BAR HARBOR— Town Hill is once again proving that it is more than a place with a quaint name you pass through on the way to somewhere else. In fact, it is becoming something of a hub of arts activities on the island.
ArtWaves, which was born as the brainchild of artist, teacher and entrepreneur Liz Cutler in the Bar Harbor Municipal Building and later in a refurbished building on lower Main Street, relocated last summer to the former Torti-Robb “compound” in the little town on the hill.
Here, in three roomy studio spaces created in a barn behind the main residence, people of all ages — really, like toddlers, teens, adults and elder folks — gather to explore their creative potential as painters, drawers, sculptors, craftsmen, fabric designers and such.
Participants are offered a variety of classes and workshops taught by professionals or aficionados in each field. While many options are appealing to preschool and afterschool kids, beginners and dabblers, some are geared toward more experienced and accomplished adult artists who want to improve or expand their drawing, painting and sculpting skills.
This past Sunday, a group of about 20 was at work on stained glass pieces with Cutler. Most of them are new to this craft.
“You may not want people to look at this and immediately see that it’s a boat,” Cutler suggests to a student. “You may want them to study it a bit and then realize what it is, give them that ‘aha!’ moment of recognition.”
Spread out in large trays are thousands of large and small shards of jewel-colored glass and pot shards, from which the students have selected the shapes and palette they want for their pieces.
“For most of these types of workshops, we provide the materials,” said Cutler. “It can get really expensive and difficult for a beginner to assemble the tools and materials they need, and we can buy them in bulk.”
For some of the more advanced painting and drawing classes, artists are expected to bring their own paints, but ArtWaves provides easels.
While Cutler teaches several of the 25-plus classes and workshops being offered, she said the island at large is rife with artists and artisans who have the time and desire to participate as instructors. ArtWaves takes 25 percent of the fees.
Cost varies depending on the class, from $8 per student for a two-hour session making, say, bottle cap jewelry, to $36 for a beginner’s drawing workshop, to $250 for an intensive five-week course in painting or sculpture techniques from trained professional artists.
Among the area artists giving these workshops and courses are Robert Pollien, Ben Lincoln, Nicole DeSimone, Roberta Sprague and France Gilbert.
Cutler said the group hopes to offer ceramic, metal work and fabric arts classes as well. They are planning a fundraising drive to purchase equipment such as potters’ wheels, looms and more.
Building contractor Paul Weathersby, a former ArtWaves student at the original Bar Harbor site who happens to live just up the road a bit from the new facility, has signed on as ArtWaves managing director. His wife, Jane, also is a managing partner.
While Cutler is all energy, enthusiasm and ideas, the Weathersbys appear to be the experienced business people who know how to turn dreams into reality.
When the Haystack Mountain School in Deer Island is mentioned as a possible template for ArtWave’s future, Weathersby’s eyes light up.
“Yes, yes, exactly,” he said, “But this will be year-round!”
Now Weathersby is all enthusiasm, insisting on a trip out to the gorgeously-appointed dance studio, where various ballet and other dance classes are already taking place and, he hopes, more will follow. He is especially pleased with the surround sound system and echo-absorbing baffles and wall mounts they recently installed. On the way back to the main building, his arm sweeps across the property.
“There’s plenty of room here for more shops and studios,” he said. One can easily visualize a blacksmith’s forge, a pottery barn, a weaver’s shop and more, springing up on these grounds connected by well-worn pathways.
Back at the stained glass workshop, Cutler has encouraged her students to introduce themselves, and they are going around the table doing just that. Although this particular group is all women, it is still a diverse gathering with health care workers, shopkeepers, teenage students, moms and such. After these intros, the conversation around the table picks up as the women work on their colorful projects. It suggests rather eloquently that these ArtWaves opportunities aren’t just about the art.