“Monson Set, Ladder,” 2019, site-specific sculpture by Anna Queen
“Monson Set, Ladder,” 2019, site-specific sculpture by Anna Queen
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Lincoln Street Center (LSC) has gone through major ups and downs over the past 151 years. From Rockland’s high school, then middle school, to being empty and abandoned, several evolutions alternately flourished, then flirted with decline. Now, fortunately, LSC has rallied and currently seems more robust than anytime in the past decade.

A rangy, handsome building with a central, neo-classical core built in 1868, LSC is a verifiable antique with a long history of hosting learners, makers and creators, one way or another. Remarkably, it is hanging in there as an active cultural center with around 30 artists, a well-established arts nonprofit, and creative businesses currently thriving.

The building is well managed on behalf of a community-minded-but-absentee owner by the energetic Luke Olson, self-described “manager magician,” who cheerfully and persistently tends to rentals, repairs, bills and maintenance.

Last Friday, nine enthusiastic artists participated in one of the building’s open studio events. The evening was an eye-opener. In spite of its ongoing infrastructure problems, the place is full of serious art and good energy, the kind of lively, raw-boned space where experimentation likes to rule.

Rockland’s Ellis-Beauregard Foundation, a nonprofit with an ever-growing program of exciting arts opportunities, has renovated its rented block of four studios for its generous one- to six-month artist residencies. I was able to visit two of the current residents in their studios: photographer, Madeleine Morlet and interdisciplinary artist Anna Queen.

London-born Morlet now lives in midcoast Maine with her young family and teaches at Maine Media Workshops. Her reflective and personal imagery, populated by groups of local teenagers, blends fantasy with reality in staged outdoor scenes. “My work is a love letter to the adolescent experience — that brief, special time just before you jump feet-first into life. When costumed and given a location, the teens’ imaginations come alive with the different roles they are suddenly free to create.”

Anna Queen “gave up on the functionality of ceramics” for conceptual work in sculpture and video. She uses ready-made, store-bought objects in their commercial colors — gray cinder blocks, green stepladders, blue tarps, yellow rubber balls, even grocery store lemons — arranging and connecting them in unique, quirky assemblages.

Her art is full of wickedly refreshing surprises where precariousness and unpredictability test the commercialism of galleries and sales. Her carefully chosen aesthetic allows viewers to recognize the formal aesthetics of things around us. “Art can be alienating,” she says. “I want to honor the genuine and humorous surprises in everyday experience.”

Elsewhere in the building, artists rent independently of Ellis-Beauregard. Vincent Carducci has been filling his big space with local landscapes in oil. Carducci works from nature and memory. He loves Maine’s classic gray and foggy skies. “Where light makes color on-site,” he says, “in painting, color makes the light.”

Nearby, Olivia Vanner and Amy Files share a studio. Vanner uses the Maine deer, the most common of our wild neighbors, to investigate universal experiences. “Torn” is a larger-than-life, soft, scarlet, upholstered torso of a deer. Dichotomies abound. At first glance, it seems a happy forest animal, but gradually its eviscerated entrails appear, and glistening, satin pillows of blood spill across the floor. “Deer are objects of admiration and respect, but also annoyance,” she says. “When I replicate a childhood memory through an adult lens, only surreal fragments remain of what I once thought was certain.”

Amy Files practices her multi-media art in graphic design, encaustic painting, jewelry and weaving. Embedding discs cut from leaves and carefully sectioned grasses in wax and resin, her encaustics, though very abstract, isolate and honor the inherent qualities of each organic object.

Karen Jelenfy’s paintings are in an exciting state of flux — that edgy state where artists push into their own unknown. The good energy of LSC feels like a laboratory, she says, and making, not showing, is the building’s dominant culture. Jelenfy paints every day, her gestural images exploring the rickety-ness of houses versus homes, the ubiquity and constant changeability of trees.

Justine Kablack’s basement space is an underworld of slightly unsettling imagery. In beautifully dense graphite drawings, a creeping bigfoot is caught in the glare of headlights; an empty station wagon emerges from a pitch-black ground; nighttime cars light lonely roads for seconds and are gone. Bungee cords pull camouflage fabric with conflicting imagery over raw wooden frames where entry and exclusion, roughness and sophistication enigmatically mix.

Rachel Jones’s On The Round fiber studio is a wool-dying workshop as well as a gallery of colorful wool skeins that call out to be used.

Only a third of the artists working on-site had opened their studios, so there will be much more to see during future events. But Lincoln Street Center feels vitally connected, its affordable spaces for makers of all kinds once again an important resource for local artists, crafts-people and community organizations. More power to the place!