the space with the music.

“I think you've got to be able to gaze at the work while swimming in the music,” Mason said.

Kathy Ann Shaw, Senior Director for Grants and Arts Accessibility for MAC, explained a bit about the organization's grant process.

“Grant applications are reviewed by a committee, chaired by a member of the Maine Arts Commission and of public members, selected for their expertise in artistic and/or organizational management,” Shaw said.

“Agency staff process the grant applications and facilitate grant reviews but never make any decisions about funding. The review committee's grant recommendations are presented to, and approved by, the Maine Arts Commission. The approval of the review process, making the grant official, takes place at that time.”

Salt Bay Chamberfest's grant award was for artist fees and three-day mini-residencies for five chamber music musicians.

“They (MAC) supported all five of our musicians' concert fees and the education and community engagement work they also perform,” said Sarah Glenn, Salt Bay Chamberfest's (SBC) managing director.

SBC comprises 24 to 28 musicians and five artists in residence from around the country by Artistic Director and SBC founder Wilhelmina Smith. These musicians perform in the concerts held over two weeks in August at Darrow's Barn and work with young composers involved in SBC’s Music & Nature Camp.

This year's residencies were filled by distinguished musicians Serena Canin, Dov Scheindlin, Edward Aaron, Jennifer Frautschi, and Eric Ruske, all of whom have appeared with the SBC throughout its 19 year history.

Glenn, who wrote the grant proposal said, “I think they (MAC) made the process easier to complete and easier to align our programming with their requirements. We were so happy to have been selected.”

For more on these Lincoln County recipients, visit and