Nine DeSimone at work on "Gaining a foothold" in her studio. For her, the statue that sits atop the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. is a reflection of the more than 100 women elected into political office in the last national election. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREW JOHNSTON

Artists celebrate inspiration from women



SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Visionary women come in many different forms.

Each of the more than 40 artists displaying their work at the Southwest Harbor Public Library through March, Women’s History Month, has focused on a different kind of visionary.

The “Visionary Women: Her Story/My Story” art exhibit opens for viewing March 4 at the library. An artists’ reception, set for March 8 at 5 p.m., is also free and open to the public.

Some have been inspired by famous artists, family members, a segment of the population or a statue that represents freedom and perseverance.

Georgia O’Keefe inspired Roxane Scherer, 79, to create a mask while Alice Downs, 66, was moved to paint by the young girls who will be inheriting the world left by an older generation.

“Who are their visionary women going to be?” Downs, a retired Episcopal priest asks. “Instead of just leaving them a mess, can they look up to us?”

Nicole DeSimone, who will be 36 when the exhibit is on display, was inspired by the Statue of Freedom, also known as Armed Freedom, that sits atop the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. For DeSimone, this symbol of a strong woman was a reflection of the more than 100 women elected into political office in the last national election.

“After the election this November, I felt like it was kind of hopeful the way things were going,” she said. “This was a lot more planned than most things I like to do. Having the parameters of the show helped me not get too far-flung from the idea.”

DeSimone is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. The working title of her oil painting is “Gaining a foothold: The Armed Freedom Crowning the Capitol.”

Even though she stopped doing art altogether after graduating from art school, she has slowly been making it a bigger part of her life. She now has work on display at Acadia Frameworks and is teaching at ArtWaves in Town Hill.

“Having this really strong art community helped me get back into it here,” said DiSimone who is entering her second year as a year-round resident of Seal Cove.

Scherer has taught art for many years and moved to Southwest Harbor permanently in 1992 after spending many summers here. O’Keefe has been a long-time inspiration if for no other reason than the fact that she produced art well into her 90s.

“She produced a lifetime of work,” said Scherer. “She may not have influenced the way that I paint… I first considered a world figure. Then, I realized I wanted to use someone in the art world.”

Downs said her painting of a young Inuit girl looking up was inspired by a recent trip to Greenland. She said the girl’s face looks like it is saying, “What about me?”

“What about me?” by Alice Downs, depicts a young Inuit girl Downs met on a recent trip to Greenland. COURTESY OF ALICE DOWNS

For years, she said, she captured many faces through photography and started painting them more after retiring from the church.

“That’s what I did for a living, was looking at faces,” said Downs about her time as a priest. She also paints watercolor botanicals for a brighter outlook on life. “Because constantly looking at faces can get dark.”

Those that somehow strike a personal chord are the ones she is most drawn to with her lens.

“If there’s a face I see that’s especially telling,” said Downs. It could be “a face that’s different from my world or one that’s familiar to me.”

She is currently working on a painting of her mother in a photo taken about 30 years ago. She said hasn’t decided whether that piece will also go into the show at the library.

Many of the women participating in the upcoming exhibit were part of last year’s Women’s History Month library exhibit that focused on Maine female authors. When notice went out again about a March show celebrating inspirational women, quite a few were ready to be a part of it again.

Scherer celebrated Mount Desert Island’s own Ruth Moore in the 2018 exhibit.

“I was really excited about the show,” said DiSimone who chose to focus on Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge in last year’s show.

“It was my second year.”

When DiSimone heard about this year’s show, she said she misheard or misremembered the subject and had “women who persevere” as her focus. That idea brought forth lots of inspiration and ideas for a piece. When she decided on doing a portrait of a statue, it was not her first time doing so.

“We often have statues of men that are specific characters,” she said, naming a few and noting women are often anonymously or impersonally represented.

“We often have statues of women who are these archetypes… In the process of finishing the work, it starts to mean different things to me.”

Visit swhplibrary.org.

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley covers the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands. Send story ideas and information to shinckley@mdislander.com.

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