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USM's Donna Cassidy collaborating on art exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art

Portrait of Donna Cassidy

Well-known artist Marsden Hartley's images of his native state of Maine debut in a new exhibition in March at one of the world's grandest museums — New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

USM Professor Donna Cassidy is the exhibition's co-curator.

"The exhibition is about Hartley, of course," said Cassidy, who authored a critically praised biography of the painter and writer in 2005. "It's also about his representation of this place which he said he carried with him wherever he went."

In the early 20th century, Hartley was part of the avant-garde. He lived in Paris and Berlin, hobnobbed with famous artists and explored abstraction and expressionism in his works with growing acclaim. He was also a Mainer, raised in a hardscrabble Lewiston home.

To him, Maine could appear bleak and foreboding, bright and whimsical or awe-inspiringly majestic. The feuding images will all be part of "Marsden Hartley's Maine," Cassidy said.

The art history professor joined co-curators Randall Griffey, curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Elizabeth Finch, Lunder curator of American Art at the Colby College Museum of Art.

The chance to work with Griffey, Finch and the MET has been extraordinary, Cassidy said. The project began with Finch, who invited Cassidy to join the project because of her familiarity with Hartley.

"These things don't happen all the time," Cassidy said. "As with a lot of things in our lives, it's been a perfect confluence of activities that came together."

Part of that is the venue. The exhibition will be held at the Met Breuer, which was formerly the Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue in Manhattan's Upper East Side. It was there that Hartley's legacy was jump-started in 1980, Cassidy said.

He had died in 1943 at the age of 66.

Hartley's "Mount Katahdin, Autumn #2""It was the exhibition that brought him back to life," she said.

"Hartley is probably best known for a series of abstractions he did when he was in Germany in the 1910s," Cassidy said. "One painting in particular, called 'Portrait of a German Officer,' is often reproduced in American and modern art textbooks."

His Maine works have received too little attention, she said.

"We all live in this state and have impressions and create ideas about what this place means to us and that's really what this exhibition is about," she said. "It's an artist creating meaning out of this place where he spent a great deal of his life."

"For the exhibition, we really scoured out the paintings that he did in Maine," she said. "We tried to get canonical works that really stood for different periods but also works that were going to bring a fresh perspective."

"He had these paintings that were very dark landscapes of Maine and then these post impressionist, brilliantly colored landscapes," she said.

There were lighthouses and churches, portraits of lobstermen and even one titled Hartley's "Canuck Yankee Lumberjack at Old Orchard Beach, Maine" The image has become a kind of Maine archetype, of a large man on the beach wearing a small Speedo-like bathing suit.

The contrasts fascinate Cassidy.

"We talk now about the two Maines," she said. "There are these kind of monumental, heroic mountains of landscapes of the Maine wilderness that people still identify with Maine. It's also a Maine of buoyant, dazzling sunlit summers and these dark landscapes.

"He created images that have an enduring resonance to people," she said.

The exhibition should re-introduce the artist to a new generation. The Met show was highlighted in Forbes magazine among "The Five Most Anticipated New York Art Museum Exhibits of Winter 2017."

It will run at the Met Breuer from March 15 to June 18. Following its presentation in New York, the exhibition will be on view at the Colby College Museum of Art, in Waterville, from July 8 through November 12.

"It's just wonderful to have the show with this trajectory," Cassidy said. "It's going to be seen by a lot of people."

To read the Lewiston Sun Journal's feature story about the exhibition by Staff Writer Lindsay Tice, click here.

Listen to an interview with Cassidy by the New England News Collaborative here.