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Painting the Wilds

CFA Prof John Walker’s summer retreat in the Maine woods


Click on the slide show above to learn more about John Walker’s seaside retreat for CFA students.

Each summer for the past 15 years, John Walker, a College of Fine Arts professor and a nationally known painter, has opened his seaside home near Damariscotta, Maine, to more than 20 graduate painting students, who spend a week roaming 50 acres of woods and coastline, hunting for just the right landscape, the right colors, the right light.

“There are two houses,” says Walker, “and they distribute themselves around and somehow we accommodate them, with the help of portable loos.”

Each day, students seek out pine-shaded tide pools and changing sunlight. They lay blankets over windswept fields of grass and wildflowers, perch their easels on a wooden dock, or sit back in an Adirondack chair facing the rocky shore. Wherever they can find inspiration, they sketch and paint.

In the afternoon, Walker finds them to check out and discuss their work. He expects his students to come away from the experience understanding what it takes to work as an artist.

“For most of them,” he says, “it’s the first time they’ve actually stood on their feet for a long period of time and seriously looked at some subject matter that is constantly being changed by the light and weather.”

But the weeklong trip is not all work. When the brushes are washed and canvases laid out to dry, teacher and students gather for dinner. “It’s an event,” Walker says. “You’d be surprised how many of these kids have never eaten a lobster.”

When it’s time to turn in, the students unroll sleeping bags on slipcovered couches, single beds, or the floor. The next day they’ll get back to work, searching for the next vista.

Nathaniel Boyle can be reached at nboyle@bu.edu. Vernon Doucette can be reached at vdoucette@bu.edu.

This story originally appeared in the spring 2009 issue of Bostonia magazine.

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