A Summer Place

Stone Gallery
June 4 – August 10, 2024

Equal parts portrait, landscape, and still life, Breehan James and Nancy Wissemann-Widrig’s paintings are a testament to their deep connection with seasonal, rustic, summer dwellings—Wissemann-Widrig’s on the coast in Maine and James’ in Northern Wisconsin. These acutely-observed rural sites come to life in carefully rendered works, which serve as both an archive of everyday things and a window to nature’s close embrace. Both artists meticulously paint from life, capturing the subtleties of their surroundings—depicting unfussy and intimate interiors adorned with the casual accumulations and keepsakes of annual gatherings. Brushstrokes describing the environmental textures of nearby shores and the towering northern forests crowded with fir, pine, and birch reveal a quiet but adventurous space.

The artists draw their color palettes directly from life, at times enhancing them to reflect the emotional essence of the place. Recurring hues, including maroon, burnt orange, avocado green, and deep mustard yellow, symbolize coziness and warmth and reinforce the passage of time. Similarly, the use of patterned blankets, curtains, and tablecloths speaks to the artists’ fascination with the language of paint. While initially representational, these patterns dip into abstraction, demonstrating the artists’ pleasure in color, light, and repetition of shape.

Conversations with painters from across time and place are present in the painters’ works. James’ depictions of the saturated and densely forested world just outside the cottage door are reminiscent of fanciful landscapes by Charles Burchfield and the layered, chromatic, and veil-like landscapes of Canadian painter Tom Thomson. In contrast, her depiction of yellow curtains echoes Vuillard’s painting of the same name. Wissemann-Widrig’s interior patterns pay homage to the French Nabis–Vuillard and Bonnard. Maine and Long Island painter Fairfield Porter inspired the inclusion of her backyard and family.

Frames – doors, windows flanked with quaintly patterned curtains, and mirrors expand the field of vision, allowing a curious viewer to look back at, and look into the spaces beyond. Objects featured in collage-like scenes extend the narrative, add to the mystery, and enhance the emotional elements of place. Family photographs, vintage Moxie ads, and prominently placed cardboard prints of President Lincoln reinforce the past. The details of these complex spaces unfurl in children’s drawings of lobster boats, taxidermy owls, hand-hewn woodcuts of birds, and mobiles of swimming fish bring the outdoors in—and further reinforce the blending of space. The generous, expansive, and multi-focused approach mimics the experience of how we see rather than how we document.

The family members in the paintings are not just subjects but intimate users of the space. They are an integral part of the space, allowing us to experience its pace, tempo, and comfort. Card Players and Mike in Window offer a rare confrontation, drawing us into their world.

A persistence of vision is evident throughout the exhibition as the artists portray the poetic and cyclic nature of a summer place. The past is always present as the artists elevate the everyday, illustrating how objects hold memories and how it feels to live with and cherish ordinary things. The paintings are diaristic, offering insider information about what it feels like to return here year after year, to experience the place anew while looking back to bid farewell.

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Nancy Wisseman-Widrig created the acrylic and oil paintings between 1968 and 1981 on-site at their cottage on the banks of the St. George River in Cushing, Maine. She set up her French easel alongside her family and found compositions—painting what she saw amidst the quiet and chaos. The paintings are part of a still life series she called Encyclopedia Paintings. Everything in the scene at that moment made it into the painting, which made them interesting.

Born in Jamestown, New York, Nancy Wissemann-Widrig lives between Southold, New York, and Cushing, Maine. She earned her BFA from Syracuse University and MFA from Ohio University. A practicing artist for more than seventy years, Weissman-Widrig shows with Caldbeck Gallery and the Center for Contemporary Maine Art. Her work has been featured in numerous US exhibitions and appears in numerous corporate collections and museums, including the Portland Museum of Art and the Farnsworth Museum of Art. She has a show of recent work at Caldbeck Gallery in Maine through June 23. Nancy still paints nearly every day.

Breehan James’ paintings, made between 2018 and 2024, focus on The Last Resort, a cottage built by her maternal grandfather, and the surrounding environment. Located on East Bass Lake in Florence County, Wisconsin, the summer house is the backdrop for annual family gatherings. Many of the acryla gouache paintings on view are intimately scaled, book-sized, and part of her Cottage Book series. James began the work on-site, creating preparatory drawings, sketches, and photos which she used to make paintings later back at home in Maine.

Born in the Fox River Valley in Wisconsin, Breehan James lives in Maine with her husband, two sons, and their two dogs. James earned her MFA from Yale and her BFA from Massachusetts College of Art. She teaches in the Painting Department at Boston University. James has participated in numerous residencies, including at The American Academy of Rome, Sharpe Walentas Studio Program, Arts in the Park at Quetico Provincial Park and the Vermont Studio Center. James shows her work internationally.