Acadia National Park Artist-in-Residence: Memories From Maine

Acadia National Park Artist-in-Residence: Memories From Maine

Acadia National Park Artist-in-Residence: Memories From Maine by Ben Matthews (Instagram):

Boloney: An Artist’s Favorite Sandwich

For each highlight that occurs pursuing a life as a creative, hundreds of unsuccessful moments and rejections beat your spirit into starving artist oblivion. All one can do is pick up the scattered dreams strewn about from the ass-kicking and move forward. It’s an endless cycle of very high peaks mixed with low valleys that rarely has any middle ground.

This instance is one of the successful moments. I was heading to Acadia National Park to be an artist-in-residence. I would be staying at the Schoodic Institute in an apartment generously provided by the National Park Service. I believed I had wasted my time applying, but I received an acceptance letter around a year after I forgot about the program.

My artist statement below is the one I used for the application. I also refer to this as boloney needed to make it seem like I know what I am doing. Some artists excel at creating artist statements. It’s usually a page full of random adjectives and adverbs strung together that reads like a poem written by a mythological being, Oh! And don’t forget to list the highly esteemed MFA from Nobody Cares University.

Ben Matthews is a fine artist based in Pittsburgh, PA. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1995 and has exhibited his work locally and nationally since 1998. His work was represented by OK Harris Works of Art in New York City from 2000–2013 until its closing, and is represented by Mendelson Gallery in Pittsburgh, PA. Ben’s current work depicts mysterious adaptations and inventions from this not-quite time or place based on environmental concerns and social topics. His drawings combine visual puns and irony with social messages. His exploration into a unique, fantastical, and sometimes unsettling universe encourages viewers to think about current concerns by presenting a glimpse at futuristic flora, fauna, and manmade inventions that have resulted from our impact on the world.

Would you like some mayo or mustard on that boloney sandwich?

It was only fitting that my subject for this residency in Acadia National park would be the lobster. Lobster imagery was everywhere. Weathered wood signs with peeling paint depicting images of lobsters were along the sides of the roads everywhere you looked. The word, lobster, was on everything—delivery trucks, stuffed animals, stickers, hats, sweatshirts—tattoos of lobsters likely existed beneath the local’s clothing. Colorful styrofoam lobster buoys hung from lobster pound awnings. A lobster sculpture sat in the parking lot waving its claw. Lobster boats zoomed around every body of water in the distance to check their traps.

My favorite was the popular marketing tactic of using a cartoon image on the front of a restaurant with a hand-painted lobster seemingly enthusiastic about being boiled alive to satisfy your hunger. I even visited an ice cream shop that sold lobster ice cream—I opted for the butter crunch. It only took a brief brainstorming session to think of an idea for a drawing to pull off during my stay, The Saw-Clawed Lobster, a lobster with saws instead of pinchers that allow it to saw through any lobster trap with ease. These lobsters from the future would not be trapped in Maine.

Don and Brewster

I packed my bike this morning as if I would not be coming back for a year, even though I was only going for a day ride around Schoodic Peninsula and the Winter Harbor area. Rushing around, I crammed a 3-day old peanut butter sandwich with oddly colored not-so-blueberries inside my Revelate Design feed bag. I will likely regret eating it later when I cared about what I packed.

I headed up to Schoodic Point wearing my new bike peddler Take A Look cycling mirror, hi visibility vest from IKEA, and a rear blinking red strobe attached to the rear of my frame. I would not be hit by a car on my first day here by a daydreaming driver looking at seagulls sitting in their poop on the granite cliffs.

I thought I would be early enough to avoid any people, but when I arrived there was a group of photographers walking around with tripods talking nerdy photography topics. The scene resembled a military offensive. They scurried around taking cover, contorting their bodies in odd shapes, and finally positioned themselves in just the right location to do battle with the elusive golden hour light.

