Every year, visiting artists are hosted at the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and Baxter State Park. The program presents exciting opportunities to learn more about these special places through the eyes of creative artists.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine’s Forests & Wildlife Director Melanie Sturm has been exploring the intersection of art and environmental protection by interviewing the visiting artists. Below is Melanie’s interview with 2021 Allagash Visiting Artist Martha (Marty) Kotter who creates magnificent quilted art! Read the 2020 interviews here.
Tell us a little about yourself and your art. What prompted you to pursue this path? What is it about art that captivates you? Was there a particular moment when you realized you had a gift?
Art is something I always did to be happy. It is meditative. Sometimes, I express myself better with art than with words. My son is a poet who uses the least possible words to describe his thoughts and feelings. Visual art can be that way in finding the least amount of lines, paint, cloth, or stitching to capture the essence of an object and my feelings toward it.
I am drawn to nature for inspiration. In college, illustrating concepts and observations while studying biology clarified the content for me. After a career as a public school teacher and a park naturalist, I am pursuing art full time. I am drawn to wild places, parks, and wilderness areas for artist residencies and retreats. In 2019, I enjoyed being the Artist in Residence at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan.
I make unique art quilts from hand-painted silk. Silk gives a luminous glow and vibrancy to my paintings. The quilting adds texture and dimension to the piece. My work is representational and draws the viewer in to take a closer look and ask questions. I promote a conservation ethic in my work. There is value in preserving our wild places. As Henry David Thoreau once stated, “…in wildness is the preservation of the world.”
What was it about the Allagash Wilderness Waterway Visiting Artist Program that intrigued you? Was it what you expected? Were there particular challenges and rewards?
A family member from Maine pointed out the website for the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and the new Visiting Artist Program in 2020. We were in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, so I did not apply. After seeing that they had carried out the program in 2020, I applied in 2021 and was honored to be chosen. I had never been to the Allagash. I have been to Maine several times and have climbed up Katahdin and backpacked the 100-Mile Wilderness, so I had an idea of the wildness and isolation of the area.
The accommodation at Lock Dam was great. The cabin had solar panels so I could have light at night and a propane refrigerator so I could store fresh food longer. One has to be prepared to be offline without internet or cell phone access, and that was fine with me. The nearest town, Millinocket, was about 50 miles away; on a dirt logging road, it would take a couple of hours each way. I was not willing to sacrifice that time, so I was prepared with two weeks of food for my stay.
The rewards were great. Loons often called at dawn. The ability to be totally immersed in my gathering ideas and images and making art without outside distractions was wonderful. The park rangers were extremely helpful in bringing me drinking water, taking me on excursions, and getting me out of tight situations.
Where did you go along the Waterway? Any favorite spots?
I was based out of Lock Dam on Chamberlain Lake. The rangers took me on a tour around Chamberlain Lake pointing out historic sites of the old railroad trestle, location of the Chamberlain Farms and Telos Dam. I was later treated to a trip to Churchill Lake and canoeing down the Chase Rapids. My favorite trip was to Eagle Lake accompanied by the Eagle Lake ranger. We toured the historic logging relics of the log tram and the old railroad built to transport logs.
Did you have any encounters with wildlife?
We saw loons and mergansers, Bald Eagles, and a couple of distant moose on Eagle Lake. My closest wildlife encounter was with moose on the logging road at dusk. Loons were often in the lake in the morning and evening near my camp. One morning, I watched a Bald Eagle and Osprey fly over Chamberlain Lake. My best bird sighting was a Merlin that flew out of the woods over the lake and back into the woods. The lawn surrounding Lock Dam cabin was full of northern leopard frogs that would jump ahead of you as you walked.
One evening, there was a brief thunderstorm, followed by brilliant sunshine. Indeed, there was a rainbow over Lock Dam. Even more spectacular were the clouds. There was a stream of gray, puffy clouds from the West that rose over the west shore of the lake and descended on the east side. I captured this scene in my piece, Storm Rising Over Lock Dam.
Experiences like the Visiting Artist Program at the AWW are wonderful in renewing my spirit and giving me creative inspiration. I am eager to do more artist residency programs in the future.
In addition to here at this blog, where can people see the artwork you created on the Allagash?
Visit my website at www.martykotterart.com.
I also have an upcoming solo exhibit in Columbus, Ohio. It is called “Reconnecting to the Earth” from February 18-March 24, 2022, at the Loft Gallery of Columbus Cultural Arts Center.
Click on each image to see full-size version of quilted art by Martha Kotter