Celebrating America through art: I had the pleasure of spending time with Damariscotta artist Franciska Needham last week as she was readying her Water Street gallery for its May 27 season opening featuring her exhibit titled “America the Beautiful,” which runs through Friday, July 14.
Needham is a woman of numerous artistic talents, from painting and drawing to making assemblage pieces from 200-year-old salvaged bricks. One of her more amazing pieces of artwork is a huge – 109 inches by 84 inches – version of the Declaration of Independence created with hand-painted 1-inch-square international code flags spelling out the entire document. It is a must-see (and is hanging in her current show).
Incredibly, Needham has been painting for more than 70 years. One might ask how that is possible, given her rather youthful appearance. Needham is actually on the verge of celebrating her 81st birthday in June, she said.
I followed this artistic dynamo as she took me on a tour of her gallery and of the art on the walls of her adjacent house. As we moved through the buildings, Needham reminisced about the time, years ago, when the only two galleries in Damariscotta were hers and River Gallery. She said she moved to Philadelphia, raising her three children and working as a home health care provider to pay the bills, in addition to doing her art. Needham returned to Damariscotta 11 years ago.
“The development of my flag series came when I was in Philadelphia. I was feeling very patriotic,” Needham said of her series of U.S. flags made of various materials, including one made entirely of cast-off plastic – blue New York Times delivery bags, pill-bottle tops, curlers, pens, and plastic tubing – and one constructed from medical supplies, such as syringes, tongue suppressors, and an IV bag. Her newest U.S. flag is just what its title says: “American Flag in Matchbox Cars.”
In one corner of her gallery, which happens to be a converted 200-year-old barn, hangs a wooden sculpture of a bald eagle – America’s national bird – made from the pieces of a deconstructed architect’s model of a two-story Colonial-style house that she rescued from a yard sale.
“Someone was selling (the house) at a yard sale,” said Needham. “At the end of the sale, no one wanted it, so I got it for free.” Needham said she kept the house intact for a long time, but it started warping, so she took it apart and repurposed it to make art. “I didn’t want to get rid of it or use it for kindling,” she said.
“I’m an avid book reader – mostly early American history,” Needham said, offering an explanation for why so much of her art is focused on U.S. symbolism.
Check out Needham’s art during gallery hours, 4-7 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, and chat with her about her interesting art and the history of the local art scene.
Needham’s gallery is located at 32 Water St. in Damariscotta. It is also open by appointment. Call 350-2650 for more information and/or to make an appointment.
Art and flowers: I recently received an email from Ruth Piper, who is the hospitality, outreach, and event coordinator at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. She told me about an event called “Art in Bloom” that will take place on the weekend of June 9-11 at the church’s Parish House, at 16 Glidden St. in Newcastle.
“Art in Bloom” is a “tribute to spring/summer,” wrote Piper, and will feature art “throughout the house and floral interpretations by floral designers. … This type of event is usually held in art museums, but lacking one of those, we will be featuring art in various rooms of our Greek Revival parish house.”
This celebration of art and floral design will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, June 9 and 10; and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 11. Tickets are $15 at the door. Call 563-3533 or go to standrewsnewcastle.org. for more information.
A note from Caitlin: Talented Great Salt Bay Community School student and school reporter Caitlin Cass, as readers know, was featured in this column as a guest columnist, writing about the lively arts scene at GSB. She is done writing for the LCN (for now) as she is busy wrapping up her eighth-grade year, but she had a few words to say: “Being a columnist was an amazing experience, and was also an opportunity I never thought I’d be able to have. I want to thank Ms. LaPado-Breglia for reaching out to me and providing this unique Artsbeat internship. It’s super cool how The Lincoln County News lets so many people from the community contribute. My main focus was the art and music scene at GSB, which is thriving, as always. I’m also looking forward to the arts, academics, and extracurricular activities at Lincoln Academy next year.”
Knock ’em dead at Lincoln, Caitlin! It was fun working with you!
(Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write me a letter in care of The Lincoln County News, P.O. Box 36, Damariscotta, ME 04543. I love to hear from readers.)