SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Well, it’s inexcusable. Until last week it had been about three years since I visited the Wendell Gilley Museum. The occasion last Thursday was a media event, but the added draw was an exhibition of the works of Barbara Ernst Prey, who has been exhibiting her oil and watercolor paintings on MDI for many, many years, all of which —also inexcusably— I have managed to miss. So, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to kill, uh, view, two birds with one stone.
While I did not spot a single bird in any of Prey’s land or seascape paintings — not even a lone gull hovering over a clutch of fishing boats or a long-legged heron spearfishing frogs in her salt marsh— they nevertheless set the scene beautifully for Wendell Gilley’s extraordinary bird carvings, which are always the main attraction here.
A colony of Gilley’s sleek black cormorants, looking like Maine’s version of a meerkat family, provide the foreground for Prey’s charming watercolors of an autumn hay field sloping down to the sea and what could very well be a tree on the edge of that distant shore where a quartet of colorful dinghies await their rowers who are, perhaps, off picking cranberries.
Although Prey does not include the location of her paintings in their often whimsical titles, these two might have been painted on one of the Cranberry Isles.
From another angle in the large exhibition room a handsome, robust flicker spreads his wings to reveal his spotted buff chest and, in the distance, Prey’s painting of a clapboard farmhouse; a little weather-beaten but proudly displaying Fourth of July bunting in each if it’s windows. A pair of Gilley’s kingfishers loom appropriately over Prey’s painting of a meandering salt marsh.
Like Gilley, Prey is a master of her craft. Her watercolors are infused with luminous light and her smaller oils, are so vividly colorful one suspects she paints them all in the late afternoons of autumn, when the slanting sun behaves like a spotlight on everything it touches.
Unlike many landscape artists, Prey does not shy away from figures. In one charming Rockwell-esque watercolor titled “Island Finds” a pair of young men have retrieved a couple of braces of lobster buoys and seem to be engaged in a pleasant conversation as they bear them home. In another, set in the cockpit of a working boat, a good ol’ dog lies patiently at his master’s feet.
The combination of Barbara Ernst Prey’s paintings and Wendell Gilley’s carved birds is a happy marriage of the arts, depicting a romanticized but deeply satisfying vision of Maine, which will be on display at the museum through Oct 14.
If you haven’t visited the Gilley Museum for a while this would be a good time to go.