Keith Oehmig, director and founder of the Wiscasset Bay Gallery, and a painter himself, opened his first gallery in 1985 in Bath, Maine, with a couple hundred dollars in his pocket. Three decades and two locations later, the gallery is a fixture in Wiscasset and features changing exhibitions of contemporary New England and Maine artists. It is open daily during the summer season. The current exhibition is “Art in the Twentieth Century.”
How did you get your start in the art world and who was the first artist whose work really spoke to you?
I was an art history and studio major in college and during my junior year I studied abroad in England, France, Germany and Italy. I was particularly attracted to Claude Monet’s late work and its Expressionist nature. Upon graduation from Principia College, I worked for a gallery on the West Coast specializing in Nineteenth Century American art. Three months later, I decided to start the Wiscasset Bay Gallery, which is now in its 33rd year.
Who or what do you personally collect?
My taste in art is eclectic and ranges from Fifteenth Century Old Master paintings up to present-day works. A few highlights from my collection include works by Jay Hall Connaway (American, 1893-1970), Anders Zorn (Swedish, 1860-1920), Abbott Thayer (American, 1849-1921) and Abraham Hulk Sr (British, 1813-1897). I’m also drawn to mystery paintings, which are currently unidentified and require some detective work.
Tell us a bit about the current exhibition, “Art in the Twentieth Century.”
The exhibition explores the pluralistic nature of the art world in the Twentieth Century, with developing styles ranging from Cubism, Expressionism, Realism and Abstraction. Of particular note is a work by German American artist George Grosz (1893-1959) executed in New York in 1936. Grosz was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1893. He became an important member of the Dada movement and openly rejected the rising German nationalism during the late 1910s.
Contrasting Grosz’s abstracted, spirited work is Andrew Winter’s (1893-1958) “Morning After the Storm.” Rooted in a clear, realistic style and drawing on a dramatic event, the artist depicts four sailors on a cliff viewing the remains of their ship off the coast of Monhegan Island. Other significant Twentieth Century paintings and sculpture include a large Modernist oil, “Woolwich Ferry Slip,” by John Folinsbee (1892-1972) and a major bronze by William Zorach (1887-1966) of his daughter Dahlov Ipcar entitled “Innocence.”
Is it true that you can trace the history of American art by just looking at Maine art?
You can certainly get a strong overview of American art by studying the incredible number of important artists that have come to work in Maine over the centuries from Thomas Cole and Frederic Church painting on Mount Desert Island to Winslow Homer at Prouts Neck to Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Robert Henri and Edward Hopper on Monhegan. Of course, there is the Wyeth legacy in Maine as well.
Everyone associates famous artists like the Wyeths, William Zorach and Marsden Hartley with Maine, but who are some of lesser-known talented artists people should become familiar with?
At Wiscasset Bay Gallery we specialize in Monhegan Island artists Andrew Winter, S.P.R. Triscott, Jay Hall Connaway, Abraham Bogdanove and Sears Gallagher. Most of these artists are represented in museums around the country but do not appear in survey books of American art.