As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect Aroostook County, a group of artists are looking forward to better days ahead.
PRESQUE ISLAND, Maine — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect Aroostook County, a group of artists are looking forward to better days ahead.
Winners and runners-up of the #MaineReunited contest presented themes of community perseverance during a special exhibit held Saturday at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. The competition, hosted by online-based company Lights Out Art Consulting, featured work by adult and youth artists. Aroostook is the second county in Maine, after Oxford County, that Lights Out has selected for the competition.
After receiving 73 submissions a jury of nine judges, most of whom are from Aroostook, selected winners for the adult and youth categories. These winners are Tammy Dube from New Sweden for her painting Picking Fiddleheads and 11-year-old Maya Lispcombe from Houlton for her self-portrait collage Envisioning Better.
Lispcombe’s collage features a depiction of himself wearing a blue face mask. Behind her are various words and phrases from magazine pages that reflect people’s experiences during the pandemic, such as “support”, “comfort”, “change”, “strength” and “home”.
“I wanted to do a portrait, but put things in the background that would motivate everyone [during the pandemic]’ said Lispcombe.
For Dube’s family, exploring the great outdoors together became a way to get through the pandemic together. “Picking Fiddleheads” follows her husband Bruce and their children Morgan, 19, and Noah, 14, filling their pockets with fiddleheads on the banks of the Aroostook River in Caribou.
Dube, a longtime photographer and painter, based the painting on four photographs she took on the river that day. She sees the image of an old branch bending over the river as a symbol of the changes coming with spring and the near end of the pandemic.
“[The branch] will be bruised and battered by the spring meltdown, but soon it will grow and thrive as humans do,” Dube said.
Competition judge Shelby Pelletier, owner of the Common Gallery in Presque Isle, said the works by Lispcombe and Dube evoke many emotional themes of the pandemic, including family, togetherness and reunions.
“I like the collage approach to Maya’s piece. It validates the difficulties people have been going through,” Pelletier said. “And I love how Tammy’s fiddleheads symbolize the growth of the community and the anticipation of a new day.”
The #MaineReunited contest also garnered more than 2,300 votes on Facebook for the People’s Choice Award, which went to Houlton photographer Lawrence Walker Hardy II.
Hardy’s photo “Our Path” follows footprints through a snowy field against a dark winter sky. Though Hardy originally took the photo in awe of the landscape, he now believes the image is related to people’s hardships during COVID-19.
“The Solo Footprints show how each of us has walked our own path during the pandemic and felt alone at times,” Hardy said.
In addition to the three winners, Saturday’s exhibition featured numerous other entries, including artworks by runners-up in all three categories.
Runners-up in the People’s Choice Awards were Presque Isle’s Stacey Walton for her collage Retail Therapy and Houlton’s Cynthia Spellman for her drawing Reunited, which depicts summer fireworks over the footbridge.
Second place in the adult category went to Westfield’s Jayson Stickney with his painting When COVID is Over, Daddy and Presque Isle’s Danielle Feinburg with her drawing Opening the Door. Runners-up among the youngsters were Astraea Walton, 5, from Presque Isle with her drawing Smiles are Contagious, and Gregory Ryan Mignacca, 15, from Caribou with his drawing titled Community Standing Up.
Lights Out Executive Director Daniel Sipe said that Aroostook’s reaction to #MaineReunited was even more positive than expected. He and the judges were delighted to see artists depicting both the challenges of COVID and renewed hope for a return to normalcy.
“It shows that even though this time has been difficult for people, we can see the brightness of the future,” said Sipe, who is from Presque Isle.
This sense of hope was one that Diana Higgins of Presque Isle could see in many works of art, particularly those by youth in the community. She was particularly moved by Mignacca’s drawing, which contains this message: “When many people work together, our community becomes stronger.”
“When you hear the news and then you read something like this, you can see that there’s still good in the world,” Higgins said.