Art & Education in Maine: Works by renowned landscape painter and educator, Ernest McMullen, and realist painter and former student of McMullen’s at The College of the Atlantic, Victoria Accardi.
In numerous locales across the United States, art and education go hand-in-hand. This trend is intensified on the coast of Maine, where a short summer season forces many artists to supplement their income through teaching or self-employment. Artists in the region are further motivated to teach by their passion for the arts and their desire to contribute to the larger community.
The Gallery at Somes Sound represents many of these ‘artist-educators,’ individuals who share their gifts through the dual acts of creation and instruction. Our annual exhibition, “Art and Education in Maine,” celebrates a select group of these talented individuals by highlighting their stories and artwork side by side with the creations of those they instruct.
This year’s exhibition is devoted to the works of renowned landscape painter and educator Ernest McMullen and the realist painter Victoria Accardi, his former student at College of The Atlantic.
For the past two decades, landscape painter Ernest McMullen has painted canvases that capture the essence of Maine’s Mount Desert Island, from its craggy coast to its verdant interior. “Mount Desert Island is one of the most extraordinary places in America and certainly one of the most dramatic coastlines on the East Coast,” says McMullen. “From my first sight of the island, I regarded it as a place of benediction – it really is spiritual.”
McMullen paints in a realist style, informed by such masters of the past as Jan van Eyck, Titian, Velazquez, Tiepolo and Ivan Shiskin and influenced more directly by American painters Fitz H. Lane, Frederic Church, Martin Heade, Thomas Eakins, Charles Sheeler and Richard Estes. He characterizes himself as a realist painter, but not ‘hyper realist.’ “You can see the brushstrokes in my work.”
McMullen’s luminous work is highly sought after by collectors who are drawn to his iconic imagery – the quiet ambiance of evening closing in on the cool, blue-tinged waters of Somes Harbor or the steely tranquility of the moon over NE Harbor – as well as the sense of mystery and silence that pervades his landscapes.
In addition to being a highly sought-after artist, McMullen is also a gifted teacher who introduced multiple students to the fine arts during his 43-year tenure on the faculty of College of The Atlantic (COA). During his time at the college, McMullen taught painting, drawing and one course in ceramics. “Teaching is really rewarding, especially at a four-year college,” he notes. “Over the course of time, you watch students develop skill and self-confidence as artists – it’s fun to witness the transformation.” It was also rewarding, says McMullen, to take a room full of people – half of whom were ‘art phobic’ – and prove to them that they could produce exceptional work.
Of those many students, Victoria Accardi was the best he ever had, McMullen says. “Victoria is one of those very rare students – a born painter. I knew from the very first day I had her in class that she had to paint.” Though their styles are very different, McMullen asserts that he and Accardi have similar aims. “My goal as a painter is to stop people in their tracks and force them to look,” says McMullen. “Victoria shares that philosophy.”
For artist Victoria Accardi, the streets of New York offer endless fodder for her imagination. A realist painter with a fascination for portraiture and the human form, Accardi celebrates the fleeting moments of life that unfold in the city around her. In ‘Bushwick,’ three young men gambol along the streets of Brooklyn in the fading hours of the day. In ‘Canton Kitchen,’ the garish façade of a neighborhood restaurant illuminates the darkened streets of Chinatown. “I paint what’s true to me, my experiences growing up in New York City,” says Accardi. “I try to capture those little moments that everyone sees but thinks that no one else notices. I think of it as prolonged people watching.”
Accardi says that this ability to see beauty in the commonplace mirrors that of her teacher Ernest McMullen, with whom she studied as an undergraduate at College of The Atlantic. “I wouldn’t presume to speak for Ernie, but I think that we both find joy in the small things,” says Accardi. “When I was living on Mount Desert Island, I would drive around and catch glimpses of these beautiful scenes that can so easily be taken for granted. These are the vistas that Ernie paints, and in so doing, he allows you to indulge in the moment with him.”
Accardi is tremendously grateful for her four years of study with McMullen; “he’s the reason I stayed at COA,” she says simply. “He’s an incredible teacher, and there were very few painting students at COA, so I felt like I had a private tutor for four years. It was a wonderful experience.”
McMullen’s teaching style is very traditional and fairly hands-off, Accardi continues. “His approach is pretty much ‘learn by doing,’ which is perfect for me. I was home schooled, so I’m not a big fan of a structured learning environment. I do best when my study is self-directed, and Ernie was very generous in facilitating that approach. He gave me the freedom to focus.”