“Abandoned Industry” art show opened at UMF, showcasing local artists

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This wall, bearing the names of the artists, greets visitors upon entry to the show. Photos by Karolyne Sloma.

FARMINGTON – The old industries of the state of Maine, and the abandoned remnants thereof, is the theme of the newest art show to open in the Art Gallery of the University of Maine at Farmington. The mixed media show features pieces from nine Maine artists whose lives are based everywhere from local Strong and Wilton, out through to the Maine coast; and whose media of choice including photography, sculpture, fiber arts, and various forms of drawing and painting.

The show opened Thursday, January 25, with an opening reception that ran from 4 to 7 p.m.. Light refreshments were provided as visitors were able to view the art and discuss it with many of the artists who were present.

The pieces that are biggest, and thus may first draw the eye upon entry, are the metalwork pieces. Some of these are by Connor Pirruccello-McClellan of Portland, and others by Vera Johnson of Wilton. Johnson is best known to many locally as the owner of Iron and Vine, a store of handmade goods and artwork in downtown Wilton.

Though Johnson has known she was an artist since she was a child, she first got into clay in her 20s, followed a few years later by taking a welding class. When Johnson found herself frustrated with the rigidity of welding, which involves piecing things together more than manipulating them into other shapes, her teacher pointed her toward a blacksmithing course, and she grew to love smithing and pottery as her primary media.

Of her love of manipulating materials into shapes, Johnson said, “There’s life in every piece and it’s figuring out how to bring that life out of every piece.”


“Duality” by Vera Johnson


Johnson also loves reclaiming materials and turning them into art. “Everything has a story in it,” she said, adding that putting the pieces together is a way to bring sense to her own life and past traumas she has experienced.

To the end that she feels everything has its own story and life in it, Johnson doesn’t draw her designs before creating them. “They just become,” Johnson said. “The work doesn’t even come from me, it’s like a higher source.”

The show also features two photographers, Alana Ranney and Don Peterson, both with photos from inside abandoned mills. Peterson’s “Mill 5” series documents his recent tour of Mill 5 of the Bates Mill Complex in Lewiston, while Ranney’s document the abandoned building and machinery from the Otis Paper Mill in Jay.

“They just laid everybody off and just left all the machinery there,” Ranney said. “Now it’s being torn down, and I was able to go into the basement there and take pictures of the abandoned machinery.” The photos had to be taken in the dark, as there was no power in the abandoned mill, which is now in the process of being razed.


“Ea-Na Armor” by Connor Pirruccello-McClellan.


Painter Bruce Habowski, of Wilton, paints what he calls “the hours in between,” when something has recently ended or will soon be starting but is not actively in motion at the moment. He creates his work, not through formula, but through free-form thoughts, he writes in his artist bio that was handed out at the gallery.

The rest of the show is rounded out with works by Mike Burd and Mark Barnette, and by fiber art pieces by Jill Snyder Wallace of Carrabassett Valley, who is trained in both graphic design and studio arts and has exhibited her fiber arts throughout New England and further; and one fiber arts piece by Deborah Hall in honor of her father’s lifetime of millwork in Augusta.

The art show will run through March 3, 2024. The UMF Art Gallery is located at 246 Main Street, Farmington, behind the Admissions Building, and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 12 – 4 p.m., except during university vacations. For more information about the gallery or the current show, see www.artgalleryumf.org.


“Mill Girl” by Jill Snyder Wallace.
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