Museum in profile: Center for Maine Contemporary Art illuminates Maine Art

Nina Oleynik

Photo courtesy of Nina Oleynik

The Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) occupies a unique space in Maine, highlighting the artists whose work has been impacted by their time spent here. Just a short hour-or-so drive from Colby, Rockland offers an art lover’s alternative to Portland with many shops and galleries as well as the Farnsworth Art Museum, right across the street.

CMCA is tucked right off of the main drag in Rockland, ME. The sleek building, with its impressive floor-to-ceiling windows and clean white lines, was recently designed by Maine architect Toshiko Mori. The museum was previously part of a Maine artists’ cooperative when it was founded in 1954, but traded up its old barn structure and moved to downtown Rockland in 2016.

All of the work that hangs on the walls of CMCA is by artists with a connection to Maine, whether they were born here, spent some portion of their life living here, or were simply inspired by the state of Maine.

The collection emphasizes a longstanding tradition of artists’ fascination with Maine. Often, the state is seen as a place of removal from everyday life and fosters a connection to nature. Rockwell Kent famously painted landscapes of Monhegan Island, ME for a number of years, invigorated by its rocky coastline and the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture has long promoted artistic expression through its residency program. Prominent artists that have shown at CMCA include Jamie Wyeth, Alex Katz and Bernard Langlais.

CMCA has three major exhibitions on view currently: John Moore, Resonance; Richard Blanco and Jacob Hessler, Boundaries; and KJ Shows, Portrait of an Artist. A Kennebunk local, Shows’ art recreates artist portraits through their shoes. Since 2008, Shows has explored the ways in which we construct identity through our choices in footwear; shoes of artists can be especially interesting because of their role in the art-making process. Shows acquires the footwear through many different channels, contacting artists and foundations for those artists that have already passed. Several portraits of famous deceased artists include Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner.

Size, color and method of displaying works are all components considered when putting together a show. Associate Curator at CMCA Bethany Engstrom spoke on the challenges and joys of arranging an exhibit such as the one by Shows. Engstrom said this show was particularly rewarding because many of the portraits are the same size and could be hung right alongside each other, something atypical for an exhibition, which usually leaves room between each image. This method allows for direct comparison between the works and allows each image to flow into one another. The visual aesthetic also packs a particular punch as all of the portraits have a uniform white background. Portrait of an Artist is on view until June 3.

CMCA is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 12–5 p.m. on Sundays. Learn more on their website: