Rita Redfield in her gallery. Redfield Artisans Gallery will close in October after nearly 40 years in business on Main Street in Northeast Harbor. ISLANDER PHOTO BY NAN LINCOLN

Redfield Gallery saying goodbye after 40 years



MOUNT DESERT — Four decades ago, a young couple, recently from Texas, named George “Bucky” and Rita Redfield arrived in Northeast Harbor looking for a space on Main Street to start a gallery to show off George Redfield’s handsome wood sculptures and furniture.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SUE ANNE HODGES

They found the perfect place: a wide clapboard storefront with three large front windows right in the middle of the tightly packed downtown. They also found partners for their new endeavor, photographer John Longmaid and his wife, Penny, who had deep roots in the community. The Redfields settled across the sound in Somesville with their two youngsters and never regretted choosing Mount Desert Island for their life and work.

When Redfield Artisans Gallery opened in the summer of 1978, in addition to George Redfield’s wood creations and Longmaid’s photographs, they displayed Joe Tracey’s furniture and blacksmith Steve Alsop’s ironwork.

It was an auspicious time for this quartet of entrepreneurial artists. According to Rita Redfield, right from the start, Redfield’s seemed to satisfy the summer community’s appetite for beautiful arts and craft works. Its offerings soon graced the rooms of cottages and winter residences in Philadelphia, New York and Boston, reminding the owners of the idylls of summer in Maine.

“It really wasn’t a struggle at all,” recalled Redfield. “People responded to it from the start. In the next five years, we started carrying other artists who we felt would appeal to our clientele.”

Sometimes her clientele was as impressive as the works being sold; the Rockefellers, Mellons, Fords and Brooke Astor were among the gallery’s patrons.

It wasn’t as if Redfield’s was the only show in town. Thistle Brown had her Wingspread Gallery. Wini Smart was showing her luminous land and seascape watercolors just a few doors down.

In the past 20 or so years since, galleries have proliferated along Main Street. But in the beginning, the Redfields steered clear of the edgy, contemporary works displayed elsewhere, concentrating more on classic or impressionistic style American art in oil, acrylic, pastel and watercolor; sculptures in wood and bronze; and a variety of fine crafts.

Offerings included the late Paul Black’s scenes of woodsy walks, mountain streams and cows grazing in bucolic orchards; James O’Neil’s shimmering seascapes; Longmaid’s breathtaking large-format photographs; Paul Rickert’s sweeping oil and watercolor landscapes; Suzanne de Lessups’ intimate and inviting pastels; and Forest Hart’s life-size and miniature bronze animals. Bucky Redfield’s stately wooden herons fishing amid the cattails could be found along with Joan Gates’ brilliant hooked wool rugs, and dozens of other artists’ and artisans’ works have graced these walls and floors over the decades. Prices ranged from less than a hundred bucks to tens of thousands.

“I’ve always been happy to look at anyone’s work,” said Redfield, when asked how she chose her artists. “If something isn’t right for us, I try to suggest where they might be a better fit.”

When the Wingspread Gallery was lost to a fire in 2008, some of its perennial artists, such as abstract painter Robert Neuman, stone sculptor Katie Bell and art photographer Sharon Arnold, found a new home at Redfield Gallery. And eventually, Rita and Bucky’s two talented children, Tams and Scott, contributed their impressive crafts to the mix.

It would be nice to report that the story of Redfield Artisans Gallery is one of nearly 40 years of uninterrupted success and happiness, but loss and sorrow is a prominent part of the tale as well.

In 1992, Bucky Redfield was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That devastating news coincided with his son Scott’s venture in the culinary arts. The family had leased the adjoining building, and Redfield’s restaurant was due to open the spring of 1992.

“Just before their opening, they brought Bucky home from the hospital for the last time,” recalled Rita Redfield. Her eyes welled up when she remembered an unscheduled stop that ambulance driver Albert Hamor made.

“They brought him to the restaurant and carried him through so he could see what Scott and [his wife] Maureen had created. That’s the sort of kindness and support the community has always given us and has made it so wonderful to do business here.”

The feeling has been reciprocated. People still talk longingly about Redfield’s Restaurant, which was so popular year-round for nearly a decade that folks would drive from all over Mount Desert Island through snowstorms rather than cancel reservations. And many have turned up to view the retrospective show now on display at Redfield Gallery and expressed what a loss it will be to Main Street’s classy ambience.

“I have felt so privileged over the years to work in this community and represent all these artists, see their work evolve and see them move on with their careers,” Redfield said, “I will miss that.”

People’s art buying habits have changed over the years, she acknowledged.

“We used to have customers who came in and after a few minutes would say, ‘I’ll take that, and this and that,’ but that rarely happens now.”

As if on cue, a woman came into the gallery and carefully perused a handsome O’Neil painting of Great Head, which is listed for $5,000. She took notes, got the gallery’s phone number and left, saying she needed to think about it. Redfield said this is a more typical potential buyer these days.

Redfield said she has no great plan in the works for her life in retirement. With her second husband, Ken Cochrane, who died two years ago, she built a new house in Somesville, where she now lives.

“Ken and I did a lot of traveling together, including China and Africa. Now I’d just like to be home and enjoy it, my friends, family, my community and my church.”

The 40-year retrospective show will be at Redfield Artisans Gallery through August. The gallery will close for the last time in mid-October.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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