Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Monhegan Island, Maine

All Photos © Mike McAllister

Monhegan from Manana Island

The first time my wife and I visited Monhegan Island was about 12 years ago. We had never been there. It is called "The Artist's Island" and my wife is an oil painter (Susan Roux). So we decided to go for a few days. It was very quiet when we got off the boat. There were only 3 or 4 trucks on the Island and very limited electricity. We were staying at The Monhegan House and the shared bathrooms and showers were on the third floor. We had a great room on the first floor. It turned out to be a great experience and since then we've been back several times. More on that but first . . .
Lobby of the Monhegan House

Monhegan Island is a Plantation with about 50 year round residents. It is approximately one square mile in area, located 15 miles off the coast of Maine.

Fore more than 100 years, Monhegan has been a summer haven for artists and other visitors who appreciate its isolation; the beauty of its wilderness areas, its quiet relaxed atmosphere, and its unhurried pace. In the winter Monhegan is a fishing village.

There are more than 4000 Islands off the coast of Maine. In the early 19th century there were more than 300 Island Communities in Maine, today there are 15.

Unlike the Mainland, Monhegan residents have long held ways of low impact living. They collectively set limits on the natural resources that ground their economy. Sixty-five percent of the Island has been put into protection by the Monhegan Associates .

In 2002 The Monhegan Island Sustainable Community Association was formed to stabilize the winter population of fishermen by providing affordable year-round housing for existing residents who have spent many years on the Island. As with other MISCA projects, the organization will retain title to the land to ensure that the house remains affordable to year-round island families in perpetuity.

Photographs show the beauty of the Island but really can't show the struggle and effort it takes to keep this a viable community.
The Back Side (Cliffs) of Monhegan
A few years later Steve and Sandy Dunn (Steve is a photographer and his wife Sandy paints with oils and acrylics) asked us if we wanted to join their group to spend a week on Monhegan. Steve organizes a trip to Monhegan for a group of 10 to 12 people every year. He rents a house and everyone splits the cost. Sounded like fun so we went. He had rented a large, three story house, right on Swim Beach called Eider Duck. It was a little bit in need of repair but it had beautiful views. 
Fish Beach with Eider Duck House on Right
It was shortly after that that Steve self published a book about his experiences on Monhegan, "Monhegan-Timeless Impressions Of A Special Island".

Personally I thought after that trip I had seen most of the Island and didn't think about returning.

Then, in 2012, we got a call from Stas Borodin. Stas is a Master Russian Painter and a friend of ours. He had never been to Monhegan and wanted to go there for a week. So my wife found room available at Shining Sails, a bed and breakfast, owned and operated by John and Winnie Murdock. John is a fisherman and owns a boat called the "Sea Hag". He also manages several properties on Monhegan and is also a singer/songwriter. He performs at Fish and Maine during the summer. His son Kyle has opened a lobster processing plant in St.George, Maine.

Our Room At Shining Sails

 John Murdock Performing at Fish and Maine Video: Mike McAllister 

John and his grand daughter

So after we arrived Stas fell in love with the place and started painting almost immediately.  His daily routine was to get up at sunrise and paint until it got dark, with a few breaks during the day to eat. The first few days he painted on the village side of the Island not knowing the beauty of the back of the Island, with the highest cliffs on the coast of Maine. We wanted to get him to the other side but communication isn't always easy. He speaks Russian and German but very little English. Sue speaks French but that doesn't help with Stas. 

Sue finally convinced him to go meet Don Stone. Don's home and studio are almost on the other side of the Island. Stas went reluctantly because it was going to take time away from painting and he didn't know who Don was. We walked into the studio and Don was talking to someone so we just looked around and the first words out of Stas were "oh, very good painter".  Sue introduced Stas to Don.

When we finally left we convinced Stas to go see the cliff side of the Island. Well, that did it. He collected his painting equipment and was off to paint on the back side of the Island.
Stas. Off to Paint

Back Side of Monhegan
I spent the next couple days hiking the Island trails, I had Rusty take me over to Manana and I took the boat ride around the Island for five dollars.
Miles of trails around Monhegan Island
Rusty picking me up on Manana
Sue teaches Painting and has several students. She let her students know that she would be gone for a week so painting classes would be cancelled. One of her students, Lavina, decided to try and find a place where she could stay on the Island for a couple days and paint with Susan. She found a beautiful spot on a hill overlooking the dock.

