Isle au Haut residents shine flashlights on the old fish house at the edge of Moores Harbor as Howie Motenko photographs it at twilight. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWIE MOTENKO

Painting islands in light



One has to wonder what Howie Motenko will decide to light up next.

The Seal Harbor resident created quite a buzz four years ago with his “Painting Bridges” photography project.

He recruited volunteers to “paint” all of the stone bridges on Acadia National Park’s carriage roads with flashlight beams while he took pictures of the bridges at twilight. The resulting images were dramatic.

Encouraged by the success of that project, Motenko embarked on an even more ambitious one, “Painting Islands.”

He isn’t asking people to paint entire islands with light, just a favorite landmark or location on each of Maine’s 15 offshore islands that have year-round populations. He plans to finish light-painting and photographing as many of them as he can in the next couple of months.

Motenko said the idea of painting the islands originated a few years ago with Rob Benson, who was the Maine Sea Coast Mission’s pastor to the outer islands. He is now the pastor at the Congregational Church in Bar Harbor.

Benson said Motenko’s slogan for his Painting Bridges project, “uniting community with art,” planted the seed.

“I thought, what a great way to give people on the islands an opportunity to have a really powerful, positive experience of working together and creating something beautiful together.”

With suggestions from the Sea Coast Mission and the Island Institute in Rockland, Motenko contacts one or two community leaders on each of the offshore islands and tells them about his project. They persuade other island residents to meet with him and suggest locations they would like him to photograph.

“I tell them it should be a location that’s meaningful to local people for some reason,” Motenko said.

The group of residents narrows the options to three or four, and then everyone on the island is invited to vote, either by paper ballot or online, for the site to be photographed.

“After the vote, I go back to the island to scout the location and figure out exactly where I want the camera to be and where I’m going to hide the people [with flashlights] so they won’t be in the picture.”

The boathouses along an Islesford beach are illuminated by island residents holding flashlights as part of Howie Motenko’s “Painting Islands” photography project. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWIE MOTENKO

The boathouses along an Islesford beach are illuminated by island residents holding flashlights as part of Howie Motenko’s “Painting Islands” photography project. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWIE MOTENKO

Islesford (Little Cranberry Island) residents voted overwhelmingly to light-paint the row of boathouses along the beach.

“It was really fun because people would come into the lobby of the store and post office here and vote on which one they wanted,” said Islesford Postmaster Joy Sprague, who also is a Cranberry Isles selectman. “It was quite exciting.”

On the evening of the photo shoot, about 20 Islesford residents showed up to hold flashlights, along with several volunteers who came from Mount Desert Island with Motenko.

“It was a gorgeous day with a perfect high tide,” Sprague said. “Everyone had a great time. It was a blend of people being excited about having a little part in one big project.”

Motenko said he is pleased that so many people are eager to participate.

“Everyone who takes part in creating an image like this can feel proud. I know that the people who shine flashlights will remember exactly where they were and what they lit that night.”

The quarry on Swans Island lit up by volunteers. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWIE MOTENKO

The quarry on Swans Island lit up by volunteers. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWIE MOTENKO

Motenko has received a grant from the Maine Arts Commission to help support the Painting Islands project.

He said there will be an exhibit of the images sometime this summer at the Maine Sea Coast Mission in Bar Harbor, and possibly elsewhere in Maine after that.

Motenko is spending countless hours and quite a bit of his own money on the Painting Islands project, and he isn’t looking to make any of it back from the sale of photographs.

“Any revenue that is generated is going to be split evenly between the Island Institute and the Maine Sea Coast Mission to help the islands,” he said.

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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