I heard snippets of their conversation…silhouette shots, cloudless skies are boring, carbon vs aluminum legs. They huddled around the same puddle for a reflection shot like thirsty lions at a watering hole competing for H2O. After realizing the light was not cooperating with their outing, they left dejected with their tripods slung over their shoulders.

There was a low-toned buoy gong in the distance as I made my way around Schoodic Loop Road. It’s a comforting sound—like a church bell off in the distance back home. The sound intermingled with a few fishing boat engines and morning gulls creating a relaxing soundscape that put me into a trance. Where are all of these birds flying to? Maybe they don’t know themselves, sort of like me on my bike at the moment.

I had the whole road to myself. The sun was rising quickly and the light was changing by the second. Small, still ponds along the road were full of reflections. Reds, oranges, and other October hues intermingled with reflections of dead, bone-like tree trunks. Blue frost along a pond’s bank contrasted beautifully with orange morning light shining on a backdrop of evergreens. I stopped and took some shots with my camera. I contemplated how many millions of amazing displays of beauty throughout history have never been witnessed by human eyes. Today’s won’t be missed by me. I wondered if deer enjoy sunrise. It’s hard for them to miss one.

I passed DB Rice Fisheries. I was amazed at the old worn out colorful fishing traps, ropes, buoys, and other tools scattered around random front yards. Locals probably wonder why some dummy is taking photos of their old stuff. Back in Pittsburgh, it would be the equivalent of somebody taking photos of a rusty Chevy that was used for landscaping sitting in a driveway with a blue tarp from Lowes Home Improvement draped over the hood.

I hit route 186 and headed toward town. The road was quiet, but I’m glad I picked up this dorky mirror that attaches to my glasses. Now I’ll be able to see the car that hits me before it hits me—how ingenious. I headed downhill and got this beast of a bike cooking. I flew by a body of water surrounded by dense woods and startled some type of waterfowl. The sudden sound and movement a bird like a grouse makes when it is flushed out are enough to make your heart skip a beat. I think we equally scared the daylights out of each other. I apologized for interrupting its morning and continued down the road.

It’s October and slow here, but it looks like a quiet place to begin with, which is good. I came around the bend enjoying the solitude when a small, white creature darted out of the trees towards me with a determined look in its eyes. The white thing seemed to be relishing the thought of trying to stuff my whole left leg into its 1-foot-long body. I’m sure if Don hadn’t been there, the little feisty dog named Brewster would have damn well tried.
Don came to Winter Harbor a year and a half ago. His wife had passed away and he decided to move here from New Hampshire with Brewster and the other dog that you wouldn’t know existed because he was so well-behaved. I didn’t even get his name. He sat and stared up the road patiently waiting to continue his walk. Don said the quiet dog was nothing to worry about. Brewster on the other hand didn’t like his morning walk being interrupted by some yinzer from Pittsburgh. Don gave me some local tips on where to ride. “Hit Gray Road. It’s the secret road only locals know about with the prettiest view in Winter Harbor.” That’s where he was headed now. Likely to provide Brewster with some enviro therapy to calm his nerves. “Take a right onto Grindstone down to Grindstone Point. There’s a nice view down there too.” I talked to Don for a while. We talked about his motivation for moving to Winter Harbor. His previous career supposedly turned him into a crabby old man according to his friend. He needed a change. He seemed to be in bliss in his new location.

Don mentioned how friendly the locals are in Winter Harbor and then kindly offered me his 2 electric fat bikes to borrow—very generous. They were too fast to ride legally in the park. He gave me the precise location of his garage and told me to take the bikes for a spin whenever I wanted, but warned that if the Ranger caught me on them I would likely be in for it. Where was the jail in Winter Harbor? Would Don bail me out? Maybe it was in the back of the local IGA?

