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Q&A | Carl and David Little


cover of art of penobscot bay

Glorious Penobscot Bay, on the coast of Maine, with its quaint mainland towns, bustling tourist centers, and island fishing villages, stands as the backdrop of daydreams. For Art of Penobscot Bay, brothers David and Carl Little, well-known stewards of Maine art, have selected art and artists, from history and today, that celebrate the myriad of inlets, islands, coves, and peninsulas—the “nooks and corners” of the region.





We asked Carl Little and David Little some questions about art, Maine, and what makes Penobscot Bay special.


 


Carl Little

Carl Little was born in New York City and holds degrees from Dartmouth, Middlebury, and Columbia. Little is the author of more than 30 art books, including The Watercolors of John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper’s New England, and Paintings of Maine. In 2021 the Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation honored Little with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his art writing. He lives and writes on Mount Desert Island.



 

What is the most rewarding part of writing extensively about Maine art and the artists who paint here? Are you still able to discover new things?


I relish the opportunity to bring visibility to a wide range of artists, past and present. Every survey book project, like Art of Penobscot Bay, results in many discoveries. I am always amazed and delighted by the variety of responses to Maine, to its places and people.


What does Maine art contribute to the overall landscape of American art history?


In Alan Gussow’s groundbreaking A Sense of Place: The Artist and the American Land, published in 1972, Maine is the most represented state. One cannot deny that it has inspired the most and, in many cases, the greatest landscape painters in the country. Art of Penobscot Bay features a number of them, from Fitz Henry Lane, Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and the Wyeths, to Lois Dodd, Yvonne Jacquette, Sam Cady, Jill Hoy, and William Irvine.


In addition to writing about Maine art, you are also a poet. Are there any similarities to these forms of writing? Any differences?


I often respond to place in my poems, which aligns me with landscape painters. Poetry is, of course, more compressed than prose, but I like to think I sometimes achieve lyric levels in my art writing.


Penobscot Bay has been a place of inspiration for generations of artists, why do you think that is? What about it inspires you?


Penobscot Bay has it all: remarkable islands, picturesque towns, views and vistas galore. It also boasts many working waterfronts and the hard-working women and men who carry on commerce there. With the transformation of the landscape due to climate change and development, the bay and its beauty are ever more precious.


What do you hope readers take away from the book?


I hope readers come away surprised and pleased by the range of imagery inspired by

this mighty bay. I also hope they will be inspired to learn more about the individual artists.


What’s one question you’d like to be asked, and what’s the answer?


Where did your love of Maine and its artists come from? My uncle William Kienbusch

(1914-1980) left his house on Great Cranberry Island to my brother David and me. In

effect, he bequeathed Maine to us. We also inherited his love of the islands, the

goldenrod, the ledges, the gong buoys. He has been our north star.


 

david little

David Little is the author of Art of Katahdin, named a “Best of New England” book by the Boston Globe in 2013. He is co-author with his brother Carl of Art of Acadia and Paintings of Portland. Little holds an M.A. and M.F.A. in painting from the University of Iowa, attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and has had residencies on Monhegan Island and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. He lives with his wife Mikki in Portland. 



 

You are not only an author, but an artist. Are there any similarities to writing and painting? Any major differences?


Both require editing, but editing my writing is more challenging. My background as a practicing artist and my abilities as a research historian inform my writing style and selection of content. The vocabularies of both creative endeavors are connected and for example, can assist in finding titles for abstract paintings.


Penobscot Bay has been a place of inspiration for generations of artists, why do you think that is? What about it inspires you?


Perhaps because of the proximity of islands to the mainland (rocky coastline) and vice versa. Because of the ocean and the weather artists have an ever changing challenge and many have returned to try their hands at subjects over and over again. For me, being out on Great Spruce Head is being in another world altogether, gentle and relaxed, and different, say, from being out on Great Cranberry Island!


What makes the art and artists of Maine unique?


This is a tough question as many landscape paintings of Maine look like they might have been painted elsewhere. When the sense of place is strong in both the choice of subject and the interpretation then the authenticity becomes apparent as in the work of Marin & Hartley.


What excites you the most about the contemporary Maine art scene?


Finding bits of beauty and strength in works I don’t really like. Seeing the search for authenticity within tradition to the past and honesty in derivation…


What do you hope readers take away from the book?


Opinions to share, insights and anecdotes of experience, the inquisitiveness of artists, and questions that require a deeper dive!


What’s one question you’d like to be asked, and what’s the answer?


How did you become an author? I became an author when I realized I had more than enough material to write a book. Seven years of research for Art of Katahdin! (2007- 2013)




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