AUGUSTA — Stonington marlinspike artist Tim Whitten is among seven Maine artists being chosen and honored by the Maine Arts Commission as its 2021 Fellowship Award winners. Each fellow will receive $5,000 and represents one of seven categories ranging from fine craft to visual arts.
Other recipients include Dianne Ballon of Portland, Gabriel Frey of the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Reservation (Sipayik) in Perry, Sarah Haskell of York, Jocelyn Lee of Cape Elizabeth, Michael Odokara of Portland and Alex Marzano-Lesnevich of Portland.
Julie Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission, says the 2021 Fellows exemplify artistic excellence.
“Congratulations to this year’s fellowship winners,” Richard said. “This year’s cohort of Fellows is uniquely diverse — reflecting the growing range of demographics across our state. There were many qualified applicants, and it is always difficult for our panels to choose just one. Our 2021 Fellows should be especially proud of this accomplishment.”
Whitten describes his area of work as marlinspike craft, which encompasses a broad range of weaving, braiding, knotting and sewing skills. The pieces that he makes are practical in function but sculptural in form. The range and scale of elemental geometries drew Whitten to this type of work — from the simple spiral twist of a piece of rope to the complex, multidimensional patterns in a bell lanyard or chest handle.
Whitten was born in Connecticut to parents who left Maine for careers in education, but as a youth he returned year after year for nearly entire summers spent tenting in Washington County.
From his formative experiences as a youth, Whitten had always regarded Maine, and the Downeast region in particular, as a magical and inspirational place. Having no connection to the maritimes in a seafaring sense, he became increasingly aware that the Maine coast was where his roots were and where he wanted to live. He moved to Deer Isle in 2008 with his wife and subsequently opened a shop and studio gallery. He continues to work and show his items at the Marlinespike Chandlery in Stonington.
Whitten says he is greatly pleased to have been selected for the Belvedere Craft Fellowship and that he has been able to elevate marlinspike to a level worthy of recognition. To see his work, visit marlinespike.com.
Another recipient is sound artist Dianne Ballon (multimedia), who has lived in Maine for over 35 years. Her love of the elusiveness of sound is what opened her ears to the medium. During semester breaks in college, she volunteered in Appalachia, listening to the rich storytelling tradition from the hills and hollows. Her sound work has taken her from an artist residency in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to creating field recordings from Northern Iceland and the Arctic Circle. She also has taught audio production at the University of Maine in Augusta. Her extensive sound portfolio has been heard in exhibitions, museums, theater festivals, radio broadcasts and installations the world over.
With the Maine Artist Fellowship award happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ballon will focus on exploring the world of sound closer to home. From York to Lubec, she plans to work on her coastal harbor series exploring the small harbors up and down the peninsulas and the islands along the Maine coast. To hear her works, visit dianneballonsound.com.
Gabriel Frey (traditional arts) has woven baskets for about 20 years. He sees the art form as an expression of his natural world view, and a large part of his cultural identity. As a Passamaquoddy tribe member, and a member of the Wabanaki confederacy, he learned about the traditional art form from his grandfather, his first significant teacher. Passed down from generations of Passamaquoddy basket makers, Frey says his baskets tie him to his past, present and future.
Using the brown ash, each piece has an element of carving. He carves the hoops, rims, handle and wooden pins to fasten leather straps.
Most of his tools such as basket molds, gauges and the shave horse are adapted from traditional designs. As he carves his creative path in the basket making community, Frey says he works toward perfecting the function and form of the traditional baskets while evolving each basket to reflect his personal style. To see his work, visit gabrielfreybaskets.com.