He showed me some photos on his phone of his adventures up in the Katahdin Woods. That’s the Knife Edge off in the distance. I asked him if the hike up it was as scary as people claimed. I was actually in Baxter State Park years ago and chickened out, but I didn’t mention it. If I recall correctly, he said he and his son pushed his wife up the mountain from behind. “It couldn’t be that bad. We got her up there.”
After a while longer, Don insisted that I be on my way. I felt a slight pressure on my leg and looked down to see Brewster putting his head on my calf. Initially, I wasn’t sure if he was showing me affection or sizing my leg up again to take a bite. I think he was trying to apologize for his rude behavior earlier. I accepted without touching him.

I pedaled away and glanced into the new cycling mirror I bought before the trip. I saw Don, Brewster, and the dog with no name getting smaller and smaller in the mirror until they faded away as I rode up the dirt road. At that moment I thought about all of the memories that Don had in the back of his mind he could have shared with me had there been more time to talk. It reminded me of all of the memories each of us have as we move through life that will eventually fade away like Don and his dogs did in the dorky cycling mirror I was wearing.

It’s a reminder to share your memories with as many people as you can so that they don’t disappear after we are long gone. We are immortal in a way when our memories live on through others. Come to think of it, that’s one plus about being an artist. We have a leg up on being remembered. We have a collection of awful art we think are masterpieces that generally stick around on the planet for a while unless it is tossed in the trash.

Watercolors: Winslow Homer Painted the Same Sea I Just Painted

I’m in Winslow Homer territory up here in Maine. I have to paint some watercolors while I’m up here. I tried plein air painting before, but I’m a studio painter at heart. I’m an introvert, and any introvert will tell you that somebody looking over your shoulder asking you about your painting sends shivers up and down your spine. You hear random blurbs like “Whatcha painting?”, “My daughter paints.”, “were you born with this talent?” They approach you at the worst time. It’s usually when your painting looks like the top of a child’s dining chair after they smeared a meal around with their fingers. It’s never when your work is in the good stage. Maybe I should paint plein air with a Michael Myer mask on. I could use a huge chef knife as a substitute for a pallet knife. I wonder if I would get as many questions.

My painting process usually goes like this. “This sucks. I hate art. I suck. What the hell?” Then a point comes when the painting transforms into an acceptable state and I think I am a better artist than John Singer Sargent. It’s a vicious cycle I live with.

Each time I visit an area like The Adirondacks or Maine, I think of Winslow Homer’s watercolors. It’s like I have a Homer filter over my eyes. I stop seeing the scene that is actually in front of me and start seeing it as a painting created with a limited palette and squirrel hair mop brushes. Then, there’s the thought process that occurs of how to mix the pigments to match the colors I see in front of me. I guess It’s a weird way to walk through life, but it is what it is.

The fashion was different back when Homer roamed these areas, but the scenes are generally the same. You might see a deer in the forest shrouded in fog tip-toeing through the woods, a man leaning over the edge of a boat pulling up an anchor, or a boy casting a fly toward the perfect fishing hole.
I recall a moment I saw a boat in Northeast Harbor. There was a woman and a few guys unloading lobster cages and tossing other fishing gear covered in wet sea muck into a large pickup truck. They didn’t say much at all. I watched them for a while as they worked. It seemed as if I was watching a Homer painting play out right in front of me. I took some snapshots to use as a reference for a possible painting.

Carriage Roads

I parked at Eagle Lake and pulled up the MTB project app to plan my bike ride for the day. The route looked like a bunch of confusing snakes, so I tossed that aside and started riding.

Because it rained the day before, there were a ton of waterfalls along the trail, and dew dripped slowly from the lush, green moss growing on everything. I was lucking out. It was unseasonably warm and the trees were still wearing their brilliant fall colored leaves. They slowly drifted to the ground from above and covered the trail like an organic carpet. My bike tires roll over them and created a crinkling sound like potato chips being broken. It was the only sound I heard as I passed through the forest.

It was still early in the morning and the sun was still below the trees. As I rode along the path, I saw long streams of golden morning light filtering through the shaded evergreens. The rays of light created a flickering effect as I passed each trunk quickly. It was quite mesmerizing.

