Bar Harbor sculptor Melita Westerlund’s more than three decades of artistic talent is the focus of an exhibit at the Atrium Gallery on the campus of the University of Southern Maine in Lewiston.
The retrospective profiles her remarkable range and influences of a global citizen, from living in her native Helsinki, Finland, to spending time in Kenya, and since moving to Mount Desert Island with her architect husband Stewart Brecher in 1982.
Westerlund, who works in a sprawling studio in a 100-year-old former electric generation station in Bar Harbor, regularly exhibits across New England and in her native Finland.
“Over many years, I have been exploring the interrelationship of color and form,” says Westerlund on her website. “The shapes I create and colors I use have been inspired by a combination of my American and African experiences and my traditional Finnish background.” The artist combines these cultural influences into a unique sculptural style that is fluid, organic and endlessly imaginative.
Her sculptures range in size from tabletop pieces to room-sized public commissions and kinetic works for both indoor and outdoor sites. Her early focus was figurative, though that evolved over time to the much more abstract and complex style that she is known for today.
She works in a variety of materials, shifting between organic and industrial processes, embracing everything from beach stones, paper mache and cotton fiber to aluminum, bronze and steel. Her cavernous studio is set up with a workbench flooded with natural light and covered with leaves, charred wood, casting wax and chicken wire forms. Overhead, a chain hoist stands ready to move heavy installations of welded steel. Among piles of materials and tools can be seen a chaotic assemblage of pieces, some finished, some incomplete, others abandoned. “I know it looks disorganized, but I do know where everything is,” she said.
As an artist who is continuously challenging herself, some of her recent work is in fiber, specifically cotton fiber, using a metal and mesh armature to create sculptures with fluid textural surfaces and saturated color.
Her most recent series, “Environmental Chaos,” has been motivated by the increasingly fragile state of coral reefs around the world and is created with recycled fiber.
Born and raised in Helsinki, Finland, Westerlund traveled to Tunisia to study at L’Ecole Des Beaux Arts, then returned to Helsinki to attend the Free Art School and graduated from the University of Arts and Design. She later earned a master of fine arts in sculpture from SUNY Buffalo. She has completed 16 public commissions in schools around the state under the Maine Arts Commission’s Percent for Art program.
Her works can be found in numerous private and public collections throughout MDI, including at The Jackson Laboratory, the MDI Narrows Campground, Ullikana Sculpture Garden and at College of the Atlantic, where she is an adjunct faculty member.
Other exhibition credits include museums and art galleries in New England, New York, Finland and Kenya.
The exhibit has been open since January. It runs through May 27. A public reception for Westerlund is set for Friday, April 1, from 5-7 p.m. The gallery is located at 51 Westminster St., Lewiston.