Interview & writing by Eliza Graumlich; Photos by Susan Metzger
Applications for the 2018 artist residencies at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center are open. There will be six visual art residencies (5 for Maine artists, 1 of which is reserved for an indigenous Maine artist; 1 for an out-of-state or international artist), one performing arts residency, and one writing residency. There will also be a seasonal position for a resident gardener with an affinity for the arts. Apply here!
To enter Anne Alexander’s studio is to catch a glimpse of the world through Goldilocks’ eyes: everything is too big or too small. When I visited her workspace in mid-September, located within a converted barn at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center, it was filled with seashells and seedpods and squash and radishes, each item displayed beside a duplicate magnitudes larger. These larger renditions were made of clay and slightly abstracted, sometimes in form and sometimes due solely to their size. Swollen, they adopted new qualities: they were rounder, softer, more human and occasionally erotic. A seedpod morphed into what looked like worms; a radish to a baby’s bottom. The smaller forms seemed somehow too small: the radish, for instance, was shriveled with age and exposure.
Scale is central to Alexander’s work. “You know how, when you walk in the woods, sometimes you feel very small?” she asked. She hopes that her pieces—organic forms carved out of clay, wood and stone—will leave viewers with a similar sensation, affecting them on both an emotional and kinesthetic level. “Hopefully after seeing my work [people] might look at a tree branch in a different way, or look at a tiny little plant pod and imagine it on a larger scale.”
Alexander led me to the second room of her Jefferson studio. Originally, this is where farm implements were repaired. Today, Alexander uses the left behind vice to clutch the pieces of alabaster that she carves. “When I first came in here I was really feeling the presence of someone who used to work in the shop,” she confessed. “It was comforting. I felt like somebody was happy that I was working here.” One day, as she was hammering, a shiny drill bit rolled into view. “It felt like I was being given gifts.”
Given the surreal nature of her art and her equally fantastic experiences in the studio, it is no surprise that Alexander refers to this part of Maine as “fairytale land.” Her roots here are deep: her father grew up in nearby Damariscotta and attended Lincoln Academy, just like his own father, and his mother before him. Alexander herself spent childhood summers along the Damariscotta River. Today she lives in Windham. “I have a cousin that lives in Bremen and we’d go to Waldoboro or South Bristol, but I’d never come down this road, the 213,” Alexander admitted. “It’s so beautiful. It’s no wonder so many artists live here.”
The earliest inspirations for Alexander’s work, in fact, can be attributed to one of these artists. As a child, Alexander and her family visited the Cushing home of famed sculptor Bernard Langlais. There, she remembers climbing so high onto a sculpture (a wooden elephant or maybe a lion—she can’t recall) that she could see Langlais himself, in his adjacent outdoor studio. “I remember waving to him over the fence and seeing him with his tools and his crazy hair, working,” she recalled. “He was very happy.” This experience, she said, “sparked something” in her. Since, Langlais’ work has been a guiding inspiration for her own, particularly due to its public nature, use of natural materials and scale.
Like Langlais, Alexander often carves in public. “People say ‘Oh, I don’t have the patience for that,’ and I think, ‘It’s not patience for me. It’s that I just want to get back to it. I want to stop all the other stuff in my life and just get back to [my work].” While this notion is romantic, it was also readily apparent upon meeting Alexander in her studio. Midway through our conversation, she spotted part of a large cedar sculpture that needed fixing and worked at it for the duration of the visit.