Photo opportunities were plentiful. I wore a hip pack made by Nittany Mountain Works to carry my camera. I had 2 kit lenses, a 16-50mm paired with a 50-250mm, and a small Nikon Z mirrorless body—all of them fit easily in the pouch. The hip pack rests along my lower back and I hardly notice it on my body. I Just swing it around when I want to take a photo and I’m in business. It’s a nice way to carry my gear while biking. The only problem is that I set out to ride my bike that day, but kept stopping every few minutes to capture all of the amazing scenery and wildlife.

Maine is mossy. Thick moss covers large areas of the forest floor in some sections. It grows on the rocks, fallen trees…if I stood in one place long enough, I’m sure it would creep up my legs. You can likely jump out of a tall tree and land on this thick organic cushion unscathed. There are small holes in the moss that look like entrance ways to different worlds. If there are gnomes to be found, I think this is where they would be living.

I saw piles of pinecone scales on random logs and rocks. I didn’t realize why until I saw the squirrels munching on them like we would eat corn on the cob. They hold the pine cone like an ear of corn and quickly munch off each scales searching for the nut.

Lost Backpack

It had been raining and foggy all day. It looked like a person from Pennsylvania envisions Maine to look. Fog, rain, pirates, rusty bloody hooks, and glimpses of ghost pirates in the corner of one’s peripheral vision.

It was close to evening. After cross-hatching and laying down dots of ink with my trusty Kohl-I-Noor pen for over 10 hours, I decided to drive up to Schoodic Point with my camera gear. It was only a few minutes away. My brain felt fried from drawing all day. I wonder how many lines and dots I have scribbled on paper in my lifetime. I’m sure enough to wrap around planet Earth multiple times or so. I needed another creative outlet to deplete the last remaining droplets of the creative juices I had left in me that day.

When I arrived, a few cars were pulling away. The lot was empty. Maybe because there wasn’t much of a view. The blue gray mist and clouds created a moody atmosphere. The wind blew the cold mist into my face and made my cheeks slightly tingly. A fog horn sounded off every 30 seconds or so off in the distance. The calls of Seagulls and waves pounding the rocks below filled the air.

I loaded my camera and accessories into my backpack, grabbed my tripod and took off on a mission to take some photos down on the rocky coast. Scattered feathers with small droplets of water on them lay on the rocks next to white bird excrement. It looked like a paintball battle had occurred by hundreds of people with really bad aim. I wondered how many people had been pooped on annually up on this coast. Trying to sidestep this much shit is nearly impossible.

I took some photos of the water droplets resting on the feathers. Clear beads of water sat on top of the water-resistant feathers and created some interesting patterns and textures. I looked out into the fog and noticed a massive vessel along the horizon. I could barely see the boat—Just a faint shape making its way along the horizon. It slowly faded in and out of the fog. A horn sounded off again in the distance. The wind blew steadily at a constant speed cutting through my windbreaker.

The whole scene reminded me of a James Whistler Nocturne painting with a touch of Blade Runner. What the hell was going on out there on that boat? Were there genetically engineered replicants on this craft? Maybe it was just a bunch of tourists eating pasta and getting loaded.
After fiddling with camera settings and getting some shots, I realized it was practically dark. I grabbed my tripod and made my way up to the car. Damn, I thought to myself. Look at how deep some of these crevasses are. If I fell into one of these, I would be screwed, especially now that I am the only remaining person here. I thought about the movie 127 Hours, a movie based on a mountain biker in Utah who had to cut his arm off after a rock fell on him and pinned his arm against a rock. I stepped around rocks, hopped up and down huge rocks, skirted around crevices in rocks…Damn there’s a lot of rocks.

My father-in-law once looked at some photos my wife and I showed him of our first trip to the coast of Maine. His description was accurate. “It looks like a bunch of rocks.”

Victory! I made it back up to the lot without twisting my foot in a hole, falling into a bottomless crevasse, or slipping in seagull shit. I will not need to hack my leg off with my Morakniv Companion knife either.