Top of the hill overlooking the dock
They started Painting one morning and a student film crew showed up from Maine Media College in Rockport, Maine and asked if they could make a short film of them for a project they were doing.
Filming Susan and Lavina
 Well, here's the final product:
HD Version

We ate dinner at the Monhegan House and our waitress was from Latvia, which has a border with Russia, and she spoke Russian. Her and Stas spoke for a while and Stas decided he wanted to do a painting demonstration and paint her portrait. Sue spoke to the owner of the Monhegan House to see if he could do the demo on his front porch. He thought that was a great idea. Sue put up some hand made fliers and the next day . . .

Stas Doing A Painting Demonstration
He had quite a few spectators. It is fun to watch someone paint but a lot of visitors to the Island are artists themselves. The demo lasted several hours with a few breaks and when he was done he gave her the painting as a gift.

Well, by the end of the week Stas had completed over a dozen paintings of Monhegan. As they were completed we would hang them on the walls of the room were staying in at Shining Sails. Susans student, Lavina, had rented a room at the John Sterling Harbor House and half the house was being rented by Jerry Cable, an artist who lives in New Jersey but spends as many summers on Monhegan as he can. Sue was talking to him and got to know him a little bit and mentioned to him that Stas had done quite a few paintings while he was on the Island and she wanted to have a show for him and could she have it a Jerry's Studio. So Sue made some more hand made fliers and put them around town. She stopped to talk with Don Stone and invited him. She told Jerry it was a go and that Don Stone was coming. That made his day because he had never met Don.

Stas Giving one of his books to Don Stone
Our visit finally came to an end. We had had a great time and Stas's first visit to Monhegan was a great and memorable time.

Stas with one of his Monhegan paintings at Shining Sails

Our most recent visit to Monheagan was in July 2013. Earlier this year Susan decided she wanted to open an international art gallery in Portland, Maine. I was asked to do a solo light house show, by Shaun McCarthy, at Dock Fore in Portland. So we had a couple reasons to visit Monhegan this summer. But really, who needs a reason?

Susan had corresponded with Don Stone several times to see if he would consider exhibiting in her new gallery. She went to give him a copy of her business plan and talk to him personally. Before we left Monhegan he had agreed to exhibit in her gallery.

I had emailed the Monhegan Museum to find out if they ever opened the light house tower to the public. They wrote back and said they did on Thursdays, for two hours, if the weather was good and there was no fog. I left with some great light house pictures.

Manana at sunrise

We both accomplished what we went there to do, but we still had plenty of spare time. One evening after dinner Susan suggested we get up at sunrise to photograph Manana Island. So, at 4:30 the next morning we went out to take some shots. We didn't see anyone else but when the sun rises, for maybe a half hour, Manana glows. It is really something to see. This morning was interesting because it was very foggy. The sun showed through the fog for just a short time and then the whole island was socked in.

There is an old Coast Guard Station on the front side of Manana that you can't see from Monhegan. Last year when I was on Manana there was a US Government survey team over on the Island. I spoke to the woman in charge and she said they were getting ready to auction the property. As we talked about it I said wow, that must be worth a lot of money. She said, you'd be surprised how little a lot of the real estate we auction goes for. The Station was in rough shape but the location is outstanding. There are goats that live on the Island and I think they have taken over the Station, at least for now.

Inside The Coast Guard Station on Manana

Well I found out this year that it had been auctioned and I was told that the Monhegan Associates had won the bid. It sold for $199,000 but the web site doesn't say who won the bid.

New this year is another business that has opened on the Island. The Monhegan Brewing Company. They can't keep up with demand. They have an IPA that is the best I've ever had. The Master Brewer is from Belfast and his daughter and her husband, who live on Monheagan  run the business. They also fish in the winter.

Monhegan Brewing Company


Swim Beach

Public Notices

Inside the Monhegan Library

The Oldest Grave on the Island

Phebe Starling Died 1784, One Month Old

We have really enjoyed our visits to Monhegan and I'm sure we'll return. The light there is different from anywhere I've been. The quiet and the time for reflection. The pace of life slows way down and you think about what it might be like to live in a place like this. A friend of mine told me that the biggest problem with living on an island is that everyone knows everyone else's business. I am sure thats true, but on an island with 50 year round residents I would think that they also support each other.

Here is a blog by a teacher, Jessie Campbell, who taught at the Monhegan School for five years. Monhegan Madness.
Here is a blog by the Monhegan Library.