Gee Whiz

Art and the Earth: One Gallery’s Effort to Make a Difference

By Julia Clapp

Lorna Crichton’s office tells me almost as much as she does about her work. The space is tucked back into a larger office area on the second story of a building that was once an elementary school. On the wall over her desk is a green chalkboard; to the right is a blackboard. The room is colorful, comfortable, and visually appealing, with small artworks and plants scattered here and there.

Ms. Crichton herself is friendly and welcoming, with the quiet authority of a person in charge. She and her husband, Alan Crichton, are the owners of Waterfall Arts in Belfast. Waterfall Arts is a name which in two words describes the fusion of creativity and nature that characterizes the business. And their upcoming gallery opening, The Earth Show, seems like a perfect example of what they do.

“Artists, because they are looking – artists are always in the process of observing their environment,” Ms. Crichton tells me. “There’s an awareness that an artist has because it’s to be communicated.”

The show, scheduled to open April 5th, will showcase the artwork of any local artists who submit. There is no juried selection process, and only two requirements – the artwork must be able to be displayed, and must be centered around the theme ‘earth’.

Waterfall Arts, a business that serves as an art gallery, art school, and venue for performances, was started in 2000 by the Crichtons, who originally offered all classes at their studios in Montville, on a picturesque area of land that included woods and a waterfall. That location is called Kingdom Falls, and is referred to by Ms. Crichton simply as ‘the kingdom’.

It was not until 2006 that Kingdom Falls and its focus on “art plus nature” moved to Belfast. Their current mission statement is “creating community in harmony with nature through the transformative power of the arts”, and they do this from what was once the Anderson school, an old brick building whose original purpose was made obsolete when the new Captain Albert Stevens elementary school was built in town.

There is an open call for art submissions annually, but the theme is different every year. This year, ‘earth’ can be interpreted freely. “I don’t know – what does it mean? It could be as materials,” says Ms. Crichton. But earth could just as easily be the theme without actually being present in the piece.

Waterfall Arts has released an eclectic list of earth-related words and phrases to inspire artists. The list includes words like “dirtball”, “humus”, “clay”, “worms”, “globe,” “soil,” and “mother”.

“A lot of people don’t observe that much,” says Ms. Crichton. “(But) a lot of artists read and hear a lot and react to it…artists are in a unique place to bring awareness.” She says of The Earth Show, “Certainly one of the things is to bring awareness; attention to the issues of the environment, which are many. If the awareness of people is raised, that would be good.”

When I speak with Martha Piscuskas, Director of Programming at Waterfall Arts, a few days later, she expresses a similar thought. “Art can have a huge impact on how people become more aware,” she says.

“Waterfall Arts takes its role very seriously,” says Ms. Piscuskas. “(Art) can showcase new ideas to a community that doesn’t have access to them any other way.” She also tells me briefly about a new program that Waterfall Arts is collaborating on with Maine Artists and supporters, including Unity College, the purpose of which is “applying art and design to the creation of elegant environmental solutions.” Artists finding ways to help the environment.

Belfast is a place very ready to raise awareness. “People in the community really like to express,” observes Ms. Crichton. The open call for The Earth Show is an answer to that desire. And the Earth theme is a natural subject for a place whose mission was, from the beginning, to do with nature.

As I am leaving the building, I ask if I can look at some of the artwork submissions for the Earth Show. The artworks I see are mostly paintings – some abstract, some depicting people farming, Some of rocks and shells, some of woods and trees. Some, with bright and beautiful colors and stripes, don’t seem to obviously communicate ‘nature’ or ‘earth’.

But, as Ms. Crichton points out to me, “All art has something to do with nature since people are nature.”

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