I hope some of these shots are salvageable. Did I nail the focus in that shot? Did I use the correct F-stop? Did I explore enough angles. Am I leaving too soon? Maybe a baby porpoise will jump out of the water with a sea otter on its back waving. I came back to Earth and snapped out of my creative zone. I unlocked the car door and tossed my tripod inside. Suddenly, it dawned on me that my backpack was missing.
Where the hell was it? The answer was simple. It was down on the rock I left it on earlier—cold, alone, and left for dead along the dark coast of Maine—with the pooping seagulls. It contained all of my camera accessories, an extra lens, and other small expensive photo doo-dads. It’s a good thing I don’t have kids. Imagine getting into a creative zone and forgetting a small human on a rock ledge in the dark. At least they have the ability to cry out for help. My pack was unable to holler for me. I was panicked. I hurried back down to the area I thought I had been. If only I had my headlamp. Oh, you guessed it, that was in the backpack too.

At this point, I think I cursed myself out a handful of times—such a dumbass. I thought about my wife telling me that I need to be more mindful. She appeared like Yoda off to the left and shook her head at me and then slowly drifted away into the dark. I had to find this thing. In my head, I convinced myself that it would be super easy to find. Yep, super easy. It’s dark. It’s foggy. It’s misting. It’s sitting on one small rock ledge that looks like the other millions of rock ledges from Rockport, Massachusetts to Lubec, Maine. In the end, I found it. Not sure how. Maybe the mindfulness god felt sorry for my ass. Lesson learned. Make sure you exit a creative zone and come back to Earth before moving on to the next thing.

Bluff Charged by a Red Squirrel

The type of squirrels we have in my yard are called Fox squirrels . They seem to live off of the tasty seeds contained in our bird feeders. They have adapted well to city life. I think one of them sneaks inside my car to hitch a ride to Costco to pick up a few things each week. Gigantic bag of mixed nuts, check… colossal bag of walnuts, check… Hit every food sample cart in the building, double check. Does this tree rat even have a membership card?
They are way bigger than the type of squirrels I’ve been seeing in Maine. I underestimated the Maine Red squirrel. They are small and cute, but intimidating. Here’s a description I found online. Red squirrels are unsociable, highly territorial, and aggressive. They will not tolerate their own or other squirrel species in their territories. Hey, sounds a lot like me nowadays. I think we may get along.

Out of all of the dangers present in the woods, while hiking or biking, I never considered that I would be putting my life on the line by entering the Maine Red squirrels territory. I often read about what to do if a Black bear, Grizzly bear, or Puma attacks, but there is no tutorial on what to do if charged by a Maine Red Squirrel.

Here is how it all went down. I started to hike the Bald Mountain and Parkman Mountain loop trail over by Northeast Harbor. Walked into the woods a short distance and was abruptly chattered at by a tiny sassy little monster hiding in the trees above. All I could do is press on and hope for the best. Suddenly a flash of burnt sienna scrambled right, then it scrambled quickly to the left, then it darted under a large root––Think Road Runner cartoon without the beep beeps. It hopped over a moss-covered log and emerged from the forest brush. There standing in front of me panting and ready to challenge me was the intimidating mammal known as the Maine Red Squirrel.

It chattered at me a few times before stomping its little furry paws into the dirt. It lunged forward a few times inching closer to me as if it was bluff charging me. At that point, I didn’t know whether to flail my arms and jacket in the air to look bigger, drop on the ground to play dead, or just chuck my Kind bar at the sucker and hope my bribe would allow me to pass. It sounded off one last time and disappeared. Its mission was accomplished. The critter made me his little forest bitch.

Bathroom Directions

After driving up from Pittsburgh to Schoodic Institute, I pulled into the lot and was looking for my accommodations. I was squinting at a minute campus map without my reading glasses. They are never there when I need them even though I keep buying more and more to prevent instances such as this.
Within a few minutes of being there, a car drove up the road and pulled alongside me into the empty lot. A man called out, “Hey, do you know where the bathrooms are? The ranger said there was a bathroom up here”. “Sorry, I’m from Pennsylvania. I just got here.” The man laughed and zoomed off.
Flash forward a few hours later. I was at Schoodic Point wandering around in amazement at the sunset trying to take some photos. A woman glanced at me and called out, “ Hey! remember me? I just saw you earlier. The bathroom?” For a moment, I worried that I had done something perverted without realizing it, or maybe this woman was a pervert and she did something to me without me knowing it. Maybe this was the section of Schoodic point where perverts hook up. Then it dawned on me that she was in the passenger seat of the car inquiring about a bathroom earlier. “Oh, right!” I said, feeling relieved that neither of us was perverted. Then I wondered why she was so excited about seeing somebody that provided them with no useful bathroom directions. It was a unique camaraderie we had going on as we watched the sun disappear under the distant horizon.

There Is No Ocean in Ohio

The first thing they tell you about Schoodic Point is to stay off the wet rocks close to the waves crashing against the rocky coast. The black rocks are deceptively slippery. I should know. I slipped on some and floundered around on my back like a walrus unable to get up from the slick green slime growing on them. Luckily, this was not in an area I could die.

Naturally, I saw a man standing on wet rocks close to the waves filming his visit to this amazing area in a spot he could die. It wasn’t as entertaining as the time I was in the Smokies and saw a tourist walk inside a herd of elk with a large video camera on his shoulder. Nor was it as suspenseful as the time I saw a young tourist standing on an icy rock posing next to the Grand Canyon for a selfie. It’s in the top ten though.

Here’s a text exchange between me and my wife that sums up the scene after I sent her a video of the guy filming his potential demise.

(Ben) Yes. It’s super cool even if it’s foggy. I have the whole peninsula to myself. I saw a few seals and a big heron on my ride. Really cool. I’m at Schoodic point. Looks like it’s going to rain soon.
(Ben) And just then, our nitwit uncle got swept out into Schoodic bay. This guy is WAY too close to the water.
(Theresa) That sounds incredible! Minus dude being swept out to sea.
(Ben) This guy is a dumbass!
(Theresa) He must be from Ohio. He ain’t scared of no waves.
(Ben) The first thing they tell you about this section of the park is that people have been swept off of the rocks out to sea…..there goes uncle Charlie from Ohio. Swept out to sea with his iPhone containing his last dumbass moment on planet Earth.

A Pennsylvanian Werewolf in Maine: Beware The Moon and Stick to the Road

A few days prior to me walking down this road in the dark, I was loading my car at night and heard an odd sound. A bit of a yapping sound only a canine could make. Now I was standing on the same road in the pitch black taking long exposures of the moon.

The tree line was jet black against a pale gray-blue night sky. The clouds passed quickly in front of the moon, and random pockets in the dark moving shadow allowed the bright half-lit orb to peak through here and there.

It was windy. The sound of the trees rustling in the brisk air combined with the steady hiss of the ocean, and other buoy gongs created a cacophony of bizarre noises that were new to me. I usually hear firecrackers and wonder if they are gunshots where I live, but I’m used to that.

Is that Vincent Price laughing? A car was approaching and I moved to the side —it turned out to be a wave crashing against the shore in the distance—weird stuff. I thought about the iconic scene in An American Werewolf in London when the two dudes left the Slaughtered Lamb and did not stay off the moors. I was relieved when I woke up the next morning in my pajamas instead of being curled up in a fetal position naked on the floor with a dead porcupine in my mouth.

Long live the creative spirit. Get out and take photos, paint, play music or write while you still can.

This post was originally published here.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, contact me here.

The post Acadia National Park Artist-in-Residence: Memories From Maine appeared first on Nikon Rumors.

Related posts:

  1. Photographing the Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park
  2. Shooting USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships with the Nikon Z9 camera and Nikkor Z 400mm f/4.5 lens
  3. Photographing Kanarra Falls | Kanarraville | Utah
Back to blog