BAR HARBOR — Local environmentalist and artist Jennifer Booher embraces the natural history of Mount Desert Island in her work.
You may know Booher from her most recent piece titled “Landscape of Change,” which is comprised of drawings based on direct connections between human and environmental history, that was created for the Mount Desert Historical Society.
But much more is included in her extensive portfolio.
Seven years ago, Booher started The Coast Walk Project, which involves a walk of the entire MDI shoreline, beachcombing in the intertidal zone and asking questions.
“I’ve calculated that the island’s shoreline is about 120 miles, and I’ve done about 20, so I have a way to go,” Booher said, who added she plans to resume the project soon, whether she walks or kayaks.
Booher tries to walk the shore as much as possible and, where necessary, goes slightly inland because of access issues. During her time spent at the edges of the island, she has gained access from landowners to explore their private beaches. Each time Booher walks the shores, she invites a person with a tie to the particular shoreline, such as a teacher, biologist, geologist or park ranger, to participate in an interview for a blog she writes, which is available on The Coast Walk project website.
Booher has since paused the project, which began at Bar Island Land Bridge on Jan. 1, 2015, and, due to health issues, has stopped at the Asticou Inn shoreline. “It’s basically just an excuse for me to ask questions about where items on the coast come from,” she said.
That curiosity grew from an early collection called “The Beachcombing Series,” an array of still life photos that she has been working on for about 15 years. For the series, Booher gathers items found on the beach, from shells and sea glass to random articles of trash. She then arranges the items inside a homemade lightbox to take the still life photographs.
“The beachcombing is related to the coastal walk project,” Booher said. “A lot of times on one of those walks, I’ll pick up items and then do a still life afterwards that shows points of intersection between the life of the shore and my visual synthesis of all the layered forces at work.”
Other lightbox projects used with items Booher finds on the beach include arranging letters with seaweed, lucky stars with bones, and snowflakes with seashells. With her 2-by-3-foot lightbox, she also produces still life shots of artistically organized prescription medications, surgical face masks, skeletons and uprooted flowers.
“They’re definitely not a traditional still life,” said Booher, “but there’s no other art term that really describes what they are.”
The storage of these items has always been an issue for Booher, though she does have a hard drive that can store up to 20-plus-years worth of her work. Almost never does Booher keep any of the physical items. She either disposes of the trash or returns the items back where they were found.
“I’ve been beachcombing since I was a kid, so I do not need another perfectly round stone,” Booher said, adding that an item has to be pretty extraordinary for her to keep it.
Without the use of a lightbox, Booher photographs marine life in its natural habitat as well as unique patterns found in ice, imperfections and various textured items from mudlarking around MDI.
Booher considers herself a Jill of all trades in the art world, which is something she has loved ever since she can remember.
“Like everyone else around here, I do a bunch of different things to earn a living,” she said.
A lot of the jobs that artists do to make money, such as teaching and drawing postcards, are not her forte. She used to be a sculptor and has led a few workshops but did not pursue art instruction formally. For a long time, Booher was a landscape designer who drafted and drew her own landscape designs before she started a family and developed a tremor in her hand.
“Because of the tremor, I really couldn’t draft anymore, and I really didn’t enjoy CAD (Computer Aided Design),” Booher said, which inspired her to proceed with other forms of art in her studio, now located in the Bar Harbor Town Office building.
Booher has lately begun to embrace her tremors in some new drawings, a skill she has since picked back up. Her “Shaky Hand Drawing” series, which includes ink illustrations created while Booher’s tremors are active, has recently been added to her online portfolio. “When my tremors are really active, I dip my fingers in ink and let them shake on paper,” she said.
Aside from The Coastwalk Project, which is currently on pause, Booher has been working on a book called “Stained-Glass Windows of Mount Desert Island.” This book features photos and facts about local stained glass.
The book project, funded in part by the Maine Arts Commission, involves Booher performing extensive research with information that ranges from when the windows were installed to who designed their patterns.
“I photographed every place that I knew about and could get into,” said Booher.
This summer, Booher has also been giving various talks at local churches and one at Jesup Memorial Library about the historic stained-glass windows of MDI.
The artist is scheduled to present two more of her stained-glass lectures in Bar Harbor at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, at the Holy Redeemer Church and 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, at St. Savior’s Episcopal Church.
More information about Booher’s art can be found online at www.jenniferbooher.com.