Exhibit celebrates Aroostook communities coming together after COVID-19
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Though the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect Aroostook County, one group of artists is looking forward to brighter days ahead.
Winners and runners-up of the #MaineReunited contest showcased themes of community perseverance during a special exhibit held Saturday at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. The contest, hosted by the online-based business Lights Out Art Consulting, featured work by adult and youth artists. Aroostook is the second county in Maine that Lights Out has chosen for the contest after Oxford County.
After receiving 73 submissions, a panel of nine judges, most of whom are from Aroostook, selected winners for the adult and youth categories. Those winners are Tammy Dube of New Sweden for her painting “Picking Fiddleheads,” and 11-year-old Maya Lispcombe of Houlton for her self-portrait collage “Envisioning Better.”
Lispcombe’s collage features a depiction of herself wearing a blue facemask. Behind her are various words and phrases taken from magazine pages that reflect people’s experiences during the pandemic, such as “Support,” “Comfort,” “Change,” “Strength” and “Home.”
“I wanted to do a portrait but in the background put in things that made everyone motivated [during the pandemic],” Lispcombe said.
For Dube’s family, exploring the outdoors together became one way they got through the pandemic together. “Picking Fiddleheads” shows her husband Bruce and children Morgan, 19, and Noah, 14, filling their bags with fiddleheads along the banks of the Aroostook River in Caribou.
Dube, a longtime photographer and painter, based the painting on four photographs she took that day on the river. She sees the image of an old tree branch bending above the river as symbolic of the changes coming with spring and the near end of the pandemic.
“[The branch] is bruised and battered by the spring melt but soon it will grow and thrive, like people do,” Dube said.
Contest judge Shelby Pelletier, owner of The Common Gallery in Presque Isle, said that Lispcombe and Dube’s works evoke many emotional themes of the pandemic, including family, togetherness and reunions.
“I like the collage approach to Maya’s piece. It validates the difficulties that people have gone through,” Pelletier said. “And I like how Tammy’s fiddleheads symbolize the growth of community and looking forward to a new day.”
The #MaineReunited contest also garnered more than 2,300 votes on Facebook for the People’s Choice Award, which went to Houlton photographer Lawrence Walker Hardy II.
Hardy’s photograph, “Our Path,” follows footprints through a snow-covered field, with a dark winter sky looming above. Though Hardy originally snapped the photo in awe of the landscape, he now thinks the image relates to people’s hardships during COVID-19.
“The solo set of footprints shows how we’ve each taken our own path during the pandemic and felt alone sometimes,” Hardy said.
In addition to the three winners, Saturday’s exhibit featured numerous other submissions, including artwork from the runners-up in all three categories.
The People’s Choice runners-up were Stacey Walton of Presque Isle for her collage “Retail Therapy” and Cynthia Spellman of Houlton for her drawing, “Reunited,” portraying summer fireworks over the pedestrian bridge.
Runners-up in the adult category were Jayson Stickney of Westfield for his painting “When COVID is Over, Daddy” and Danielle Feinburg of Presque Isle for her drawing “Opening the Door.” Youth runners-up were Astraea Walton, 5, of Presque Isle for her drawing “Smiles are Contagious” and Gregory Ryan Mignacca, 15, of Caribou for his drawing titled “Community Standing Up.”
Lights Out Executive Director Daniel Sipe said that Aroostook’s response to #MaineReunited has been even more positive than expected. He and judges were pleased to see artists depict both the challenges of COVID and the renewed hope of life returning to normal.
“It shows that even though this period has been difficult for people, we can see the brightness of the future,” said Sipe, a native of Presque Isle.
That feeling of hope was one that Diana Higgins of Presque Isle could see in many of the art pieces, especially those from community youth. She was especially moved by Mignacca’s drawing, which includes this message: “When many people work together, our community becomes stronger.”
“When you listen to the news and then you read something like that, you can see that there’s still good in the world,” Higgins said.