This photograph of D.T. Sheridan, wrecked on the rocks on Monhegan, is part of the “Painting Islands” exhibition at the Maine Seacoast Mission in Bar Harbor July 1 to Aug. 31. IMAGE COURTESY OF HOWIE MOTENKO

Artist ‘paints’ outer islands with light

The photographs that Howie Motenko has taken of iconic locations on 14 of Maine’s unbridged yet inhabited islands, dramatically lit by island residents holding flashlights, are, in his words, “one of a kind in two ways.”

“First, I can’t imagine anyone ever making these photographs again,” he said. “Who else is crazy enough to run around to all of these islands and do that?”

The second unique aspect of the photographs is that they capture the participation of individual island people – the light they shined – without showing the people themselves. They were out of sight behind rocks or trees. But by “painting” the scene with light, they made the photos possible.

“Everyone who participated can point to where they were and to which specific area they lit up,” Motenko said.

This composite photo of the wharfs of Flake Yard on Matinicus is part of the “Painting Islands” exhibition at the Maine Seacoast Mission in Bar Harbor July 1 to Aug. 31. IMAGE COURTESY OF HOWIE MOTENKO

An exhibition of his photos, titled “Painting Islands: Uniting Community through Art,” will be at the Maine Seacoast Mission on West Street in Bar Harbor during July and August. An opening reception will be held Thursday, July 6, from 5-7 p.m.

All profits from the sale of the images will be donated to the Seacoast Mission.

“The mission has been a huge supporter of this project and really embraced it,” Motenko said.

Over the past three years, with the help of the mission and the Island Institute, Motenko got in touch with community leaders on the offshore islands and asked them to invite other residents to a meeting, where he explained his project. He then asked them to vote on a landmark or favorite spot on the island to be photographed. After that, he scouted the location they chose, deciding where to set up his camera and position people with flashlights. And then he scheduled the photo shoot, which was always at dusk.

On North Haven, only 11 people showed up for the shoot, so they all had to hold two flashlights. For the shoot at Harbor de Grace on Long Island, 90 people turned out, including a teenage girl who was celebrating her birthday and a gaggle of her friends.

One of the biggest challenges for Motenko was never knowing until shortly before the shoot how many people he would have to assist him and what kinds of flashlights they would bring.

“That’s a piece of the artistic puzzle that was thrilling,” he said. “But the

overarching theme for me was bringing people together and highlighting what is important to them.”

There are now only 15 unbridged islands with year-round populations off the coast of Maine. The only one on which Motenko has not yet been able to arrange to photograph is Vinalhaven.

This photograph of a fish house at Moore’s Harbor on Isle au Haut is part of the “Painting Islands” exhibition at the Maine Seacoast Mission in Bar Harbor July 1 to Aug. 31. IMAGE COURTESY OF HOWIE MOTENKO

Three of the most striking of his photos are of a wrecked ship, D.T. Sheridan, on the rocky shore of Monhegan; a fish house and field at Moore’s Harbor on Isle au Haut; and the wharfs of Flake Yard on Matinicus.

That one is actually three separate photographs that Motenko seamlessly merged to create a panoramic scene. He called it the “showpiece” of the exhibition.

From the islands closest to Mount Desert Island, Motenko is exhibiting photos of the line of boathouses on Islesford, Edgar’s tractor on Great Cranberry, Quarry Pond on Swans Island and Frenchboro’s Lunt Harbor.

The Painting Islands project was supported in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission.

Motenko and his wife, Brenda, who assisted him with the photo shoots, live in Mount Desert.

The Painting Islands project is a follow-up to his Painting Bridges series of photos a few years ago, in which he photographed all of the stone carriage road bridges in Acadia National Park.


Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an error in a photo caption. The D.T. Sheridan wrecked on the rocks on Monhegan.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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